Have you heard of this catchphrase in campy, science-fiction shows? An evil alien spaceship attacks a city with a death ray. The hero intercepts the ray with his own and barks to his team “Reverse polarity!” The death ray is repelled and the enemy spaceship explodes.
What the scriptwriters conveniently left out was, what does “reverse polarity” even mean?
In real life, you can actually reverse the polarity of your TV remote control, for example. Just switch the positions of its batteries. But I doubt you will get to watch Netflix anytime soon.
However, “reverse polarity” can happen in a coaching conversation. It is when a client looks at his or her situation in the opposite way.
Consider Diane (not her real name), an office supervisor who has been working at a private firm for 15 years. She has been resisting some system changes that her organization was implementing. Soon, she was in danger of being let go due to insubordination. But first, her employer tells her to go to a coach, who probed the reasons behind her resistance. There, Diane expressed her fears that the changes would mean more stress and less rewards in her job.
Her aha! moment came when her coach offered this insight: “You see change as a threat. What would the opposite look like?” Diane realized that change can be an opportunity. Zap! Reverse polarity!
She started to explore how the proposed changes in the organization would benefit her: new skills, more training, eventual advancement, and in the end, a streamlined (hence, less stressful) process. Her colleagues were amazed at her transformation from rebel to advocate.
Perhaps in our L&D, we need to discern the negative thoughts of our talents, gently call them out, and flip them over to their growth mindset counterparts. This expands learning, boosts positivity, and spurs success.
Some more examples of such mind-shifting are:
● Thinking something as a weakness whereas it is really a strength.
● Thinking something as a liability whereas it is really an asset.
● Thinking something as an expense whereas it is really an investment.
● Thinking something as a problem whereas it is really an opportunity.
● Thinking something as a failure whereas it is really a stepping stone to success.
If you are the leader, it helps to have an attitude of non-judgmental respect. A less enlightened boss would write Diane off as an incorrigible resistor. But when you meet a person where he or she is at the moment (reluctant to change), not where you want him or her to be (sold to the change), honest exploration can happen.
Approach a conversation with a curiosity about what makes the other person tick. You will likely find out that your preconceptions about him or her are off the mark. In Diane’s case, it turned out that deep down she really wanted to change, but she needed to be assured this change was in her best interest.
Once the other person becomes aware of his or her limiting belief, don’t jump in right away, blurting “Oh you shouldn’t do that!”. The talent may feel that you are brushing off his concern and rushing to “fix” him or her. He or she may turn defensive or feel pressured, and the change will be harder to effect. That is why one currency of respect is patience.
The wiser strategy is to let the other person do the flipping. Shrewd psychology shows that when the answer comes from talent, ownership sticks better compared to being spoon-fed the answer.
Granted, there are people with character issues that border on the spitefully rebellious. This would require a different kind of intervention. That is why coaching is best rendered to the reasonable and receptive. My personal view is that not everyone is coachable. So choose your coachees wisely.
It is said that belief shapes behavior, which eventually shapes destiny. As my mentor once said, never underestimate the power of a conversation. In helping talents flip their negative thinking, you are changing their future to what is positive and possible. Only time will tell the full blossoming of their potential. And there lies our deepest joy. So go ahead. Say it. I know you want to. Reverse polarity!
About the Writer
NELSON T. DY
He is a trainer, coach, speaker and author. In his day job, he manages two factories for a well-known beverage conglomerate, using both his chemical engineering and MBA degrees.
He is also an active Toastmaster, guest preacher, and content creator. He aims to give value to PSTD through thought-leadership articles like the one you’ve just read. For more of his insights, subscribe to his Youtube Channel @nelsontdy.