How the Enemies of Learning Impact Business Coaching and Mentoring

By Marie Taylor, Steve Crabb

Business coaches and mentors must sometimes face the enemies of learning. When discovering new things, many people experience what’s called enemies of learning. These unconscious behaviors block people from trying new things for the sake of comfort and familiarity. As a coach, you need to have an awareness of your own enemies of learning and see them in others.

Here are the most common enemies of learning to look for:

  • Is this the same as that? Humans are pattern-matching machines. They look for the sequences and familiarity in everything as a means to learn about the world. Is this like that? Is that like this? If someone operates by assuming what’s being coached is the same as what he already knows, he’s closing his mind to new ideas. If you identify that a client is pattern matching, first make him aware that he’s doing it. Then explain the negative impact it can have and invite him to stop doing it.
  • I’ve heard this before. If the client assumes he’s heard this before, the open mind closes. Steve recalls sitting in an NLP trainers’ training session, listening to Dr. Richard Bandler tell a story. Although Steve had heard the story a good 30 times before at previous training sessions, he suddenly heard a new message. You can always find something to learn, so encourage clients to imagine being a novice and let the information in.
  • Do you know who I am? Professional experts, senior executives, high earners, and high achievers can often let their perceived status block them from learning in a coaching conversation. The person who thinks he’s the finished article, who’s reached his potential because of a title or qualification, has a cup that’s overflowing. Telling him the novice and master story (see the earlier sidebar “Addressing willingness to learn before teaching”) can make the client aware of this blockage.
  • I don’t have time for this. Everyone is busy. Unless someone values the time and effort involved in coaching, he may be resistant from the start. Being able to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI), and giving metaphors and examples of the benefits of engaging and the costs of non-engagement are great ways to get someone to see the value of the coaching process.
  • This is all highly amusing. Having fun is an integral part of any coaching program. Fun is a great state for learning. But a distinction exists between having fun and making light of the work. Playing the joker is often a way to camouflage insecurity. When someone is trying to disengage by using humor for fear of not being good enough, of not being able to learn, or of the changes that may come about as a result of the coaching process, humor becomes a problem. In this situation, tell the client that it’s okay to have fun and that humor is a good thing, but not to use it as a diversion tactic from fully engaging in the coaching experience.

Making clients aware of the enemies of learning as part of a preframe conversation enables them to recognize them and then self-adjust. If they don’t recognize when an enemy crops up or don’t self-adjust, you can refer back to the preframe conversation to remind them. If the client still fails to adjust after the feedback, you now have a topic worthy of coaching around.

In order to get the most from a coaching program if you are a business owner, take some time before any program to set some intentions for yourself and how you’ll behave throughout the coaching. If you’re in a position of power and authority, very often peers and colleagues may be unwilling to speak up and criticize or give constructive and valuable feedback for fear of stepping out of line. Too often, senior people are surrounded by “yes men.” Having a coach who is a “yes man” will not bring out the best in you.

Smart people are open to constructive criticism and feedback. This requires honesty and a trusting collaborative working relationship with your coach. Set the following intentions for how you behave during your program, and you’ll set the optimal conditions for honest constructive coaching conversations:

  • Be open to being challenged.
  • Be open to being wrong.
  • Be open to taking time to reflect upon any feedback received.
  • Be open to having the mirror of self-reflection held up to you and seeing what others see that you might not be willing to acknowledge.
  • Be willing to regard all feedback as professional and avoid taking it personally.