This is an attempt at capturing a conversation with a fellow agilist who I admire greatly. It is a conversation we find ourselves in regularly as we both try and find a way to avoid our jerk side which we both know just gets in the way of exceptional performance. I am afraid it isn’t a short blog, so feel free to scan it or even abandon it wherever  makes sense for you. I do hope you read to the end as I would love to hear about what you think on my thoughts ? What is it you have experienced that is similar or different ? How are you solving this ?

I call it every coaches existential crisis simply because the first thing that new coaches face is the shift from doing it myself to supporting others in doing it and having no real control. I have observed that the ability of a coach to resolve this is directly linked to their impact they have as coaches. The more coaches are able to create spaces where other people are in control of the doing, the better the chances are of those teams shifting into higher performance using the coaching that the coach brings.

What is my jerk self ? It is the way I have been taught to be. It is my reactive self that gets in the way and keeps me stuck in frustration and righteous anger. My jerk self is overly attached to the outcome, shows up as the expert who has the only answer and generally becomes part of the problem I am so passionate about shifting. Wait, that is also part of the jerk way of thinking – seeing what is happening in corporates as a problem that needs to be fixed.

I suspect that the word jerk may be triggering some readers. I use it lightly as a way of showing up the anti-patterns I have called normal for years and yes, it is unfortunately a filter that falls into place more frequently than is useful when I engage with people. That is the point of the label for me, a way to that isn’t to judgy to describe a pattern of being that I would like to manage better. It helps me rationalize all this and separate from it in a way that helps me see other choices and be a better observer of the impact I am actually having on the world.

How did this all start ? With yet another conversation at work about why things aren’t working which in retrospect, was grounded in generalisations that were more opinion than fact that everyone (including myself) automatically took as truth. I found myself not falling into defensiveness and rational argument (that place where someone says something that isn’t true so I respond with why it isn’t true and/ or my own opinion on things, which tends to head downhill quite quickly). This time I managed to (mostly) avoid this trap and instead, I found myself taking a step back and asking more questions: “How are you reaching this conclusion ? What is it you are seeing and hearing ?

Slowly and gently it became clear that we weren’t talking about anything with substance and the parts that had substance were unsubstantiated. Hard to have a strong negative opinion in this new landscape.

Reflecting on the experience I realized an important part of what brings delight into my world is anchored in being action focused and focused on creating a new future that is more predisposed to exceptional performance. I also started to see how the conversations that I was becoming bogged down in where the people across from me are past focused and focused on what is wrong, why it is wrong and why my they are right in saying it is wrong and so please fix it as it is my problem because I am wrong. I suspect you may have experience in these conversations.

The end result is an instantaneous reaction into defensiveness and judgement which just shuts down all creativity and forward movement and frustrates me to the point of complete disconnection and non-caring. I really don’t function well stuck in the past! Thinking that is based on the past is anchored in immovable opinions and judgements which insist that we repeat the past as it was right. Its ground hog day and we can only end up with all of us back in this place, having this conversation and experience tomorrow. It’s futile and meaningless.

My buddy asked me if the missing ingredient was empathy and summed up the conversations I was describing as follows:

Random Jerk, “Verna, we need to do X”

Verna’s Jerk mode engages an automatic internal dialogue (This person is such a jerk, they have no clue, here they go again)

Verna reacts, “ Listen Random Jerk, what you are saying won’t work because….”

And we all enter the well worne road of getting nowhere but frustrated and righteous and aggrieved.


Random Human, “Verna we need to do X”

Verna (thinking), (this person is such a jerk, they have no clue…. Wait, that is my knee jerk reaction, what else is happening here, what are they seeing that I am not ?)

Verna responds, “Random Human, can you elaborate on X ?. I’d like to understand your perspective more!”

