293: The Magic of Working With Tough Cookies

20 Minutes Read

What do you do with the more, shall we say, unresponsive people on your team?

Just let them be? Get on their case about changing? Show them the door?

All of these options can be tempting as a leader with a tough cookie manage. But there are ways that this difficult person can actually transform your approach to leadership and team development.

Listen to this week's podcast to explore:

  • Why most "uncoachable" people really can change, and how to help them discover their own leverage points
  • The power of accepting your own role in a team member's resistance, and what changes you can make to your own leadership and team culture as a whole
  • How to set a high standard of performance while being curious about why someone may not be thriving

Other topics from the show include: transformative coaching, embracing individuals where they're at, how leadership is like jazz improvisation, unleashing creativity through coaching, the role of different personality types in miscommunication, why someone being a tough cookie may be exactly what the team needs, and more.


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Listen to this week's episode on Apple Podcasts here

Listen to it on Spotify here

Watch the video here

Steve Haase  0:01  
Welcome to the Superabound podcast with master coaches, Erin Aquin and Steve Haase where entrepreneurs and leaders learn coaching tools to help you build a magical business. You are listening to Episode 293: the magic of working with tough cookies. Yes, it is a funny title. Hello, everybody, we're gonna have fun on today's podcast, because we're taking a topic that goes through everybody's head, aka, this person's a tough cookie, they are uncoachable I can't possibly work with them. And dissecting what is behind that, how you can actually use that to grow as a leader and to create an even better business. And even learn a little bit about yourself in the process. Before we start, I want to share that we are opening the doors very soon for our next cohort of coach certification. So if you want to use these tools of leadership, self reflection and coaching, to build a better team for yourself and want to become certified in the Superabound tools for that, we would love to invite you to apply for the next cohort of our certification, you can learn more and sign up at besuperabound.com/certification. Now let's dive in.

Erin Aquin  1:24  
We're going to talk about something. I think that's really important today. And I'm just going to foreshadow this by saying you might not like it, not because it's like controversial or anything like that. But because we are going to offer you perhaps a different perspective to the people in your world. We're gonna, because you know, we are business coaches, we're gonna talk about your business world, your, your, your team, your company, we're going to offer you a perspective on the people who we might call tough cookies. Some of our contemporaries may call them uncoachable. And

Steve Haase  2:11  
it's a big question on people's mind, because there seems to be lots of them around. Like, what do we do about Bob? He's always talking over me in meetings. What about Carol, she's always late to things. She just won't listen to feedback. just won't listen. And it's easy to have all these tools of coaching, maybe you've been following along and kind of building up your own coaching repertoire. Maybe you're a coach yourself, or you like using that with your team and thinking they're just not responding. You get the big stamp, you get the stamp, you say? uncoachable it's the Will Ferrell movie versus irredeemable.

Erin Aquin  2:53  
I don't remember it's called it's a it's a very niche. way, if you don't know it was a whole

Steve Haase  2:58  
song was or he's asked himself, am I irredeemable? Am I uncoachable?

Erin Aquin  3:04  
That's hilarious. The thing is people who you think of as uncomfortable, who are not responding to feedback, it's frustrating for you as the person who's trying to lead to mentor to consult with that person. But chances are, they don't know that they're tough cookies. You know, they don't wake up in the morning and say, How can I be a total stick in the mud at work today? How can I make everybody's day harder. And so we're gonna offer just some ideas for how to work with tough cookies in your world? Because I actually think there is some magic to learning how to do that. And some of the most beautiful business relationships that I have seen, have actually evolved from what was once a tough working relationship.

