Do You Want to Be Proficient or Profound?

Profound dancers

There is a difference between striving to be proficient and choosing to be profound. If you had to choose one, how do you want to be described and remembered, for how well you accomplished tasks or for how hopeful and confident people felt after being with you?

Yes, this is a leading question. Most coaches and leaders I work with say they want to have meaningful conversations that make a difference. When I ask what makes the conversation meaningful, they tell me what they say. They don’t describe the energetic connection they are hoping to make.

There is a difference in the impact we make when we are sincerely focused on being proficient with our words or profound with our presence.

The danger I have seen increasing over the years comes from coaches intent on meeting certification requirements or safely following a coaching model. Both leaders and coaches I work with find it difficult giving up being seen as “the one who knows.” They miss the magic of being with people in their conversations.

Of course, I support the development of skills and expertise. I teach coaching skills and mastering the ICF competencies to coaches and leaders world-wide. Every class I teach, I emphasize the importance of humble, not-judgmental curiosity. It often takes months, maybe years to maintain being fully and sincerely present, but working on peeling away the grasp of our ego – the identity that we think is most valuable and we cling to – must be woven into our regular practice.

To be of value to our clients and colleagues, we must seek to be profound with our presence as well as proficient with our skills.

Practice Unselfing

We live inside our concept of self. To expand the awareness of others through coaching, you must expand, and eventually release, your concept of self.  The identity you hold onto brought you to your current success and comfort level. Giving up what you believe provides value is not easy. Sitting with not knowing what will occur, but trusting that new insights will light the way, takes practice.

You must believe the substance of your presence, the energy that connects, aligns, and fosters notions to surface, is more powerful when you are mindless than when you expertly apply the behaviors you were taught up to now.

You can then weave your presence into the application of your skills. For instance, being proficient at the ICF competency of setting an agreement for the conversation means you and your coachees are both clear about where you are going and what they want to have at the end of the conversation.

They may say they want a decision, steps to take, or more clarity on their options. Go further. Wonder what it looks like they make the decision, what they want to create when they take the steps, or what truly is important to them about their desire right now. Don’t ask a list of generic questions. Use their words as you curiously explore what realizing their outcome means to them.

Sense what they want that they have resisted saying, or even formulating. Hear the angst in their words when they describe how they feel slighted by others, what they fear they have lost for good, and what they doubt they can do. Be present to their entire story to bring forth what must be seen and resolved. This will bring them to voice the real outcome they want to achieve.

Combine this deeper clarification with the competency of cultivating trust and safety. To be proficient at this competency, you pay attention, respect their reactions, and show concern and support when they air their grievances. To be profound, don’t worry about your posture and gestures, if you are open or closed. Open your mind with curiosity, your heart with compassion, and feel the confidence you hope they embody with you. Your energy will convey your acceptance and care even if you cross your arms.

Philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch says that to experience beauty, we must learn the process of “unselfing.”1 Although she writes about unselfing when we commune with nature and contemplate art, I believe we can unself if we sense the sacredness of the humans we are with. We release anxiety about being judged, freeing ourselves of the clutches of our egos.

Murdoch says, “any real understanding of goodness is necessarily an embrace of imperfection.”

Being profound is the deepening of presence, not the perfection of skills. Don’t sacrifice your presence to the need to be perfect. Choose to be both proficient and profound.
1 Iris Murdoch. The Sovereignty of Good, 1st edition. Routledge, July 2, 2013

1 thought on “Do You Want to Be Proficient or Profound?”

  1. Wow, this really spoke to me. I’m a type A achiever, and I plan everything. I plan out my day by the 1/ 2 hour, plan my scripts for meetings, and have a drive to my perceived outcome of success. I sometimes feel like outcomes and agreements are superficial and transactional and I also feel fake after interactions. Its part the corporate culture I am in, part shame and fear of vulnerability. I didn’t grow up in the US, and I think I overcompensate to hide what makes me different.

    Thanks for sharing this, its a great reminder for me to reassess my approach.

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