Here is the fundamental driver of the shift from jerk to human, it is in how we see the body in front of us. When I am talking to a random jerk I am seeing only their jerky ideas and judgements, I don’t see them. When I shift into empathy I switch focus, it is no longer about the ideas/ thoughts/ words being shared but about the person who is sharing them. I shift without thinking into curiosity and when I shift into curiosity, magic happens. This is the space where we end up in amazing co-creating spaces, partners in solving the problem. This is the space where we both walk away feeling inspired and empowered and valued.

So what if we Empathy weren’t a thing we can cultivate ? What if Empathy is an outcome, a result of a whole host of other actions we take ? What if Empathy was the result, a feeling or impact that comes from a whole host of mind shifts we make ?

What if Curiosity is the precursor to Empathy ?


I love philosophical thinking but a adore practical philosophy, there is no point unless I can live it and experience it. Which got me thinking about how ?

How do I go about living every moment of every day from empathy rather than defensiveness and opinion ?

Especially as the system I am living in supports and propagates the belief that opinions are real and important.

This is a question I have been working with for a couple of years because defensiveness isn’t always my only go to way of showing up. In some situations my default is co-creating and nonjudgement. Those of the situations that are empowering and fun and constructive and easy, so I have long wanted to be able to set myself up to experience more of that. What is it about those situations that enables this side of me to shine ?

I have known that Curiosity is the antidote to unilateral control, it’s in the practice that I get lost and distracted. Then I realized that curiosity becomes easy for me when I feel connected to the PERSON across from me. When I wake up and choose to not focus on what people are saying but rather on the person who is speaking then magic becomes possible. Only the systems I live don’t value building connections. I have been taught not to waste time connecting. I have been taught that ideas and opinions and results matter, and as a result I only see and hear ideas and opinions and judgements and because I have been taught that results matter most, I get performance anxiety when I hear things that won’t deliver results.

Which is all a huge relief.

In the spaces where this is easy for me I am always (and I do mean always), responding to the person and not their opinions and judgments (even though they are engaging with me through these). In these situations, I am curious about where they are coming from because I am not trying to convince anyone that where I am is the place they need to be. I am not attached to the outcome of the conversation, in fact the only outcome I have in mind is to share a different perspective and see what happens. In the situation where I am not triggered by strong views and judgemetns I am looking to understand where the person I am speaking with is coming from, that is in fact my goal. I am living the principle start where they are at!

Start from where they are at

You can only start any conversation, any project, any deliverable in a team from where everyone is at. You can only start from where you are at. When I decided to become the Deepest Woman in the World I spent 3 years wishing that I had a different starting point because if I could start from there it would be quick and easy and all that happened was that I wasted 3 years, alienated all my friends, eroded what support I had and became angry, resentful and miserable.

I have the world record because I made a conscious choice to let go of blaming others because I wasn’t starting from there and focused from where I actually was.

We can only start from what we know! And if what we know isn’t enough to get us to our chosen there, then the only solution is to learn what we don’t know. The absolute worse thing we can do is to judge and so dismiss what we know as useless or wrong.

I was taught that my job was to learn how to get to ‘there’ and then tell people where ‘there’ was and take them to ‘’there’’. Only it just doesn’t work when I start from where I am and then expect everyone to get all excited and rush on over. Firstly, how they get to where I am at is going to be unique to every person because they are starting from different places and secondly, people believe what they know and they know what they know because they have experienced it, so very rarely will people even be able to see where you are at never mind value it enough to want to get there.

All that happens when I start from where I am is that I create defensiveness in the people around me and disconnected people. It’s a lose, lose that requires power to resolve, which creates compliance and unmotivated teams and takes us out of agile and autonomy and excellence at light speed.

It isn’t about convincing them that where I am at is where they need to be either. I’s about starting from where they are and sharing with them the place I am coming from in a way that connects to what they know and what is important to them so that they can identify with my ‘here’ and see it and start to wonder if it would be a useful place to reach. Then and only then can we co-create next steps

You jump canyons based on faith and to build that faith is hard work – corporates tend to use fear and power to push people. The only other way to cross a canyon is to come over to the side the people are at and build a bridge step by step – connecting where they are to ‘there’’ using what they know and what you can see.