Steve Haase  4:04  
And I think that points to what we're talking about with the magic of working with tough cookies is it's a situation that starts out where you think it's like unfixable untenable this just isn't gonna work. They, they, they'll never listen. But the reality of it, I think there are very few people that are truly uncoachable or you can't get through, there's just no room for connection. I think more people are interested in in finding a way forward than being sticks in the mud. Like you said, Nobody wakes up and thinks they're the problem. And so working with that fact, is going to unlock new possibilities of creativity for you as a leader and new relationships that otherwise would have been kind of closed off. Yeah, so

Erin Aquin  4:59  
a lot of folks that we work with, you know, we have a coach certification program. And it's really specifically meant for, you know, any coach person who wants to coach could take it, and we'll get a lot out of it. Because our tools are really good. The Superabound tools are great. And we have a book behind what's why we wrote it. So you can, you can learn about those things. But really specifically, the training that we designed is meant for those who either coach leaders and executives, you know, who are working with people who have a large impact on a lot of people in their company. Or it's for people who are in leadership positions and want to lead through coaching. So instead of leading through micromanaging or leading through fear, they want to learn how to lead by empowering their team by helping the people around them really grow and thrive and help them become amazing decision makers, problem solvers, experts in their world, which I do think personally, it is the best way to lead. And as coaches, it affords a really unique opportunity to actually not approach those who may be tough cookies are tough nuts to crack, however, you however you word it for you. But to not see those people as problematic, but to actually see those people as opportunities to really clarify things like vision and values. So maybe before we kind of talk about how that works, I think the very first thing that can be humbling for leaders and folks that I've coached and people we've worked with over the years is if you think your whole team is made up of tough cookies, or some bad news, it might not be that you got stuck with a quote unquote, terrible team, it may actually be your leadership that has created some of these problems.

Steve Haase  7:16  
It's a tough pill to swallow, but it is the source of traction. The metaphor I use is like, if you're running on ice, like why am I not getting anywhere, and then someone throws down some sand, some gravel, some grit and like, okay, now I can get somewhere that grit, that gravel is you realizing that you created some of the dynamic team

Erin Aquin  7:41  
up tough cookies, perhaps, if you will, right.

Steve Haase  7:45  
And so, to whatever degree that's true, you know, it might be 100% True, it might just be a little bit true. It gives you an entry point to have the power to change things. So starting with the realization that the tough cookies in your life are partially your creation, gives you leverage over developing those relationships.

Erin Aquin  8:12  
And I know there's going to be a few of you out there at least who are gonna say, Listen, I do have a team full of tough cookies, but they are not my hires, you know, they were the people I was that were handed to me when I got this job I was brought in to specifically work with people who maybe don't have a strong team culture, maybe don't work well together, maybe don't have clear expectation, and it's more of a company problem than a me problem. And I totally get that. But then for for those of you where that may be the case. The the opportunity for you is how can you be the person who I don't want to be like say you're your hero saving the day, but you kind of are you know, you can be sort of the what was the there's a spiritual saying, and it's escaping me if someone knows, please reach out and tell me but it's the idea that like, sometimes the people who pose the biggest issues in our life are like our greatest spiritual teachers. I don't like hearing that personally when it's about me. But when when you are calm, you can see it as an opportunity to build resilience and to do the very first thing that we always start with with our clients and we train our coaches to do so as well is to make sure that everybody on the team has a real felt sense of the vision of why they are doing what they are doing in their work.

Steve Haase  9:53  
Those are two of the best ways to open doors. Starting by asking you yourself what your contribution to the relationship dysfunction might be. And reflecting on what you can do to change it, and the most powerful place to begin is with what we're all here to do together, making sure the folks who seem to be at odds with the team are actually aware of what it is their work is contributing to. So there's, there's like your own reflection as as a communicator, as a human being in relationship with other humans. And then to those leadership skills of setting a clear vision, setting a clear next lantern at the destination that we're all moving towards. When, when you have a tough cookie, who is a coaching client who's paying you for coaching, that's one thing, because they have signed up for a kind of transformative container. And they want that sort of feedback and personal growth, when you have a tough cookie, who just happens to be on your team, that's often when when leaders will, will want to pull the pull the exit door and just say, just get me out of here, I'm not responsible for this, they're not gonna listen. But that is also where you have the most, we can say positional authority, a lot of people, because they don't want to experience conflict, will abdicate their positional authority, and just chalk it up to incompetent folks and just complain about the incompetence on their team. And the question there as well, who's allowing them to stay on the team and still be incompetent. There's only so far that the complaining will get you before before you become the problem where you are actually the tough cookie. So in a situation where someone is not living up to their expectations of performance, then it becomes a different kind of conversation about what you need from them and and how they need to actually be performing in their role.

