Stepping Outside Oneself

I was sitting with a coaching client of mine this week listening to her personal struggle at her office, where she gets frustrated dealing with her boss who is, in her words, “passive aggressive.” She lamented how difficult he is to deal with, and then asked me for help on how to change him.

I asked her how his behavior impacted her. I understood why it was bothersome but I wanted her to crystallize what about the behavior was troubling, and how it affected her life. She couldn’t really articulate the impact, other than to say how much she was “bothered” by people who are passive-aggressive. I kept trying to push her to somehow capture what difficulty this behavior brought her.

We kept going in circles, so I asked her to take the stance that I often write about of “Interested Observer.” Becoming an IO involves mentally stepping outside oneself and watching what is happening between ourselves and another person, instead of feeling pulled in and triggered by the other’s behavior. I asked her to close her eyes and imagine that during a recent incident with her boss, she was simply observing what was happening. She closed her eyes and then threw them open, saying, “I guess I just don’t like feeling as if he is taking advantage of me!” We were then able to discuss whether in reality he was taking advantage of her, or her filters perceived this to be the case.

Interested Observer mode can be a very powerful way to step outside of a troubling situation and view more objectively what’s happening. It’s not that we are trying to put rose-colored glasses on, or force ourselves to see the other person differently; it’s more about gaining our own power. When we are triggered by another person and then drawn in emotionally, we actually lose our choice. We simply react instead of thinking about what’s best for us, and how best to respond.

The IO position, when assumed in the middle of an exchange, allows us to step outside of the emotional morass we may fall into and be more objective and questioning about what is happening and what we need to do. By questioning, I mean that we can ask ourselves: What’s happening with the other person? What’s happening with us? What’s going on in the exchange? If we can become more curious and more introspective, there is a transition that happens where we stop being unconsciously pulled in and start making more conscious decisions about our response.

This client found herself getting stronger and more powerful even as we spoke, because she realized that she had a choice about how to respond to this boss. When we are dealing with someone who upsets us, we often forget that we have a choice.

This week, remember that you do have a choice. We want to blame another, or fix another, or simply rail at another because we don’t know what else to do. Assume the role of IO and just watch and question. See whether you have more choices than you believed possible in doing so.