Back to the empathy and connection thing.

To start with where someone else is can take enormous mental effort because it seems to require me to feel connected to them as people. I always find myself having an allergic reaction to ‘being connected’ to everyone. It feels like a sure fire way of I loosing myself. It also feels like I am accepting where they are at and what they think and believe as true and is declaring myself as wrong. I fight this tooth and nail (not necessarily a useful strategy by the way).

Here is what I have come to realise. I have been taught that who I am is deeply embedded in my judgements and opinions. I share myself and create my existence through my actions and what I say and think about the world is a big part of how I create and validate myself. So for me to let go of all that and go back to a place I have struggled to escape feels impossible, inauthentic and flat out wrong. Amazing how one set of assumptions is setting my up for endless struggle.

I also fundamentally know that there is nothing more useless than being right. Yup! Being right is useless. Ask anyone who has been in the right and in a car accident. You still have to go to the panel beater. I also fundamentally know that everything I know has been made up. I have taken what I see and hear and read and I have created my opinions from that. I have also jumped to conclusions to get those, all the while not noticing that I am making it all up. My thoughts, ideas and judgements just aren’t real, they are created! They also aren’t necessarily true because I think fast and jump to conclusions without taking the time (who has time) to get clear on the facts. I take other peoples judgements as fact and use those to then create my own new judgement based on facts that were never ever facts. It’s a rabit hole of note.

Ideas and judgements change when the facts change and there are always more facts and perspectives to uncover, so I am always on shaky ground, having to constantly update my views so that I can stay relevant and still exist. And I know this, but no one is talking about it so we all pretend like what we are doing is sane and real.

Thoughts aren’t real. They are invented by the thinker.

So if thoughts aren’t real, what is ? The person thinking the thoughts. I have spent a life time valuing thoughts over the person doing the thinking. What changes for me when the thinker behind the thoughts is the important part ? What happens when I focus on the person behind the words. We hide that from the world with thoughts and words, we don’t even see that we are doing it. We take the words and thoughts as real, we believe them and totally forget about the only real thing, the person who is doing the thinking!

We really don’t have much control over what we think (although my inner jerk thinks that everyone does, so why are they being lazy and refusing to learn or change?).

On those days when I fundamentally hold as truth that every person is great and I listen for that greatness, I listen and engage with the person (people are easy to like, judgements not so much), those are the days when magic happens.

I have one last perspective to add in (for those of you still reading). It is a story that is playing through my head at the moment, I am going to paraphrase it and hope I don’t loose too much in translation. It’s about wandering monks who roam from place to place and sleep where a bed is offered and eat food when it is offered. Their existence is unpredictable, they have no control over what will happen today, what they will encounter, what they will eat. The objective of this practice is to practice being unattached and accepting what is.


The importance of this story for me and my attempts at living jerk free is simply this, when I am attached to an outcome I attach to my thoughts and believe them. When I am judging and attached I close the space down and am no longer able to create anything. When I am not in action and creating, life just isn’t fun or worth living.

So long story short. If we are serious about creating a new experience of the world using agile we can’t be attached to the perspectives we have or the knowings/ truths we have.

We have to let go of all the hard work that got us here and all the rightness we have uncovered and go back to where the people we are serving and supporting are.

We need to shift out of pushing people to where we are (or pulling them) and instead go to where they are and see past their judgments and perspectives and ideas and instead see them as people, people incidentally who are bold and brave and creative and able to choose for themselves.

When we shift away from our jerk selves we can get past the other jerk selves that are in existence and start to grow our and others great selves.

Compassion is based on connection and without the two, Curiosity will be defeated by defensiveness every time!

What would it take for you to live Empathy, Compassion and Curiosity ? What would open up for you ?

What greatness are you that you haven’t yet lived ?


This is part of a series of blogs that may not appeal to the ‘ corporate” world, hence the hidden thread. Some may be visible, others protected. If you would like to be part of this rabbit hole adventure, please pop me a message.

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