Compared to what?

Coaching thoughts on comparison

a pile of apples and oranges sitting next to each other

Photo by Gowtham AGM on Unsplash

I have to resist the temptation of comparison on a daily basis.  After all, I am the father of 23-year old boy-girl twins and a day rarely goes by when I don’t get asked about them where I could easily launch into a deep comparison.  In fact, my wife and I made a conscious choice when they started school, and we had the pleasure of attending parent-teacher conferences, to discuss each individually and to remind the teachers that they were not a package deal.  They had their strengths and their weaknesses (we could admit that) but that comparing one to the other did not serve either of our kids.  I am sure our situation is pretty common and that temptation is found in our professional as well as personal lives.

Before I was a coach, I was an engineer working with technical staff who could sometimes be confused for extras on the Big Bang Theory.  It seemed my real value was not in the completion of technical work but in my ability to communicate effectively and translate their ideas and thoughts to clients and senior management.  In that environment, I was the extrovert in a sea of introverts.  By comparison, when I interact with other parents from school, friends from childhood and even some of my current clients, I am an introvert in a sea of extroverts.  While I had find that comparison between my kids is not particularly productive, I realize that self-comparison or awareness serves a valuable purpose.  It helps me tap into who I am and my audience and allows me to modulate my own approaches or responses.

In addition to being a rare breed of engineer who liked working with people and could maintain eye contact, I made the choice to become a coach and started to learn some of the techniques associated with asking powerful questions.  In my work with clients, I recognize the real value of comparisons is in the how the comparison is directed.  I regularly work with clients who are struggling with work-life balance, career advancement, and workplace issues.  Looking back, I realize that a question that I often pose to my clients is “compared to what?”  I use that question to clarify and bring the client back to the root cause of the issue at hand.  The inward focus of the “comparison” is very different than the comparisons we often find ourselves making with the world around us.  The question ultimately helps crystallize what really is important to them and can help guide their path forward.  

My twins believe that there is a regular and concerted effort to compare them to each other as I’m sure many professionals also believe.  Sometimes you have let them discover the truth for themselves. 

I think I have done a pretty good job.  Now I ask myself – Compared to what?