IOC Fellows's picture Submitted by IOC Fellows August 7, 2020 - 12:21pm

Most of our coaching clients are all-too-familiar with the nagging voice of doubt and criticism inside their heads. This voice, often referred to as the Inner Critic, is one of the key roadblocks holding our clients back from achieving their coaching goals. But is that voice the authentic voice of our client, or is it just a part? What wisdom can we learn from listening to all of the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of our client?

Below, 11 Institute of Coaching Fellow Members share their best advice for ways you can help your clients explore and manage their inner critic.

  1. Say a little prayer

    Ever had a nagging feeling that what you are attempting to do maybe a bad idea? Or your thoughts about your recent promotion was just too good to be true? That could be your inner critic. You are very tempted to agree with it but you also think, “wait, what if it is wrong?” Now, you feel even more conflicted. Whenever you find yourself in such a spot, remember that your inner critic exists to remind you of the consequences of risk, the danger of change, a threat to your very survival - that is why it is so powerful. However, your inner critic is not a statement of the reality before you. It is not a judgment of your shortcomings. It can lead to self-doubt but it is NOT. It is actually trying to protect you based on a very human instinct, honed by your past experiences, not your present. To calm this inner critic down, try saying this little prayer whenever that voice strikes, “Thank you inner critic, I know you are here to protect me. Grant me instead serenity, clarity, curiosity, and courage. I will be alright. Thank you for being here.” If you are kind to your inner critic, it will automatically calm down and step back. – Douglas Choo, View Advisors LLC

  2. Ensure You’re Managing Your Own Inner Critic

    I used to show up to coaching sessions feeling anxious: how can I “prove” my expertise and ensure I’m providing enough value to be “worth” the fees? These doubts held me back from being fully present with the client and giving my best. I realized that, although I had worked on my inner critic for my personal life, I still held false beliefs around my professional life. I decided to target the specific inner critic triggers I had around professionalism and actively cultivated a practice for managing the fears. Ever since, I’ve shown up more confident, present, and creative. That makes me better able to help the client without being "triggered" in the moment. – Lisa Christen, Christen Coaching & Consulting LLC

  3. Ask it to dance

    I first worked to tame my inner critic as a professional ballet soloist. On the one hand, you have to be very self-critical to constantly improve your technique and artistry. On the other hand, the secret to performing pirouettes and various feats on one leg is to feel courage and confidence in the moment. So I had to learn to listen to it when it was productive and send it on holiday as I went on stage. Working with high-performing executives, I share with them that, while we often attribute our performance to our inner critic, research suggests that the opposite is true. When we can befriend the parts of us that are dissatisfied or disappointed, we are more able to take responsibility for our role in something that did not bring the results intended or expected. This, in turn, leads to more clarity because it becomes less painful to look at things that went wrong and we are able to harvest valuable lessons. Anyone can befriend the critic by recognising it is there to help and usually has useful information for us. Try this simple practice of pausing, taking a breath and turning towards the critic, appreciating its role and asking it what it wants you to know. Over time, it becomes a critical friend and sometimes takes a holiday. - Nancy Glynn, Dynallia

  4. ABCDE

    When the inner critic begins to “beat up” on you after a negative event occurs, one of the ways to deal with it is to identify alternative hypotheses that might better explain what happened. This is where ABCDE can help.

    • “A” stands for the negative event that occurs. For example, your largest supplier has just made it more difficult for you to work with them.
    • “B” is the mistaken belief that you have for why it happened. “I’m a terrible leader because I wasn’t able to work my relationship with the supplier to keep things running smoothly.”
    • “C” is the consequence of maintaining the mistaken belief. “Because I am such a terrible leader, the business will suffer, the board will replace me, I’ll never find another job again and I’ll have to declare bankruptcy and my wife will leave me.” This thinking can get pretty catastrophic. “D” then is where the magic happens.
    • “D” is the disputation, the alternative hypothesis that can explain why the event happened. There can be many possible explanations. Maybe the supplier is having some business struggles of their own and could benefit from your help. Maybe the current economic environment has changed and the supplier had to adapt. Possibly there is a new person managing the process at the supplier and you need to communicate with him. As you come up with alternative hypotheses, you begin to see that there may be some things that you can do to positively react to the situation. You recognize that this is a localized, temporary event that is not a reflection of your incompetence but rather an opportunity to use your leadership skills to navigate through a challenge.
    • You feel more empowered and have more energy. That’s the “E”. - Alan R Graham, ACP Consultants, Ltd.
  5. The Disappointed Dancer

    When I was in the 3rd grade, my dance school was invited to audition for a Christmas Special for The Ed Sullivan Show. I remember my excitement as I practiced and dressed for my audition. As they were announcing the students selected to dance on TV, my last name was called. I remember beaming with pride as I proudly started to walk to the podium. Unfortunately, there were two of us with the same last name, and to correct this misunderstanding, they announced the first name, which was not mine. Turning around to return to my seat, I felt completely embarrassed and ashamed. I remember hearing that inner voice say, Who do you think you are? How did you think you would ever be good enough to dance on The Ed Sullivan Show? When I stretch out of my comfort zone, I still hear the echoes of what my disappointed dancer self heard that day. I know my inner critic intends to keep me safe, so I pause and inquire what is the 2% truth to what she is saying. I reflect for a moment on that question, and then I thank her and reassure her. - Pamela M Helwig, Pamela Helwig LLC

  6. Appreciate your critic’s positive intention

    Our inner critic is a vocal artifact of our history when we were younger and less powerful. In all its ‘negative’ glory, it tries to pull us back from doing seemingly dangerous, risky things. Like trying something new, speaking up, taking a position different from the group, or offering a new idea. We tend to relate to our inner chatter as if its pronouncement is true. What if the judgment wasn’t true but the intention to protect us was authentic?

