Your Must-Have Skill for Coaching Past Doubt and Fear

What we think shapes our experience. If we change what we think, we can change our experience. With that amazing ability comes a pitfall, though. The stories our brains make up are often “threat avoidance” stories. They’re heavily focused on negative “what ifs.” The doubt-ridden, fear-based thinking these stories create gets in the way of our most important job as leaders: getting people excited about what could be for themselves, the team, or the company.

 The solution is a technique called reframing.

If you have ever worked with my daughter, Ashley, you’ll know that apart from being one of the kindest people you’ll meet (unbiased opinion), she’s been an exceptional Executive Director of the Lift a Life Foundation. Her combination of analytical and creative thinking has helped her pioneer powerful. community-driven solutions, especially in early childhood education, leadership development, diabetes care for children and combatting hunger.

A significant character trait is her desire to do an outstanding job with anything she touches. It’s key to her success, but it can also be a double-edged sword. When it comes to new opportunities, she can find it difficult to step outside her comfort zone. Know anybody like that?

 Recently, I was lucky enough to have Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo, on the How Leaders Lead podcast. I thought it would be more interesting if Ashley interviewed Indra. They have a lot of shared values and passions, especially women in leadership and improving the childcare infrastructure. But when I asked Ashley if she would do it, I got a definite no. I spoke to Indra, who agreed that Ashley’s perspective would shape a great interview, so I set out to shift Ashley’s thinking using the principles of reframing.

Reality Is Often the Best Antidote to Fear and Doubt

Reframing is a crucial tool for coaching others and ourselves. It’s a resilience-builder, helping us find a way to navigate tough situations and tackle important opportunities. Unfortunately, too many people think of reframing as a kind of self-delusion, an act of pulling the positive wool over our eyes to block out the negative, anxiety-inducing reality.

The opposite is true. Reframing is actually a process of orienting yourself to reality as much as possible—of seeing the world the way it really is, not how you want it to be (overly optimistic) and not how you fear it might be (overly pessimistic). It’s a process of acknowledging and then countering the negative story running through your head or somebody else’s, because that story isn’t any more “true” than an excessively positive story.

 If you want to master the art of reframing, start with some reality-based habits.

Focus on Facts

Whether you’re working on your own mindset or coaching others, focusing on what is verifiably true is an important starting point for reframing. What was verifiably true for Ashley? She had experience. She had previously interviewed me for an episode. She had recorded our intros and outros. She had listened to every episode and had a good sense of what makes an interesting interview.

The fact that made the biggest difference, though, was when I reminded her that Indra was just a human being like her—a working mom who wants to make a difference in the world. And that it was just a conversation between two people with shared passions.

Get Honest

Ashley’s biggest fear was that she would blow it. Indra’s experiences, ideas, and message deserved a robust and compelling discussion. Ashley didn’t want to let me down, but she especially didn’t want to let Indra down.

When Ashley could be honest with me about the negative story in her head, I could be honest with her. First, her admiration for Indra made her the perfect person to have the conversation. She would do it justice. I wasn’t blowing smoke (that never helps); it was my honest assessment. I also told her that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have whatever conversation she wanted to have with one of the most successful women in the world. If she didn’t take it, she would regret it.

Asking yourself—or someone you’re coaching—what is at the heart of your fear can often start the process of dismantling it. You need to truly understand what’s holding you back.

Listen to Your Cheerleaders

I recently wrote about the importance of listening to your critics, but it’s equally important to listen to your supporters and cheerleaders. When they describe your strengths and remind you what you’re capable of, pay attention. Acknowledging those realities is important for reframing, especially if you’re struggling with self-doubt.

I’ve always been Ashley’s cheerleader, of course. “You’ve got this,” I told her. When she protested, I reminded her that she would do the necessary work—reading and research and more—to make it a great interview. She just needed to be herself because her perspective was valuable.

 But it was a final bit of reframing that made the big difference: “Have you ever considered for a minute that maybe you won’t do a bad job?” I asked. “That maybe this could be a really fun, enjoyable experience?”

The next morning when she woke up, that was her new perspective. She said yes, and of course, she nailed it. (You can listen to the conversation here.) Even more important, the feedback and recognition she got from Indra for her work is helping her step outside of her comfort zone more often.

My daughter ,Ashley, and me during the recording of our podcast episode with Indra Nooyi.

How can you orient yourself to reality when you need a healthy dose, like Ashley did? Seek out a trusted friend or colleague who can help you honestly assess the situation, decipher fact from fiction, remind you of your strengths, and offer a supportive push toward a more exciting future.

Reality is a great tool when we’re facing moments of opportunity, of crisis, of change. What challenge do you need to reframe in your life right now? Or how can you help somebody else orient themselves to reality so they can move forward?