One of my coaching client’s CEO never showed for a meeting. As the afternoon ticked away, my client watched the clock and seethed. He felt disrespected and unimportant.
He was too busy being angry and anxious to get much else done that day.
“I tend to do that,” he told me. “I focus on the negative outcomes and it takes up a lot of space in my brain. I want the inverse of that feeling.”
We talked through how he could have reacted differently.
“I’d rather be a problem solver than the bitter, angry guy,” he said.
We talked about recognizing that angry, frustrated feeling in the moment — and choosing to focus on the desired outcome instead.
“It sounds like you’re writing this story about disrespect in your head, but that might not be what’s going on,” I told him. “Don’t suffer twice: Focus on what you want rather than on the bad thing that could happen.”
I asked him to practice that choice — focusing on problem solving for a positive outcome, rather than the angry, reactive feeling — before our next coaching conversation.
The next time we met, he told me a story about how he recognized that angry feeling in the moment and chose to behave differently.
During his bus commute home, a homeless man had sat down next to him. My client described bracing himself for a crazy conversation; he was afraid the old man was going to do something unpleasant and scary, and he felt angry that his quiet commute was about to be disrupted.
He caught himself in that angry feeling.
“I let go of the anticipation that something awful was going to happen,” he said. “I decided to just let things unfold.”
So he and the old man started talking. They talked about the old man’s daily walk around the city for exercise and about his search for work.
“It turns out, there was nothing to be afraid of,” my client said. “Letting go of that negativity allowed me to be more representative of the person I am.”
The Old Man on the Bus became a metaphor in our coaching sessions (and is certainly not advice to talk to people on the bus when you feel unsafe). If he got blown off by his CEO again and felt himself becoming angry, how could The Old Man on the Bus guide him?
“I’d just find another way to follow up,” he said. “I’d try to solve the problem and get back to work.”