BY Nicky Denegri

DATE: 07 NOV 2014


I’ve been doing a lot of one-to-one coaching this year.  Of all my favourite things that I do at Kissing With Confidence, this is definitely my favourite favourite.  Why?  A number of things.  You’re getting to work with successful, motivated people.  They are there because they want to become even more successful.  They are willing to turn the mirror on themselves and understand what part they play in relationships or projects that are not as successful as they could be, and in doing so work out what they need to stop, start and continue to turn things around.  You get to see actual progress and a change in people’s attitudes, confidence and skill.  All in all, it’s hugely satisfying but not without its challenges for the coach or the client.  Why?

Well, the essence of coaching is that it’s about change.  Change is scary! Think of someone you know in your own life who lives with a situation that’s less than ideal for them, yet they stick with it not because they want to but because the alternative of change and the as-yet-unknown consequences is too anxiety provoking for them.

So even when you’re working with someone who actively wants to create change in their life, it’s important to introduce them to the concept of the Gremlin and how to identify and manage their own one, because it is a change saboteur, and also so that you as the coach can look out for signs that it’s on the rampage and help your client to rein it back in.

What is a Gremlin?  It’s a belief we hold about ourselves – about our personality, our intelligence, our ability, our knowledge, our  relationships with others to name but a few – that is neither true nor rational, but has a powerful hold over us, enough of a hold that it will stop the change from happening.  Some examples: “I don’t deserve this job because I didn’t go to University.” “I’m rubbish at building relationships with people.” “Business development is simply not a strength of mine.”  “Everyone thinks I’m terrible at speaking in public.” “It was just luck that I got this job – I’m going to be found out any day now.” “I need to keep on succeeding or I will be fundamentally unlovable”.

Now you might be thinking that this is simply self-awareness – because some of these statements might be true for some people.  There are times when people genuinely don’t have the knowledge or the skill to do a bit of their job.  Fine.  They can read a book, go on a course, get some mentoring, practise and get feedback on how they’ve done.

In the case of my coaching clients however, what you’re looking for is the disparity between what people believe about themselves and the evidence to the contrary.  When you know that there is already evidence to the contrary, you’ve got yourself a Gremlin.  So you need to ask your client at the outset what their Gremlin is.  We’ll consider what, when and who triggers their Gremlin, and what happens for them in that moment in terms of their thinking and behaviours.

From there we can consider alternative ways of thinking and behaving.  It’s important to find an alternative; it’s not enough just to stop thinking or doing something, rather it’s about acknowledging the thoughts/feelings and then  it’s about doing something else instead.

So what we’re trying to do is to find ways of managing the Gremlin rather than worrying about getting rid of it for good – that’s too difficult.  These beliefs tend to be hard-wired and can’t be erased.  The thing that all of my coaching clients have in common, despite their myriad differences?  They had been managing their Gremlins to an extent, continuing to push on, and doing more of the things that frightened them, but all were grappling with something that at this moment in their career – maybe a new job, a promotion within their existing organisation, or responsibility for a new team – had made it rear its head.

Session one of a series of coaching sessions is the time to introduce the concept of the Gremlin, understand its optimum operating conditions and agree that both coach and client will be on the lookout for it when the client is on the cusp of committing to a change in thinking and/or behaviour. Knowing that it’s there and deciding to acknowledge it means that they can then move on from it to the more productive thought/behaviour.

Occasionally I’ve come across people who claim not to have a Gremlin.  They’re typically young and at the beginning of their careers, full of self-confidence and who haven’t yet faced any significant challenges in getting what they want.  Great.  My advice to them is a) be very aware of your impact on others – are you as self-aware as you think you are? and b) remember that you’ll be working with people now – and very possibly managing them some day soon – who will have their own Gremlins, so be on the lookout for those and think about how to help them.

I read Dr Steve Peters’ book “The Chimp Paradox” back in the summer.  In it he writes about Goblins and Gremlins; his Goblins are the equivalent of my Gremlins – those deep-seated beliefs that can’t usually be changed, but can be managed.  His Gremlins are about more mundane unrealistic and unhelpful expectations we have of ourselves and others, and which we can and should challenge ourselves over.  I loved it and have found it really helpful in managing myself and my relationships with some of the people in my life!

The book is endorsed by Sir Chris Hoy; Peters worked with Hoy and the British Olympic Cycling teams and his work was about helping them manage their mind set to improve their performance.  Even these Olympians have Gremlins – but they’re not scared to admit it.  They realise that acknowledging and tackling them is an act of strength, not weakness.  Do you have what it takes to tackle yours?


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about the author

Nicky Denegri is our Senior Consultant. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop her an email and we will be in touch.

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