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The Internal Career Coach: How to Coach a Manager with Low EQ

shutterstock_90636670I just got off the phone with an internal coach who is coaching a manager who has low EQ. You’ve probably come across this type of manager—the financial superstar who is bottom-line oriented and therefore gets promoted but has yet-to-be-developed skills in the area of motivating, developing, and relating to his/her direct reports.

As I’ve taught coaching over the years, I frequently hear the questions of “How do you get people who are highly analytical to be more relational?” and “How do you increase their EQ?”

Here’s my latest thinking on those questions, based on my understanding of neuroscience.

It starts with compassion.

Compassion keeps us out of fight-flight mode and puts us into peace-possibility mode, and we know that our brains are more able to come up with options and see solutions from the latter stance.

You might think, my low-EQ manager clients don’t want compassion from me! Maybe not. We do know that one of the things they do need is a no-judgment zone. And that is compassionate. We know that they do need to remain calm and in control so they can find solutions. And we know that they’re not in control when they’re being emotionally hijacked!

Next, is curiosity.

To help someone change their thinking (and then their behavior), they must be curious. They must wonder whether the way they’ve always thought/acted is still making sense. They must wonder what a different way of being might bring them better results.



Compassion & Curiosity in Coaching Conversation

Here’s how compassion and curiosity might sound in a coaching scenario:


Client: My new employee isn’t cutting it. She doesn’t quite have the skill set we really need at this point in time. I don’t have the time to deal with this. I want to just cut her loose.

Coach: I hear the drain.


Client: Right. It’s just one more thing and we’re going through so much with this re-organization.

Coach: Lots on your shoulders. I can almost see it physically. [pause] And I hear you wanting to be done with this.


Client: I do. This isn’t what I signed up for. It’s a drag on our productivity.

Coach: Sounds like it’s a drag on you, individually, as well. So even though you don’t want to spend time on this, it’s still taking up space in your thought process and draining your energy.


Client: No kidding. [sigh] She’s not totally useless, but there are some things that really annoy me.

Coach: What would those be?


Client: She’s overly enthusiastic and doesn’t count the cost, and then it ends up causing misunderstandings and friction.

Coach: And on the flip side, you said ‘not totally useless,’ what are the things she does well?


Client: In a way, it is her enthusiasm that the rest of the team seems to respond well to.

Coach: Double-edged sword.


Client: And she really pulls the project management piece of things into focus. She can get other people on board.


Coach: It’s what they call ‘cognitive dissonance.’

Client: What do you mean?


Coach: Part of you says “she’s really upbeat, she’s loyal as the day is long, she’ll tackle anything you ask her.” And another part of you says, “a leopard doesn’t change its spots, I don’t have time to train or develop her, I don’t think she can do the job anyway.”

Client: Right.


Coach: And typically when there is cognitive dissonance, there’s hesitation, procrastination, second-guessing, and that quiet internal voice in our heads that keeps chewing on things, stealing away precious resources from our ability to think creatively and strategically.

Client: That makes sense.


Coach: Up to this point, it’s as if your brain may have been focusing on thinking, ‘no time for this, cut her loose’ as the wisest move—the best way to cope—, and yet there’s another part that’s quietly raising its hand to say, ‘hmmm, but she does bring some value to the table.’


Coach: One of the best ways to resolve cognitive dissonance is with curiosity. What comes up for you with that word “curiosity”?

Client: So, maybe, curiosity around where does she fit best, curiosity around what would happen if I simply told her that she’s not cutting it, curiosity around what will I do in the future if I get someone else on my team who doesn’t have everything on the ‘wish list’ that I want—will I just cut ‘em all loose?


Coach: What else?

Client: I’m done.


Coach: Open to some other thoughts?

Client: Yep.


Coach: Curiosity around how to leverage her strengths … curiosity around how you leverage your strengths in managing her … curiosity around whether this might take less time than originally imagined …

Client: Those are good.


Coach: You’re stretching her. You’re stretching yourself.

Client: I hear that. I get it.


Coach: How do you want to execute on the insights?


[end of excerpt]


Did you spot the compassion? Did you spot the curiosity? How might you implement these ideas with the people you coach? With yourself?



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4 Responses to “The Internal Career Coach: How to Coach a Manager with Low EQ”

  1. Kim Batson says:

    Susan, excellent thoughts – love the ‘compassion and curiosity’ strategy; I could see this as being a powerful technique for many situations, including the example you noted here. Brilliant! Thank you.

  2. Susan Whitcomb says:

    Thanks, Kim. And I think, as coaches, we need to extend that same Compassion and Curiosity to ourselves! We can often be the first ones to “beat ourselves up” if we don’t have the answer or don’t do it perfectly. Compassion and Curiosity keep us out of our own fight-flight zone.

  3. Lorene Goins says:

    I love your approach which would be a mind shift for me. Also, the applicability to one’s personal life would be good especially when trying to build the self-esteem and confidence of children or heading off your own negative self-talk.

  4. Susan Whitcomb says:

    Yes! Self-compassion can halt the negative self-talk like nothing else! And, re children, I wish I’d known more of these techniques when I was raising mine!

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