I first met Tom when I was asked by his manager to undertake some coaching sessions with him. Tom was perhaps one of the most creative people I have ever encountered. He worked as a graphic designer for a medium sized company. His work was held in high esteem and he was very well paid – but no one who worked in the company knew him well. He preferred to work alone with as little communication with others as possible. To accommodate Tom’s needs he was given his own office in a company where most staff worked in open plan offices.
However, as the business had grown, Tom had to increasingly work as part of project teams. This required Tom to communicate more often with other team members and to attend team meetings which needed his active verbal participation. Tom strongly resisted this and had actually spoken to his boss about resigning. Not wanting to lose him, Tom’s boss had asked Tom to attend some coaching sessions with me and Tom had reluctantly agreed. His boss told me he thought that Tom was very shy and lacked confidence in his creative ideas.
In our initial coaching session I asked Tom to show me some of the things he was currently working on and to explain some of the reasoning behind his approach. He showed me some of his computer graphics and also showed me his sketch book. He began talking about his work in a halting and unstructured way – but as he saw I was genuinely interested and really listening, his voice gradually took on more confidence and his explanations became clearer.
In our next several sessions, as his trust gradually built up, he told me a little bit about his childhood and adolescence. As a child he was very dreamy and had a rich imagination which was encouraged by his mother. But starting from about 8 years old and on through his adolescence, he found that when he tried to explain his highly imaginative ideas other kids would just laugh at him or ignore him – which he found humiliating. Then when he discovered that he could draw really well at around age 12, he stopped verbally communicating his ideas to others and spent his time alone expressing his thoughts through drawing and painting – and later through computer graphics.
The source of Tom’s inability to communicate was now clear: It was not lack of confidence in his ideas (he had that in abundance) and it was not shyness – rather it was the fear of being humiliated if he tried to verbally express his creative ideas to others, a legacy of his childhood and adolescence. At this point Tom told me how badly he wanted to overcome this fear – but he simply did not know how to achieve this. I explained that his desire to change was in fact the most important ingredient he needed to bring about the change process. The rest was just using some change methodologies which our coaching sessions would focus on.
For the next six months, I worked with Tom on some techniques for releasing the subconsciously stored childhood/adolescent memories that caused his fear of humiliation – and the fear gradually melted away. During the same time I arranged for Tom to join Toastmasters, where twice a month he would have to get up in front of a very supportive group of people and speak spontaneously about his thoughts. During this six months Tom’s behaviour at work gradually changed quite noticeably – he was out of his office more often and was more communicative, he was a more active participant in meetings, etc. The ultimate indication of this change came when he actually requested that he no longer have his own office and that he work out on the floor with others.
Have you encountered someone like Tom? Did they eventually come out of themselves?