Coaching with Compassion

3 min read


When our daughter was little, our interactions rarely ended with “Don’t tell me what to do!”  Not so anymore.  I have been working on adapting my parenting style from managing a child to young adult coaching.  But I’m finding that not all coaching styles are created equal and that my usual style is perhaps not always the way to go with a teenager.

Dr. Richard Boyatzis, professor of Organizational Behavior, calls my style “Coaching for Compliance”.  Sounds pretty good in theory.  I point out your weakness and what you can do to fix it – you do it.  I coach, you comply – win/win.

Unfortunately, Dr. Boyatzis explains that this style is the very reason why so few people actually change despite our efforts to help them – “instead of engaging people’s natural powers of curiosity and imagination and inspiring them, we actually diminish them, and we impose our will, and we try to engineer or fix them.”  Doesn’t sound so good when you put it that way!

I’m starting to see how this works with my daughter.  I feel I am doing something positive by reminding her of what she needs to do.  In effect, however, I am wasting my time and making her angry, with no positive result.

For example, my daughter was taking an advanced swim course and needed to practice.  She told me of extra skills classes she could attend.  We both knew she really needed to pass the course – not just so that we didn’t waste the $300 fee, but also because it was a requirement for her part-time job.

Despite high incentive, each time I reminded her to look at the extra class times, she did nothing.  Dr. Boyatzis explains that questions like “Are you …?” and “Did you …?” induce some level of guilt and, therefore, people are not likely to act on them.  Bingo!  I was engaging what Boyatzis calls the Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA) by reminding her of the negative – what hasn’t been done yet.

She knew what she needed to do but my reminders triggered her to close down and start protecting herself – “Don’t tell me what to do!”  My pushing took away all desire to change.

So, how do we encourage someone to do what’s in their best interest without activating the NEA (and perhaps ensuring that they never do it)?  According to Dr. Boyatzis, we have to activate the Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) with a shared vision.  When someone endorses your strengths and believes in you, it opens up possibilities that you may not have seen before.  This is “Coaching with Compassion” – How can we make this happen? rather than Have you done that yet?

Coaching with Compassion includes conversations that inspire us.  It looks at possibilities rather than problems, hopes rather than fears.  Having a positive vision or hope for the future activates the PEA and energizes people, allowing them to be open to new possibilities and the process of change.

Luckily, my daughter and I accidentally triggered the PEA one afternoon when we realized we had to get our calendars in sync or we wouldn’t get everything done that we wanted to do.  As we both had our calendars out, I suggested we include the extra swim classes.  All of a sudden it was no problem and she found the elusive swim times.  There was no, “Don’t tell me what to do!”  Actually, there was no complaining at all.  Why?  I wasn’t telling her what to do.  We were working together on the shared goal of an aligned family schedule.

In the end, my daughter did the extra swim classes and passed her course.  Thank you Positive Emotional Attractor!

About Lisa Ivaldi

Lisa loves sharing information that will have a positive impact. is a personal growth blog that uses personal stories and expert theories to share ideas and perspectives. Sometimes looking at things slightly differently can make a huge difference.
This entry was posted in Behaviour, Communication and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Coaching with Compassion

  1. Wow, great knowledge to share. I also think that people love the “we” instead of the “me”. Me puts a lot of pressure on the individual and does not give us something to share. Common goals are the best. Excellent article!

  2. Caroline says:

    I enjoyed this article very much! Being in a field where I work so closely with people I have become extremely aware of the words I use and the approaches I take. Thank you for this!

  3. Paula Clarke says:

    I’m interested inreading more by Dr Boyatzis, can you share what or where you’ve been reading his information?

  4. Thank you Lisa. I was very skilled at NEA…and now work very hard to master the PEA in all areas of my life. One of my dear friends shared 3 words with me that turned the intention into action…. I now use those words in every challenging situation and share them with all of my staff.
    They are prefaced with “What are our/your/their” …
    Goals, Roles and Expectations?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s