    If we can listen for and identify the chatter’s positive intention, we then can take a moment to pause, reflect on the situation, what our prudent choice and action might be, and move forward. A law of nature is that for any destination, there are always multiple ways to get there. As captains of our own ship, we can chart our own interpretive path and even own the quality of our journey. - John B. Lazar, John B. Lazar & Associates, Inc.

  7. From Superego to Inner Critic

    The id, ego and superego are parts of our psyche that were introduced by Freud. The challenge addressed here is with our superego - the internalized social morals and values of the society into which we were born. To survive and belong we had to conform. The superego is the internalized frightening authority figure, the powerful one who judges and punishes us for our misdeeds and failures. The protective parent or authority figure whose love and praise we need and keep through good behavior. As we mature, that voice becomes our inner critic. When activated, primitive fears of being bad, falling short, suffering, or cast out of social/professional circles resurface. Your inner critic behaves as if it is the boss of you; however, you are now the authority figure to your adult-self. Explore with your clients that voice undermining their confidence that is telling them: you can’t, too risky, you shouldn’t, you’re not smart enough, good enough experienced enough, or well-liked enough. What would it take to meet and calmly consider the advice of that inner critic? Our clients have survived, thrived, and belong. Now they can be the most important judge of what it means to take a risk, fall short, or fit in. They can choose whether to pre-judge themselves harshly or to act, learn, and practice self-compassion. - Beth J. Masterman, Masterman Executive Coaching, Inc.

  8. Honor its place on your inner team

    Can you hear your inner critic doing what it has become so proficient at – stopping you from moving forward? Can you see it – what form does it take? From where does it derive its vast power over you? Your inner critic, like everyone’s, is both well-intentioned and unprepared to serve you well in your current life. Unbeknownst to it, the inner-critic needs the mature, become self-aware for you to teach it how to adapt to the competent, effective leader you’ve become. Invite that inner critic to really show itself to you, ask it what it needs to remain a part of you that gives wise counsel and allows other parts of you to be heard. Your lived experience has taught you a great deal that your inner critic has not learned. Honor it by bringing it to light, assure it that its message continues to have value, now as one of many voices in your decision-making processes, and gently and gratefully return it to a smaller yet accessible place on your valued team of inner wisdom. - Bernadette Norz, Bluehill Coaching Group, LLC

  9. I acknowledge you

    It was during a training on using systemic constellations in executive coaching that participants were familiarized with a beautiful way of dealing with this strong voice that can be the inner critic. It quickly became clear that we have created our own inner critic in order to protect ourselves from some kind of danger. So the inner critic usually started life as something highly useful, and stayed at the party long after the party was over. The inner critic continues to do what we originally created it for, namely protect us, even though the danger is long gone. So why don’t we acknowledge the inner critic for what it has done well, say, “thank you” loud and clear, and say, “I’ll invite you on stage when I need you” and, until then, you can take a break. This can help ensure that we value the inner critic for what it is, and don’t give it a role it wasn’t designed for. - Rolf Pfeiffer, Bernotat & Cie.

  10. Tame the Beast

    Our inner critic can lurk in the shadows on the outer edges of our confidence, at times paralyzing us from moving forward. I think of it as the monster that, as kids, we were sure lived under our beds. An effective tool I have used in conquering this beast is an exercise in visualization. I ask my clients to first give that saboteur a name, and then describe what it would look like if it were standing beside them—making it real and separate from who the client is. This also can bring a bit of levity and humor to the surface.

    For example, my inner critic is one of the monsters from “Where the Wild Things Are,” a book I used to read to my children. His name is Harry. He is tall and grey with yellow eyes and sharp teeth. I then ask my client to imagine training that beast as if it were a favorite dog. Great canine companions offer protection and companionship but also have self-control when you want to leave them alone and venture out, independently. “Using its name, what command would you give it right now?” I ask them. “What are the challenges to taming that beast? Can you visualize telling it to sit? Once it obeys, thank it for following your command. What does it feel like to be the master of the beast?” Then the most important thing I ask them to visualize is telling it to lie down and stay while they walk away from it. “Who are you once you walk away and the beast stays behind?” I also remind my clients that, like puppies, training the beast takes consistency, time, and patience. - Paula W. Reid, Fifth Gear Coaching, LLC

  11. Thank you, Miss Little Sunshine!

    My inner critic is a pink octopus with a cherry-pink lipstick who keeps on questioning me to make sure her 8 reasons why I should not pursue a great idea are satisfied. At times, Miss Little Sunshine exhausts me and even annoys me. I feel like I could have achieved so much more if only I could avoid her because when she questions my motivation I feel small. However, there are some past incidents where her due diligence saved me from some future pain and tears. So, the question is: How do I proceed with confidence and not get overwhelmed by my precious Octopus’ checklist while still being playful? What methods do you use when you are confronted by your own private inner critic? - Işık Taçoğlu

This post was created during an IOC Discussion Group. IOC Discussion Groups are online community discussion forums available to all IOC members. Click here to find a group.