“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance” ~ Confucius
Fundamentally, one of the main aims of coaching is to assist people to have a greater understanding of their self, to live a life that is congruent with their values, and ideally one that is both purposeful and fulfilling. Not much to ask, right?
One problem that lies in the way of fulfilling this quest is a little thing called ‘Personality’. Prof. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic went so far as to say that “Coaching tries to inhibit the effects of personality on behaviour” (ref: ICF Advance 2015: Science of Coaching Conference).
What is it about personality that causes him to make that assertion? In many ways it sounds counter-intuitive. After all, surely the full discovery and expression of our personalities is something that we seek? The world is, after all, full of people trying to find themselves. According to Prof. Chamorro-Premuzic, the science tells us something different. It would appear that our personality operates in a number of ways, many of which make it tough for us to change our ‘typical’ ways of behaving.
Let’s look at some of the things he highlights about personality:-
- People are different. Not many people would find anything contentious about that. However, consider that 99% of our DNA is shared with chimpanzees, and even 98% with mice. That doesn’t leave much DNA responsible for the huge physical and psychological differences between humans and those other species, let alone between each other. And yet that is the case; less than 2% of our DNA appears to be responsible for all that differentiates us from other species and amongst ourselves. Perhaps we are more similar than we like to think?
- People are consistent. While the idea of us being different generally meets with our approval (people like to think they are in some way unique), the idea that we are consistent or predictable is not such a welcome proposal. We prefer to think of ourselves as complex, hard to read, intriguing, and so on. Ask people about their likes and they will tend to display eclectic tastes. What music do you like? “Oh, lots of music, jazz, rock, R&B, blues, I love all music.” What food do you like to eat most often? “Oh, it depends, I love so many foods. Italian, Indian, French, Chinese.” A glimpse at their recent play list will often reveal a favourite artist or album being played endlessly, and a diary of eating patterns will usually reveal a less varied diet than people speak of. And, what of personality? What would you say is your personality? “Oh, it depends. Sometimes I can be very extroverted, but on other occasions I need time to myself. I can be extremely friendly, but other times, if I’m under pressure, I can be a bit grouchy.” The truth is that people tend to display consistent behaviours and enjoy predictable things, even over extended periods of their life.
- We become more boring. Most of us change in fairly predictable ways as we age. In fact, the evidence suggests that we become “more boring versions of our earlier selves”. We become more emotionally stable, more agreeable, more conscientious, and less open to new experiences. As we work out that we can’t change society the way we once thought we could, we resort to maintaining the same rules that contributed to our success so far.
- Overconfidence is the Norm. We appear to be pre-wired to have an overly positive view of ourselves. Daniel Kahneman (the eminent Nobel prize winning psychologist) says that “We are generally overconfident in our opinions, impressions and judgements”. Overconfidence is the norm, not the exception.
- Geniuses and Fools believe they know a lot. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which it has been demonstrated that relatively unskilled people mistakenly believe their skill to be at a much higher level than it is. In fact there is very little difference between highly competent and knowledgeable people, and those with very little competence, in terms of how much they think they know.
So, given just these few features and idosyncrasies of personality, it becomes clearer why it is claimed that the job of coaching is to help people inhibit the effects of their personality on their behaviour. One of the most important functions of coaching is to help clients develop curiosity about their own thinking. To challenge long held beliefs and judgements, and to explore the impacts those are having on behaviour. It is good to know what we know. It is equally important to be aware of how much we don’t know. Creating a shift in that direction and avoiding the pitfalls presented by personality is a large part of a coach’s work.
Coaching is a powerful and proven approach for exploring your beliefs, inner critic and other forms of obstacle that get in your way. Would you, or members of your organisation, benefit from exploring ways to make significant improvements in personal and/or collective effectiveness and productivity? Simply drop me your contact details on the Contact Us page and I will be delighted to speak with you.
About the author: Louis Collins enables people to operate more successfully. You may be putting off important decisions, you may be treading water in an unfulfilling job or career but don’t know what to do about it, you may be contemplating promotion or even retirement, but the prospect scares you. I can work with you to enable you to formulate more effective ways of living, help raise your awareness of blockers to successful ways of working, and ultimately help you lead a more fulfilled life.