Erin Aquin  12:04  
Yeah, so some folks, as leaders, or coaches will abdicate responsibility, and others will go in the opposite direction and micromanage. They'll say, this is what you do. And I want to check in every 15 minutes to make sure you're on task, which will bug the shit out of everyone who works with you, and it'll make them feel like children and probably won't get you a closer team dynamic going on anytime soon. So it's a tricky, tricky position for folks to be in, which is another reason why I think that coaching should be in every business's culture. Because there has to be a container to be able to sit down with someone who maybe you're feeling some friction from and say, as your leader or as your coach, I want to talk about what I'm noticing when I interact with you. An approach that is actually really helpful that coaches that we get a return we as coaches use, is, instead of just making an assessment or an analysis about how someone else is feeling, or you look at someone and say, Wow, you're in such a bad mood, I can tell you got a bad attitude. And everyone around here knows it. It's saying, I noticed myself feeling tense. Because I see you sitting there with your arms crossed, and I noticed myself wondering what you're thinking, and why you're not sharing it. So I just want to make room. In case there's something you didn't want to say. And it can be very challenging. We've spent a lot of time with, with our clients over the years really kind of sometimes even role playing lists. But it can be really challenging to not as a leader or as a business owner to jump in and have a no and have the answer and say this is what you're doing. And this is what I need you to do differently. It's a huge, huge challenge and does take some practice to be able to sit back and just reflect what you're noticing from the inside as a vulnerable sort of opening. I can't tell you how many times we've worked with teams, where they will say that as they kind of explored this with someone who was maybe a tough cookie on their team, that the person was actually in a position of being defensive or challenging. That person actually felt a loyalty to the vision of the team and the company and just felt like things weren't being handled well. So I've noticed this even in clients who've who are in leadership position is where they feel like they are always known as the angry one or the one who is disrupting the whole meeting all the time. Because they're raising important things, they actually feel a sense of loyalty that's very deep to the vision of the company, and feel like everybody else is just paying lip service. So that's something that can be really interesting to do as a leader is asking the person that you're coaching, mentoring, giving one on one feedback to what they think the vision of the company is, how they are living the values through their work, how they are meeting expectations. So rather than coming out people and telling them what they're not doing, find out in their words, what they think they are doing, it can be so eye opening, to see that sometimes the people who tend to fight back or challenge are doing so out of a really deep sense of loyalty to the company, or the or the vision of what the company is there to do. With the organization always the company, sometimes it's yeah,

Steve Haase  16:18  
what I hear you pointing to is the power of questioning your assumptions. It's enormous, it's one of the main things that we focus on in our coach training error and actually created the nice acronym for it being a CEO coach, being a CEO leader, which stands for curious and powered and open. And the foundation of that is knowing that you might be wrong, you might be wrong here, how am I wrong? Here's what I see. How am I wrong? That allows you to be curious, rather than coming at someone like a ton of bricks and saying you're doing it wrong, I know what's right. Kind of switching those tables, say, you probably think you're doing it right. And I'm probably seeing something differently, helped me see where this isn't, this isn't correct. So sharing your assumptions in the spirit of Let's get closer to the truth, let's find out what's really happening. And this is actually where some of the personality assessments can come in handy. So if you don't do any work with, you know, how do I work best? How do I communicate best, whether it's Enneagram, or disk, or Colby Clifton Strengths, there's so many opportunities to understand more about where you're coming from or where a team member is coming from. They can be a little shallow at first, but if you use them and really work with them, they can be a source of depth and understanding. So that rather than thinking someone's always just an asshole, because they're sit back and question things, realize, no, they really care, they just have a different way of approaching things, right? I'm more relational, and they're more analytical and relationships and analysis are going to sometimes blow up in a ball of fury. You know, it'd be quiet fury, if I'm coming from the relationship side, I'll just quietly judge. But the analysis side will could also potentially be quietly stubborn, because while I haven't seen the data yet, and that doesn't mean that person is against you. It just means we need to find someplace to meet. Because maybe we are on the same page. But it requires that that building a bridge to say what is the page that, you know, what are we here to achieve? How do we know that we're getting closer, and then taking steps to actually get there together? I

