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What if there was a more effective way to coach and inspire your employees? Athletes? students? Even your kids?

A new study by a team of Case Western Reserve University researchers, published in bordersshows there is.

Their newly published work used neuroimaging to examine participants’ brains in response to two different coaching styles. The researchers wanted to see what happens in the brain that either helps people grow or makes them resistant to change.

Anthony “Tony” Jack, the Elmer G. Beamer-Hubert H. Schneider Chair, says, “You can say that it’s about how to get around the problem that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t. make to drink Ethics and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Case Western Reserve and principal investigator of this study.

Jack was joined by Richard Boyatzis, University Distinguished Professor and Professor of Organizational Behavior, Psychology, and Cognitive Science at Case Western Reserve. and Case Western Reserve Ph.D. graduate Angela Passarelli, who is now an associate professor of management at the College of Charleston.

All three are members of the Coaching Research Lab at Case Western Reserve’s Weatherhead School of Management.

“This applies to all helping and professional roles from therapists, doctors, nurses, clergy, administrators, teachers, professors, social workers, dental professionals and, yes, even parents,” Boyatzis said.

“Many who seek help confuse help with problem solving,” Passarelli said. “This research shows that when we begin helping interactions by doubling down on someone’s immediate problems, we inadvertently limit their ability to see future possibilities—and that in turn undermines the intention to help.”


The study included 47 full-time students at Case Western Reserve. Each had a series of 30-minute training sessions before entering the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. Researchers looked at brain function to compare what is described in psychology as a person’s “ideal self”—the person you would like to be—with their “actual self”—the person you actually are.

An example of an ideal self would be: “I am excited about the possibilities my future holds.” And a real example of yourself would be: “I’m afraid I won’t live up to what’s expected of me.”

The researchers used fMRI to show neural activity while subjects were engaged in visual attention and coaching tasks. Face-to-face coaching sessions were conducted prior to fMRI scanning. All subjects had one actual self-focused coaching session and were randomly assigned to a different number of ideal self coaching sessions.

The coaching task simulated idealized and actual self-based coaching interactions in a videoconference-style interaction between participants and coaches.

Each subject was presented with 96 pre-recorded videos of instructors commenting on the participants’ training experience or their future prospects. Propositions were created around the themes of hope, compassion, mindfulness, and playfulness in the ideal self condition and the lack of it in the actual self condition. Subjects indicated their agreement or disagreement with each statement.

This study was based on neuroimaging research by the same team 10 years ago. Both studies used neuroscience to test aspects of Boyatzis’ theory of intentional change, a multilevel theory of how to achieve sustainable and desirable change for individuals in teams, organizations, communities, and countries.

Their findings and how you can make them work for you

Researchers discovered something surprising that most conventional coaching approaches fail to understand. They saw evidence of conflict between these two different ways of thinking about themselves. This insight is important because it shows how easily “shoulds” and other self-critical thoughts can get in the way of developing a strong vision of our ideal self.

The researchers concluded that in order to put ourselves on the path to personal development, we need to recognize that these types of negative thoughts create defensiveness and resistance to change.

According to researchers, people whose ideal self is salient are better able to scan the wider environment and understand emerging issues. They experience more positive emotions, are more open to new ideas, and have more stable internal motivation.

“Many people think the best way to change others – and themselves – is to use a combination of carrot and stick, for example by praising and complimenting a critic,” says Jack. These findings show why it is better to get people to focus on their dreams and aspirations for the future.

According to him, when a person develops a clear vision of his ideal self, instead of being willful, resistant and prone to denial, he is willing and eager to grow.

Jack said, “Many managers overestimate the importance of telling their employees about their strengths and weaknesses. The real trick is to help someone get to the point where they actively seek feedback for themselves.” “Companies, coaches, and managers who want people to change need to talk about what they think needs improvement. Instead, they need to believe in the person’s inner desire to grow and let them guide their own development.” Otherwise, they are. It’s probably going to hit a wall of psychological resistance.”

more information:
When problem solving destroys personal growth: fMRI reveals conflict between actual and ideal self. borders (2023). DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2023.1128209 , … 023.1128209/abstract

Presented by Case Western Reserve University

quotation: A better coaching method could promote individual growth (2023, August 3) Retrieved August 3, 2023, from

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