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Expanding the View

By J.R. Reynolds
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Originally Published in Coaching for Transformation

Many times our viewpoints of the world are centered more on ourselves and our projections than actual reality. As a result, we form opinions that can often derail even the best intentions.

This can be the case especially if we happen to be part of what social science refers to as a “dominant group.” In the United States, examples of dominant groups include: white, male, Christian, heterosexual, non-disabled, upper middle class.

Renee is a middle-aged and upwardly mobile banking executive. One of her core values is giving back to the community. After a negative experience volunteering at a small grassroots nonprofit agency focused on women helping women help themselves, she asked for some coaching.

“Volunteering with them was a disaster,” Renee complained.

“What was hard about it?” I asked.

“They just didn’t have their sh*t together over there,” said Renee.

“How do you mean, Renee?”

“So I get there and the executive director didn’t want to see me. Then, I get assigned to do accounting paperwork that any secretary could do.”

“How was that for you?”

“I felt insulted,” replied Renee.

After deeper exploration of Renee’s emotions, I helped her take another look at the agency she had volunteered with.

“What’s the annual budget of the nonprofi t?”

“Budget? From what I could tell, they were living from pillar to post,” said Renee. “They’re barely hanging on. It was so sad. How can they help their clients when they can hardly help themselves?”

I nodded, then asked, “You said the agency didn’t have their, uh, stuff together and the executive director didn’t want to see you. How might those two things be related?”

“Well, actually she did stop over later, while I was reorganizing their fi nancials.”

“Hmm, I’m curious; how did that feel?”

“Annoyed at first,” admitted Renee. “Then she apologized about not coming out to meet me and explained about the all the ‘fires’ she was fi ghting.”

“What did her explanation do for you?”

“It made me wonder why she was doing things her assistant should have been doing.”

“Where was her assistant?” I asked.

Renee leaned toward me and opened her mouth as if to speak, but stopped. She furrowed her brow. I followed suit and we sat in silence for almost a minute. Finally, Renee spoke.

“It didn’t occur to me until just now that she might not have had an assistant,” Renee said almost at a whisper.

More silence.

“What’s going on with you?” I asked.

“Feeling uneasy.”

“Where’s that showing up in your body?

“My stomach; it’s knotting,” Renee said.

The coaching continued with Renee sharing an expanded view of her experience. In the process she admitted her initial interpretation of what transpired might be wrong, including a shift around why she had been assigned what she considered a menial accounting task.

“They just didn’t have the capacity to get that work done,” Renee concluded. “I also might have been the only one in there who understood what needed to be done.”

“Where does that lead you?” I asked.

“I’m starting to see how I might really have been valued over there,” Renee smiled. “Here I thought they didn’t want me so they gave me that tedious work. Now I see they probably wanted and may have even needed me.”

“And how do you feel?”

“Valued. Like I need to pick up the phone to reconnect.”


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