In Chapter One of the best selling book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey separates the wide range of concerns we have as humans into two categories: the Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence. In order to illustrate that there are some things we have no real control over and others that we can do something about.  

Arguing that, “Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. The things they can do something about. Reactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern. The weakness of other people, problems, and circumstances over which they have no control.” 

When it comes to the concern of how others treat us, depending on the situation it may fall in the Circle of Concern, which is in line with the Paulo Coelho statement, “How people treat other people is a direct reflection of how they feel about themselves.”

Or it may fall in the Circle of Influence, which is in line with the Tony Gaskins statement, "You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce."

On a few occasions recently, older folks have engaged me in a manner where I felt disrespected. I was treated not as an equal, but a 20-something year old millennial stereotype deserving of unsolicited advice.

And unfortunately, instead of maximizing the interaction with these knowledgeable individuals, I spent my time thinking about how they were treating me less than my worth. 

After vocalizing my frustration to Danny, he challenged me to look internal. This forced me to assess which circle the issue fell into. And with its recurring nature, it was clear that it was in my circle of influence and that somehow I was attracting these situations. 

Shrinking. By virtue of making myself small, I was inviting people to treat me how they saw fit. 

“You can’t shrink your way to greatness!” — Seth Godin 

Coachability vs. Life-Long Learning 

“Can you tell me about one of your strengths?”

“Being coachable is one of my strengths. I’m receptive to feedback, and I seek constructive criticism.”

Coachability, a transferable skill that I developed on the football field and brought to Corporate America was one of the selling points I used in interviews. As the youngest kid in my neighborhood that got to play football, I learned getting picked consistently required embracing my Miranda Rights.

In other words, not saying a single word. Not complaining rather submitting to the leadership of the team captain. 

Then, transitioning from street football to organized football I realized that most people were too lazy or arrogant to receive coaching, so I saw being “coachable” as a competitive advantage. Understanding that my insight was true off the field as well, I brought my coachability to the workforce. 

Naive to the nuances, I didn't see the difference between being coachable in football and Corporate America. As a football player, if a person holds a superior position to you, arguably they are your coach and have the right to give you instructions. That person can be as low as a captain on JV or as high as the varsity head coach. 

I carried this same belief of coachability, not talking back regardless of how I felt, into Corporate America and ultimately into my role as an entrepreneur. I saw being coachable as a sign that I wasn’t arrogant but committed to continuous learning and growth. But in reality the two are different. 

Coachability is having the mental and emotional capacity to withstand the necessary constructive criticism from your coach.

Life-Long Learning is the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.

Be Coachable with YOUR Coach: 

Not everyone is your coach. I repeat, not everyone is your coach. Unlike football, just because someone is in a superior role/position does not mean that you should approach the relationship as a coachee.

The purpose of a coach is to help you identify your goals and develop an actionable plan to achieve them. Therefore if someone is not committed to fulfilling that role then you should not submit to them as a coachee. 

Also, a coach-coachee relationship is not mutual. The relationship is designed to have a power imbalance. Meaning the coach tells the coachee what to do and the coachee’s job is to execute. But when you present yourself as a coachee to people who are not your coach; you're actually shrinking — disrespecting yourself. 

Moreover, after some time to sit with the issue, I learned that coachability is a skillset I should exercise only with my coach. And in all other relationships, I should present myself as an equal.

This doesn’t mean I approach people with a sense of arrogance or unwillingness to learn. It means I respect myself enough not to shrink as well as embrace the value I bring to the relationship. 

You are built not to shrink down to less but to blossom into more. To be more splendid. To be more extraordinary. To use every moment to fill yourself up.” — Oprah Winfrey

Cutting People Off vs. Setting Boundaries

As if not showing up as an equal wasn’t enough. My response when people give unsolicited advice is to shrink even more. Despite the coachability ora I embrace, I'm a radical at heart. I prefer to go my own way. Yet oddly, I try to avoid confrontation. I’d rather cut people off than have to confront them,  address the situation, and set boundaries. 

My approach  stems from my relationship with my parents growing up. Instead of losing every argument, I'd just let them talk and still do what I wanted to do. This approach was somewhat successful because by not arguing my parents assumed that I was listening. Giving me just enough room to secretly do my own thing. 

But I’m not a teenager anymore. I’m an adult and cutting people off or holding it in when it’s some I can’t cut off just to avoid confrontation is not a sustainable model. Moreover, accepting the following has helped with the mental shift. 

  • The truth shouldn’t mess up the relationship. 
  • No one enjoy’s confronting people. 

STOP Giving Away Your Power: 

“If the shy person seems indecisive, or is stumbling on his or her words, it may seem like an open door for others to jump in with their opinions. Body language that looks hesitant, weak, or helpless can also cause the advice givers of the world to feel it’s their duty to step in and take control of the situation.” — Amy Castro

When you don’t speak assertively, people will assume they’re more knowledgeable or experienced than you are, even if that’s not the case. Amy Morin, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do said, “unsolicited advice may be an attempt at dominance. Telling someone what to do or how to do things differently sends a message that says, I know more than you.”

If you like myself find yourself giving away your power. Here are some go to phases that public speaking coach Amy Castro suggests. 

Easy Approach: “You may be right,’ and then move on. This noncommittal response will appease the advice giver, while not giving away your power because you’re not saying that you accept the advice as correct or will take any action on the advice.”

Direct Approach: “That’s an option, but I think my plan will work just as well” or “Thanks. If I need help or any advice, I’ll be sure to come see you.”

Fatal Approach:  “I understand you’re trying to help, but I’m comfortable with the way I’m doing X. I’d rather not talk about other options again” or simply, “Thank you, but I don’t need advice.”

Nonetheless, I’ve accepted that shrinking is a form of self betrayal. And that it’s my responsibility to approach people as an equal and to have the confidence to assert myself if some decides to treat me as less.