This is an archived blogpost from Green Alder Coaching

Well, Happy New Year to you all!

I pondered today whilst wandering the streets, looking and stepping over the wake of fallen Christmas trees that sporadically decorated the pavements, cast out in a 2013 blitz. The trees have served their purpose, forgotten and yesterdays news…What a waste?

I have had an interesting Christmas —mostly nice—but also challenging at times. I am particularly curious to reflect on the New Years Eve murder mystery event I was invited to, along with eight other people. There were four complete strangers, three new acquaintances and one close friend.

Only a week before, the host X asked me to pick any character from a list. At the time, she appeared unphased at who she or her family might play-act on the night. In fact, as a partnership, we collaborated and carefully selected which character would suit which individual. X was the expert in who her guests were. I quickly scanned and chose a Lady Diana Willard who was English and wore a black dress —easy I thought, as others were requiring safari suits and American accents etc. I felt relief that I could more or less go as myself and ease myself into getting to know a bunch of strangers. No fancy dress purchases!

The murder mystery evening arrived.  I was excited, but I was quickly overwhelmed by greetings at host X’s door from an array of people  dressed in character. With hindsight I can see it was great fun but I panicked. I had not even had an opportunity to glance at my script to get a sense of who I was playing.  Who were these strangers? I was impressed but intimidated by the wonderful drawl of thick accents required for the parts.

Unfortunately, it went downhill from there. I quickly became acutely aware of not being in an environment where I felt safe to play a character or be myself. I became easily tongue-tied and monotone. For some reason the host X repeatedly put me down in front of her guests by commenting with a sneer at how I had chosen the best part (all dressed up nice) whilst they all sat in sheets. I let the comments ride—the first, second, third and forth time, but by the fifth I went on the attack and announced  that she should not have given me the unrestricted choice in the first place! I could not look her in the eyes as I felt so humiliated yet childish.

During most of the evening, my wine glass was empty so I did not have the alcoholic courage of wine soaring through my veins to let things ride and become uninhibited. I found it impossible to act out a posh ‘Lady’ character whilst the rest of the table oozed wonderful German, American and Egytian accents. I felt crumpled and self conscious and wishing to be with a  familiar circle of friends or family. But some of it was immensely funny and a welcome distraction.

All was not lost. The evening concluded with a quick hike up Parliament Hill to see a wonderful array of fireworks! I was grinning from ear-to-ear with my sparkler and finally at ease in my jeans and woolly sweater.

With awareness and reflection I have learnt  a few things about people and about what makes a comfortable social environment (my analytical skills have gone overboard since New Year, as I have not felt this anxious for over a year).

I am a professional coach and building up my networking skills etc. Why did I feel like I was twelve again on this occasion? What can I learn from this experience?

I reflected the importance of a comfortable environment for people to meet and share information, get to know each other and build rapport before an event or a meeting.

It clarified to me the importance of creating a safe and collaborative relationship for coaching clients to feel at ease and open to questions and challenges within a coaching session. It reminded me of the passive-aggressive nature of some people, and the need for me to develop a ‘backbone’ and assert myself without reciprocating passive-aggressive behaviour back.

It reminded me of how it feels to be at the sharp end of snide remarks and truths masked as jokes. Many coaching clients I see have confidence concerns when faced with aggressive or passive-aggressive people. I must remember how it feels. It reminded me how important it is to bring a moment to moment awareness to any given situation and choose to respond differently when there can be an impulsive instinct to react (the difference between fast and slow thinking).

After all, I could have said from the start that I would struggle with acting out  a part and that I hoped they did not mind me just reading the dialogue until I warmed up. Instead I said nothing, but mentally tortured myself with an awareness that I was behaving differently from the others. I expected them to be mind readers perhaps?

I could have asked for a continual top-up on my New Year drink to help give a little courage and I certainly could have made light of and joked about the black dress comments. However, there is nothing wrong in being real. But, was there a need to take things so personally?

So my reflection is that we can make a situation worse by our thoughts on top of thoughts and our limited perspectives when in anxious states. I hope to be aware and respond differently in the future to such a situation, and also not to be affected so much by external events beyond my control. I have a choice on how to respond, but I also have the compassion to know that I did the best I could at the time in the situation that presented itself.

The main thing is, I have reflected and can let it go and move on. Onwards and upwards and safe in the knowledge that my positive and negative experiences can only have a rewarding effect on my ability to work as an effective coach. It’s yesterdays news, just like the cast out Christmas trees on the pavements of London. On the whole, the night was good, but it could have been fantastic, if I approached the event differently.

Have you ever had difficult situations to deal with that you wished you had handled better? I would like to hear your thoughts. Be mindful and Happy New Year!