Coach the Person, Not the Problem with Marcia Reynolds

Reading Time: 18 Minutes

Conversations can evoke powerful transformations. In this interview with Marcia Reynolds, we discuss where anxiety and discontentment comes from, the upsides of “wandering,” integrating time to friends into busy schedules, a process for helping people grow professionally, how to avoid triggering people’s defense mechanisms and 5 practices for reflective inquiry.

About Marcia Reynolds

Marcia is the president of Covisioning, LLC, where she coaches leaders to be more engaging and effective in their conversations. Her newest book is Coach the Person, Not the Problem. She’s also the author of The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations Into Breakthroughs and Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction. Her work has been featured in Harvard Management Review, Forbes, CNN, ABC, The Los Angeles Times and more.

Marcia Reynolds is the president of Covisioning, LLC, where she coaches leaders to be more engaging and effective in their conversations.

Read the Transcript

This transcript was auto-generated from the original video recording using Otter Voice Meeting Notes. While the transcript has not been human edited, we hope it will still help you to quickly find or reference useful information from the interview.


Deliberate Leaders I am your host Allison Dunn, founder of the Deliberate Leaders Podcast designed and dedicated to helping leaders build strong, thriving businesses. Each episode we feature an inspiring interview you on your leadership journey, and I am just so excited to have the guests we have today. So, Marcia, who will introduce I love your message that you say that conversations can evoke powerful transformations. I think that that is so incredibly true. Marcia Reynolds is the author of the discomfort zone how leaders turn difficult conversations into breakthroughs. She also wrote Wonder Woman how high achieving women find contentment and direction and her newest book which got today. I’m so honored to be on the premiere day of it is coach the person Not the problem and what a powerful title that is. Thank you. I have mine ordered, and it’s coming on its way. So she’s been featured in Harvard Management Review, Forbes, CNN, ABC and, and the Los Angeles Times and I could go on and on. Marcia, thank you so much for joining us here at Deliberate Leaders today.


No. Thank you. Thank you for having me.


Absolutely. So I know that you are the President of CO visioning, which is your own LLC, and that’s where you teach leaders to be more engaging and effective in their conversations. Yes, yes. Fantastic. We’re conditioning located in Phoenix, Arizona.




So, I put on a sweater for this, but then I won’t have it on because it’s hot out there.


Awesome. Well, I’m hoping that we could kick off our interview quickly with a very deliberate conversation. Today, I like to kind of tee up just a super important question. And I think that you’ll have golden gift. So what would you say is your top leadership tip?


Well, one of the things that I often tell my leaders is they want you to be present more than they need you to be perfect. You know, so many leaders I work with, they resist even learning how to coach because they think they need to know everything and have all the answers and, and constantly be giving advice. When so many times and especially these days, people need to be heard they need to be feel valued, even more important how you make them feel. It’s more important than the words that you choose. And you don’t need to know everything you need to be human. And you need to respect them as valuable human beings as well. If you want to engage them in an important conversation.


Um, that is, that’s a very powerful tip. And I think one even if you’re doing it, well, you can always do it better. And so how, how would you say that that could be best implemented? Like if if, you know if if there’s one thing that someone can implement right now so that people do feel heard?


I think it’s really important that leaders go into conversations with a little bit more curiosity, that if they’re, even if they’re disappointed or angry with someone to say, I really don’t know what’s going on, you know, can we discover what’s happening together? Are there goals that we both want to achieve, and to truly listen to them, and then to use many of the skills in the book about coaching the person instead of telling them they’re wrong which shuts people down? But to just reflect back. So here’s what I hear you saying, here’s what I hear that you believe. Is that true? Is that still serving you right now? Is there another way to look at this that might help you to achieve what you want instead of being stuck, not getting there. So the whole reflection and curiosity and really receiving so I can get back to you what i hear you say and what I notice in your reactions, is so powerful and helping us think together in order to move forward. So I think that that coming in with instead of knowing not knowing, and then being isn’t.


I love that.


Thank you. Mm hmm. In your book, the discomfort zone, you talk about the discomfort zone. So what is the discomfort zone?