Erin Aquin  18:44  
love it. And that, you know, that's it's so practical. And just because we like to talk about magic and spirituality as well. I do also at the same time as you're kind of doing that practical work and you're thinking like a like a coach leader. There is also the opportunity for self reflection of saying even if it's not true, like I'm not tied to this being the truth, and I don't think you should adopt this if it doesn't resonate with you. But it could just be a fun thought experiment to say if this person were really did exist in my world right now. In part to teach me something. If they were a teacher in disguise, what do I think they're here to teach me? It is a really interesting thought exercise. I've done this with people in my life in many different relationships, certainly not just in business. But it's it's that idea if anyone remembers there were some episodes we did on like $10,000 learning You know, if this situation full of friction and challenge and big puzzles, were worth $10,000 $100,000 A million dollars to me and this company? What learning could I find? What value could I be? And that doesn't have to be tangible dollar. But really just like finding what this is here to teach you, you know, we, we like to lift weights around here. We don't do that because it's easy. I certainly don't do it because it's fun. But I do it to get stronger. I do it because I know that the resistance and the effort of doing that will ideally help me be stronger as I say age, as I enter my mid 40s. On post. Is there an opportunity to see someone in your work life who's a tough cookie as that opportunity for you? Now, I wouldn't be really careful, we're definitely not saying that you need to like put on a smiling face and like spiritually bypass and walk around all day saying, What do all these assholes have to teach three, I have to keep them on my team forever. Because I haven't learned my lesson yet. It's just not a punishment, I want to be so clear. You know, there are definitely times where it's just so clear that if you do this work with someone, and you realize their vision is so opposite to what our company is trying to do, or what our team is trying to do, their values are in complete conflict with what the values the stated and lived values of what we are here doing really are for, yeah, it may be time to part ways with that person. But if there's an opportunity to learn to grow, to make the communication on your team better, to create something amazing, especially if it's a talented, amazing person who actually, you know, all your customers love them, or, you know, they bring something really unique, and they're a little bit quirky and sometimes hard to communicate with. That is your privilege as a leader, and as a coach to figure out how to make it safe enough for that person to open up and make the relationship one that is amazing and collaborative and lucrative for everybody.

Steve Haase  22:29  
Yeah, and I think when we talk about the magic of working with a tough cookie, part of that is unleashing your own creativity. If if you put that out as your challenge of the day, week, month or year, you say, Okay, we're gonna we're gonna make this thing work. And you set yourself the challenge of coming up with 100 ways to build that bridge to, to get more dynamism from that relationship to help that person be as impactful as possible at your company. If you get if you really said okay, I'm going to set my creativity free on empowering this person and building that relationship and setting them up for success. How would that change your perspective on them? From Why are they always foiling me to what an amazing opportunity to create a space for this talented person to be? So that's, that's one side of that magic is like unleashing your own creativity of leadership, of supporting somebody. And the other side, though, could be strengthening your commitment to a very high bar. Because sometimes, tough cookies need to be shown the door. Sometimes there's not a place for them at your company, if they are not a fit for the culture, if you've had enough of the conversations already, if you've already unleashed your creativity, but you find yourself being more afraid to let them go or, you know, unsure of what you'll do without them any of these reasons that we hang on to people way longer than we should as leaders, then that could be the magic for you is how do you how do you hold a high standard for your team in a way that is vision aligned and does not cater to your fear of you know what will happen to them? Or what will everybody think of me your what will happen to team morale because people are already talking if someone doesn't belong if someone's not having a good time if there is no place for them there but they're still there. It's already impacting morale.

