[This post is part of a series on Coaching Highlights from coaching Columbia Business School students. If you don't see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you'll get more value than reading just this post.]
Two months in Tibet is a technique that complements accountability for the long-term part of leadership and personal development. It overcomes a major source of resistance for many people trying to change.
Some background: One of the major sources of resistance when you try to change is other people. They know they old you. If they like you they like the old you. Changing your behavioral patterns without warning may confuse them and prompt them to worry if they will lose the you they like. They may not take you seriously. They may not realize you’re changing deliberately and see the changes as weird or aberrant.
All of these potential ways of seeing you translate into them trying to stop you from changing. The crazy part is that they will try to stop you from changing out of intent to help you.
They may not understand or support your change even if you tell them about your plans and motivations. Yes, even if you tell someone you want to, say, increase your assertiveness skills and show progress, often they may not take you seriously and hold you back, even if they said they would support you.
I think people fear others changing and leaving them behind, like smokers or obese people who, when a peer decides to leave the group, try to keep them in the group. They value the group and someone leaving threatens the group. From that perspective their resistance makes sense, even if from any other perspective it wouldn’t.
Okay, that’s a problem. What do I do about it?
If telling people about your change doesn’t lead them to support it, what does?
If someone goes to Tibet for two months to live on a mountaintop, when they return you expect them to change. You’d be surprised if they didn’t. My culture views Tibet, among other things, as a spiritual place where you learn about yourself. So if you told people you were changing after spending two months in Tibet, you’d get less resistance.
Well, you don’t need two months and it doesn’t have to be Tibet, but giving people a powerful reason for your change helps them support it. For students I coach, I suggest mentioning the 360-degree report, leadership class, or coaching as something meaningful they could use as their two months in Tibet. Other things that work can be a relevant book or meeting a new person. I don’t recommend making something up, since they’ll likely ask you about details and will find you out if you start having to make things up, but you don’t have to. You probably have relevant things that will work. You just have to find them and share them.
I recommend this technique for transforming resistance into understanding. Resistance from other people — often well-meaning people who feel like they’re helping you — holds people back as much as anything else otherwise.