What’s really interesting is I’ve had people say that they were disappointed they thought the book was gonna be about how to get rid of discomfort. And I’m saying discomfort is necessary for growth. And it’s okay, if people are uncomfortable in your conversation, that, that, in that moment of not knowing what’s right or wrong is the best place to learn, but that’s not a comfortable place. So we have to be willing to challenge people’s thinking in a way. I mean, first, they have to feel safe with you. But you know, in a way that could make them uncomfortable, but yet it creates an opening for learning. So it is an interesting thing. I’m saying, you know, make them a little uncomfortable. That’s okay. But don’t make them uncomfortable in the way of saying you’re wrong. You make them uncomfortable by saying, here’s what I hear you saying and they look at their thinking And they realize that they’re thinking isn’t serving them anymore and that doesn’t feel good. Yeah, but then we can, you know, be there with them and say, Well, you know, can we look at other ways that will really serve you to move forward and if they really trust that you believe in them, and you’re truly there for them not just to, to do to meet your KPIs and your goals, but you’re truly there for them. Then they will go through the discomfort and move into a place of seeing things new of changing their stories and even having a breakthrough in in their behavioral and thought patterns, which is a critical moment that they will always remember the leader that did that for them.


I love achieving breakthroughs in any conversation, and sometimes those aren’t always good, right? And so nothing bad is there. Is there a proven process to recognize when you’re almost there? Or you’re not quite there? Hmm.


Well, one of the things in coaching is you know, saying that you want to share what you hear you replay you summarize or paraphrase. But in important point is also to share when you notice shifts in people’s emotions, so little things like were they Hmm, and they look away, you know, or they get excited about something or maybe even show a little sadness. When you notice when they do that you want to share back I noticed I noticed you got quiet or I noticed you were hesitating about that. So what’s going on? What’s going on in your mind what’s emerging for you? You know, and encourage them. You know, I say it’s compassionate curiosity, so you’re compassionately encouraging them to really share What happened in that moment? That moment, that small emotional shift is often what you were talking about, that I that’s the point something’s bubbling up. And they may be afraid to see it. But if you notice the shift, you know, like, for example, I was talking to a leader who had to have a difficult conversation with an employee, and he was so afraid of that she would react and get mad, and he didn’t know what to do and, and she might leave and, and then all of a sudden, in the middle of the conversation, he looked down and said, but I thought you’d be the one. And then he came back and started saying, it’s gonna be a horrible conversation. And I said, Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. What just happened there? You got really quiet, almost sad.


You took a breath, and I can tell you it’s almost a little embarrassed. And he said, I think I promoted her too soon. And I said, Oh, okay, so does that realization, change your conversation? And of course it did. You know, because then he needed to look at how to take responsibility and tell her that he wanted to develop her, instead of throwing her into the position, maybe they could step back and help her grow into it, instead of just saying, you know, you did a bad job, and I need to put you back on the line, you know. So it was just noticing that moment that created the shift for him, and an entirely different conversation where he could keep a really good employee. So that was a powerful moment.


Awesome. I, I know that when you’re in your, you’re kind of keeping people in the discomfort zone where the growth happens. That’s We can trigger people pretty easily or in conversations you can trigger people. Mm hmm. And it usually shows up as emotion sometimes. Sad and anger. Some examples of the right kind of questions to ask and the wrong kinds of questions to add once you’ve recognized your trigger in some way.




Well, I’m not a fan of having like question lists, and you know, here you should ask me questions and because your questions will come out of your curiosity in the moment, but if somebody has an emotion, you have to first catch yourself, are you reacting to their emotion, so, if you are, then you need to release your own reaction. Because that’s going to, like, have an impact on whatever it is you say next, and it probably won’t come out right. So you need to breathe


Let it go Don’t judge their emotion just given the space. And then go back to some what question. So what’s going on with you right now? I can see that you really irritated or frustrated? Is it? That Am I getting? Is it too much? You know, have I asked too much for you in this moment? Why don’t you tell me what’s happening with you right now? And let’s see if it’s affecting this process. So it’s more about what you know, don’t say why do you? Why are you doing that? You know, we always say avoid the why questions, so you know what’s going on right now? I noticed and then share exactly what you notice. So don’t say so. What are you feeling? You know, don’t say that because they probably don’t know when they can’t label it in the moment. If you notice they’re feeling something different than say. Again, I see that you’ve gotten really irritated or you’re hesitating in responding to me. So is there something that you don’t want to talk about? Or is getting in the way? Or you’re just not sure about right now? Tell me what’s going on with you.