Erin Aquin  24:41  
So always consult your HR professional before making any decisions. We're definitely not suggesting you are stuck walk around starting to fire people. But, but truly like that can also be something that is a really I mean, it is an important thing to learn. If you're leading, and that this also goes for coaches, you know, if you maybe have someone who is paying you, and you think I actually kind of disagree a little bit, Steve, if someone's paying you, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are 100%. coachable. Some people don't know what coaching is. And I sign up for working with someone and they don't like it. I have had people who tell me in the past, I had one person say, can you stop asking me so many questions? I thought you were here to tell me what to do? And I was like, No, that is not what coaching is.

Steve Haase  25:34  
Did you stop asking questions?

Erin Aquin  25:36  
I stopped working with them. Yeah, it was, it was just an odd fit. We were close to the end. And we completed our package a little early. And, you know, they wanted me to solve their problems. And that is not what I do. Now. Superabound, we do some thinking partnership. And when we have expertise on something, if we are there to build a strategy with someone, we absolutely will. But we don't do people's work for them. We don't get on the phone and work with their employees. But it's, it's a tricky thing. If you think that someone is hard to coach, I'm, I think I'm pretty good at this. I've had people tell me I am. So I'm going to take their lovely words and hold them myself. You can also be the person in their life that creates space for them to actually just be exactly where they're at. Because if somebody is a tough cookie, chances are everyone around them is giving them a lot of feedback about how they want them to be different. And if you are the independent paid coach who is there to help them make a shift in their life, to light an important lantern. Your work with that person maybe isn't to change them to make them more acceptable to other people. It might be like how do we do this in your most authentic way. There is something so healing that doesn't get talked about enough in the coaching worlds. There's something so healing about allowing people the space to be as they are, without trying to fight with themselves. Without them trying to make them sound some sound smarter, or better or happier, to actually let people exist with whatever's coming with them that day. And for you as the coach to be a safe container for that to exist and say, Well, yeah, how do we how do we create your dream life? Without having to bake a new personality? How do we create happiness and joy that's authentic to you? Without just painting a smiley face on? That is deep, deep spiritual work. So as business, so it was leadership.

Steve Haase  28:13  
I mean, this is beautiful, what you shared because there's something really judgmental than our title of the episode. We did that on purpose. It's kind of fun because it's what goes through everybody's mind right stuff, Cody. But the real beauty the real power of transformative coaching is embracing the person as they are. And the best leaders that I've worked with are the ones who I feel really saw me as saw my strengths, saw my weaknesses, and said hey, based on who you are and where you want to go, let's let's follow this path and and the updraft that I feel when someone really sees me. I'm sure I'm a tough cookie for ya. I'm sure I've been a tough cookie for plenty of people. And yet being an she's she's not that was a little too vigorous of a nod there Erin Aquin

EHaase Aquin  29:07  
that time.

Steve Haase  29:12  
That that embrace of and I love you anyway, you know, you don't have to have any anything beyond the employer employee relationship. But as a great leader, there's still a sense of love. There's a sense of connection of

Erin Aquin  29:26  
men care Yeah, of if love is too squishy.

