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She’s sitting in front of me. Frustrated. Crying being much closer to her than laughing. “They simply don’t take the time to get to know me,” she says, “never before have I had such negative feedback. It’s a stab in in the back. I feel judged and not understood, unsupported by my boss and very much alone in taking up the responsibility for things that should matter to all of us.” I feel for her and at the same time completely understand what is going wrong here. I’ve seen the e-mails back and forth. The conflict. The destructive words. And how she’s stepping into her own – unproductive – survival strategy, day after day. Even during my sessions, she is in fact pretty hard to coach. I could say nothing and let her do all the talking for at least an hour. Maybe longer. Fortunately, I’m not known for my patience either. So, as we work together, I interrupt. And interrupt. And interrupt. It is costing me a lot of energy to unplug her from this seemingly unstoppable forward movement she’s in. From letting her do all the work on her own. To get her to listen to me. To force her into taking a break from this surviving. From leaning forward to that extent that, in all honesty, it would make any coach with a little less self-confidence feel completely redundant to the situation.

(take a deep breath)

Have you ever worked with a colleague (or maybe lived with a partner) that was, just like my client here, leaning forward all the time? And I really mean a l l – t h e – t i m e. Was it your boss? Your boss’s boss? Your peer? One of your team members? Can you remember how that feels? Not having the ability to add much value yourself. The above situation is based on real facts, although many of my clients may think it is about them specifically. Well, it isn’t. In all my years as a coach, I got to know a least a hundred successful people that seamlessly fit the description above. Male and female. Sometimes I even write ‘STOP!’ in big letters on a piece of paper and simply hold it up. Even then it may take a few seconds before the other one realizes it is about him or her.

(the stab in the back)

What is really happening here? And on the work floor day after day? Let me tell you what the environment sees. They see someone taking up a lot of space. Pretty much ignoring the opinions of everyone else around. Not really listening to anybody. Not hearing others. Seemingly not even making an effort to understand. Having an unsolicited saying in almost everything. Knowing everything better. Always in need of having the final say. Getting defensive when one only just starts to think about maybe disagreeing. Behaving like a jerk when things don’t go their way. Responding to situations in a melodramatic way. To the point where they can be disrespecting. Self-centred. Even aggressive. With bars of expectation too high for anyone to reach. Practically impossible to please. If we are honest, sometimes simply exhausting to be with. Ever heard of the saying ‘people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses’? Well, this might have something to do with that.

(the vicious circle)

The truth is nothing of the above is intended. On the contrary, when in survival mode, the more negative feedback you get, the more rejection you experience, the more forward you start to lean, the harder you work. That’s it. This is nothing more than someone that is always working very hard. Taking responsibility. Making sure everything is all right at all times. Adding as much value as possible. Setting incredibly high standards for themselves and for others. Making as much contribution as possible to every single ‘project’. Just working hard to prove their worth. Yet, all they get is the following response: you are not good enough. As a consequence, they do more. Work harder. Add more value. Getting trapped in what I call the vicious circle of survival. And why? Because all they are looking for is a way to be accepted. To ‘be’ good enough. They use every quality they have to try to meet up to the expectations of the people around. They feel stabbed in the back because they have no idea that it is their own behaviour that is contributing if not leading to the negative feedback.

(what got you here won’t get you there)

The thing is most of these people are quite successful already. This same behaviour is what got them to their position in the first place. Working fast and hard, adding value, taking the lead, taking responsibility. For them to stop and do completely the opposite (slowing down/do nothing!), is as contra-intuitive as can be. It’s like jumping in front of a car instead of on the sidewalk because ‘someone tells you’ that jumping in front of the car increases your chances of survival. What would you do?

(from limiting to reinforcing thoughts and behaviour)

Getting negative feedback from your environment? STOP! Stop doing what you are doing. Simply do nothing. Take a minute. Lean backward. It doesn’t always mean that you are doing something wrong and the other one is right. What it does mean is that your approach is not getting you the results you desire. Stop. Assess the situation. Take a closer look at your behaviour. And when you find out that you were indeed leaning forward too much. Do the opposite. Lean backward. Dare to lean backward. There’s no life in danger here. Trust yourself and the other one. My estimated guess? You will not lower but increase your level of personal efficiency. Get even better results. And a positive feedback.

Not convinced but having troubles yourself?
Try me. I am happy to talk to you :)


About me – Being a certified executive and personal coach, I am associated to the Global Coach Group and Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching team and owner of the global executive coaching practice where I am working on an ambitious scale-up plan now that I’ve learned to ‘not having to do it all on my own’. Next to that I’ve co-founded in December 2018 and started working some hours a month for my old love, the Adecco Group (LHH) as well as for one of the biggest Dutch coaching practices in Amsterdam. My passions include playing my quarter grand piano and messing around with acrylic paint on large sized linen canvas. When I’m not catching some proverbial Big Fish, for now I’ve partially replaced the gym for my now brand-new mountain bike, and I am loving it. But then again, I am still luckiest doing what I do best, challenging others and myself to perform at ‘our’ best