I can think of so many examples of my curiosity sometimes gets me into trouble. Do you ever find that you’re curious? Your curiosity gets you into trouble with the trigger.

Unknown Speaker  12:32 

With their trigger? Yeah, yeah. Well, yeah, it’s an interesting thing.


So, I’ve been working with w backs, you know, the world business and executive coaching summit. We’re gonna do a big program in the fall. And, you know, they were saying, what’s really fascinating is whenever I do a demo for them, there’s always these people that say, Can you do that? I didn’t know you could do that and coaching. I’m like, well, it worked. Didn’t it? Usually it has to do and I, I push people to, to really understand what is it you really want here? You know, you said you want this, but you keep going back to this situation and seems like there’s something else that you want to resolve or to have happen, that you’re not saying. And they’ll, if they say to me, Well, the real issue is this, then I’ll say, is that what you want to work on? And I may ask that question four or five times? Is that what you want to work on? Because I need to clarify with them, where are we really going with this conversation? I don’t mind irritating. Because it’s really important that we know exactly what they want to create instead of what they have. So we can not just know what’s the destination of the conversation, but also how do we ensure that there’s going to be progress that they’re going to actually move forward, so I’ll be a little pushy about getting clear on, you know, what’s the outcome you really want in this conversation? So I think it’s more about being just pushy than being overly curious. Now, I do have a coaching colleague that says there is a difference between being nosy and being curious.


I agree that there is a big difference.


Right? So you’re just being nosy like so what are those people wearing?


I mean, things that are details that are really not important. So you have to be careful.


That’s fair. That’s a good point. That’s not the kind of curate overly curious, and


I feel super honored to be in this conversation with you on this day, because today you released your newest book, which is on you said the number one.


It just hit just like graduating.


Minutes before we got on together. I went and I checked Amazon and there was the number ones outstanding.


Well, I would like to dive deep into a conversation about that and maybe even some tips on how so all of your books have made it to the number one bestsellers list. Yes. I don’t want to forget to ask you like, what is the what are the tricks to doing that? Right? I guess having a good following would be one of them for sure. So, coach, Coach, the person not the is the title, correct?




Um, who did you write this for?


You know, I so interesting because I originally wrote it for coaches. My last book, I wanted to write a coaching book and my editor said no, no, no write it for leaders. The coaches will buy it anyway. And that was the discomfort zone. And frankly, more coaches bought it been leaders because that is my following. That is my  life. You know, is coaching.


But and so this time I said to him, there’s just some things in coaching I need to address and I really want to write a coaching book. He’s like, no, no coaching is a big thing right now. So I wrote it for coaches. Well, what I’m finding is how many people are saying, This is so useful for me for all my conversations, and especially right now, where we’re just having trouble listening to each other. And there’s a lot of bad things going on, because people don’t feel heard. They don’t feel valued. And taking a coaching approach to our all of our conversations is really critical. Where we go in more with listening and trying to understand in order to connect, and not to tell people what to do, or how to feel, you know, the worst thing you can do is say, Oh, don’t worry about things. It’ll all get better. You should feel this way. It’s like that’s so degrading. To do that, and so it’s interesting this time I wrote it for coaches, and I’m having so many leaders and parents and, and people just saying team members, this is so critical for me to really, really connect with people at a human level, instead of just look at, you know, solving these external problems.


The things that the book teaches is how to use a reflective inquiry. So you can you share the concept. Yes, with that as well.


Many, many years ago, my second master’s degree was in adult learning. And so I’d always been curious about how do people learn what how do we change their brain? So I had started in the 80s working for training departments and company. So I’ve been teaching leadership and communication skills for a very long time. And people will come to my classes and they’d say, Oh, I love your class, and they give me the happy face. And then they go back and do exactly what they were doing before. And yeah, it’s like, there’s gotta be another way. And so that’s when I found coaching. And I started really studying the science and how it changes the brain. So when I started writing this book, and I was talking about the value of coaching, I’m wanting to really get into the distinction that this isn’t therapy. You know, certainly not consulting. And so I went back to look at the origins of the word reflective inquiry, because that’s what I use. And I realized it didn’t come from therapy. It came from all my work many, many years ago and learning and learning psychology, a guy who wrote a book in 19 10 called how we think, was a guy named john Dewey, who was an educational reformer. And he said, teachers need to help students think more broadly for themselves by reflecting their thoughts. So they can see the gaps in their logic and, and how their misinterpretations of the future getting in their way. And then ask questions about that. So it’s reflective inquiry. And what he defines in his book, I’m like, that’s coaching. I’m like, that’s where


I got it. And it was so powerful. So no, nobody gives John Dewey the credit for it.