Steve Haase  29:30  
Yes care. Real care looks like caring for who that whole person is including, you know, their own traumas and triggers as they manifest in being a tough cookie. And

Erin Aquin  29:42  
the interesting thing from the coaching perspective on that is so many people try to improve themselves whatever that means, through like self loathing, through lack of self worth, or like if I just I just get better do better and better, then I will be lovable to other people. And then maybe one day, I might consider liking myself. The interesting thing, whether it's coaching as an independent practice, or whether you are a coach, leader, leader who guides your people through the art of science of coaching, when you do that, it is meeting people where they're at today, showing them what is possible, when they actually open up and embrace more of who they are. Now, it doesn't mean of course, that we're like letting people walk around in the office screaming at each other because like, that's where I'm at today. It's not like a, an excuse for inappropriate behavior. But it just means that if you feel like someone on your team is resistant to an idea, and they tend maybe they have the habit of sitting through a meeting with stone cold faces, and then you get a six page email, I don't know how you would tell if an email was pages along email later on about why it's a terrible idea, but they never feel comfortable enough to speak up in the moment. That is a leader says, How can I make more space in those meetings to hear what we missed? Or maybe we do a follow up of some kind? Can? Is this person only communicating by email? Because there's no room for them? Or do they need time to process? What was said? And they've been thinking about it? Like, how can I see that as an opportunity, opportunity, rather than here comes the long email from Carol, you know, she never has anything to add in the meeting. But then I hear about it later on the weekend. There is an opportunity there, if you are willing.

Steve Haase  32:05  
My first career was in music, and I love improvising. I love playing jazz. And there's a certain improvisational quality in what you're talking about there that you just respond to what's happening in the band. And the moment that I Okay, we suddenly went double time, alright, how do I play over the double time, and you can also lead the session you can you can lead but you can't be heavy handed because you've got everybody else who's playing their part as well. So part of the magic that I would encourage you is think about other metaphors for what your leadership is like, for me, you know, that six page email, however many pages it is, is scroll, the long scroll URL email is is, you know, playing over some changes that were just freshly introduced. I'm like, Okay, what, Where's where's the magic here, where's the beauty in this moment. And so whatever your outside the work kind of magical inspiration might be, you can bring that in, in a way that feels authentic to you and your leadership style.

Erin Aquin  33:12  
And the final thing maybe we'll share here is I when I was coaching mainly on relationships, which I think this a lot of what we're talking about today really leans on some of those tools that I saw and developed and worked with over the years with folks. The interesting thing to also remember for yourself as the coach and as the leader, so that you have grace, and you're not just sitting there going, how did I create this horrible situation? That's not what we want you to do. But just remember that our human brains, the way I'll describe it, I'm not going to try and get into the brain science, complicated stuff that we know or are learning. But one of the ways I sometimes will describe it is in order to not have to really hold the complexity of all of the people in our lives and all of the work that we have to do. Sometimes what we do is we kind of reduce people down to like cardboard cutouts of who they really are. And we start to like get to know the patterns of people. And then we just look at them when we say Oh, Cynthia is loud. John, Fushi. Rachel mad like we kind of reduce people down to some experiences that we've had of them. And then we only ever relate to people as though they're like life size cardboard cutouts of themselves. It's really helpful one skill I think if you're gonna learn anything as a coach, the skill I think that is the most important is learning How to be authentically curious. Because people grow, people change, people develop. And if you're only relating to someone in the way that you first met them, or the way they were six months ago, you're missing having a relationship with the person who's in front of you today. So when you notice your assumptions coming through, when you notice yourself wanting to reduce that very complicated person down into a cardboard cutout version of themselves, try to get curious. Make it a game, to actually get to know something about the person in front of you that you didn't know before. And it will help you stay flexible. It'll help you stay in relationship with the present version of them.

Steve Haase  35:55  
I couldn't have said it better myself. So hopefully, today's conversation gives you some jumping off points for creating more magic in your life, especially if there's tough cookies in there, which come on, we all have them. So we'd love to hear what you think. We're on Instagram and all the places. Let us know your thoughts how this is going for you. And if you want to take some of these ideas further, we are offering a coach certification in September 24. Head over to besuperabound.com/certification to learn more and apply to join that cohort. Take care everyone

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