Yes. Right. And it’s so important and that it’s, again, he said, you know, questions just get answers, but reflective inquiry provokes insight. So we share what we hear you say and what we notice, that you feel and then we have ask the questions and combined, it makes you stop and think about your thinking. And that’s the goal. It’s not to tell you what to do is have you really become an observer of your own thoughts. And then you can see how you’re getting in the way of yourself, how you’re sabotaging yourself and how you’re stopping yourself from getting the goals you want. And that’s the power we’re thinking partners, you know, which is so important because it’s also a mutual respect, that I believe in you. I think you’re smart. And I think you’re just stuck and I’m going to help you get unstuck and that’s my goal.


I love the fact that you use the language as being a thinking partner, I think, just is ideally what a coach should be for since How about for listeners who maybe don’t yet have a coach, how do you get how do you practice reflective inquiry What would be your suggestions? If you don’t yet have a coach?


Yeah, you know, just start by summarizing and paraphrasing what you hear. So, start your sentence with. So I hear you’re saying this, you know, or I noticed that you really put a lot of emphasis on this word or you said you want to make a decision. And when you described it, you’re excited about one option, not so much about the other what’s stopping you from doing what you want? So, so start by just summarizing and paraphrasing back what you hear and say, is that right? Is that right? Did I get it right? People feel heard when you do that? It’s so powerful just to summarize and paraphrase, and then just ask a question based on that. And, and that’s simple. You know, that was one of the goals with Coach the person was I wanted to simplify coaching and demystify it to make it easy for anyone To access it in so I like the ads, sharing back what you’ve heard. Is there any other practices? So, reciprocating what you’ve heard? Is there any other significant practices in the reflective theory?


Well, what you heard what you notice, you know, in terms of emotions, yeah. But there’s also a, it’s really important that I stated this before about knowing where we’re going. So a lot of times what happens is people come to you with a problem and, and they complaining and all of that and you need to understand so what is that you want to have instead of what you have now? And question yeah, and, and what’s getting in the way of you getting that? What’s interesting when you ask them, what’s getting in the way what’s, what needs to be resolved for you to get what you want. Sometimes that’s going to bring up a real issue. Well, you know, I’m really don’t feel satisfied with my work and I don’t feel like I’m being seen. Okay, so is that what you really want to create? So you start going a little deeper into what is it? They really, really, really want you know, the I have a diagram in the book that says what is it that you would you want? What’s stopping you from getting it? What is it you really want? What’s stopping you from getting it? What is it you really, really want? And that’s that alone, just trying to determine where are we going with this conversation can lead to the breakthrough and the new behaviors just by going that track and it’s so critical and so many coaches, they neglect that and, and so they end up going in circles. And I’m sure you’ve experienced that we all have where we’re just chasing someone around in circles and then people get frustrated. Even if they say thank you, I really appreciate being able to talk about this. They didn’t really come up with anything new that’s going to solve the problem. They just got it off their chest. So that’s important piece.


so can. So I love the we know the kind of like, what’s the what is it you want and what do we really, really want? And what happens if you’re finding it still challenging to identify what it is that they really because I would reflect that.


Okay, so if I would just say, you know, so it feels to me that we’re kind of stuck in this, you know that the problem is unsolvable? Is that what you think? Do you feel that there’s nothing within your control to do here? That might change the situation. So where do you think you stand in this? You know, because it feels to me that we’re just going around in circles. What do you think? So I will often step back and just share how I feel the process is going and see what they think about it because they probably feel the same way.


I think when you’re in a coaching session, everyone knows the feeling of the room, whether you’re talking about it or not, right? The discomfort zone the if there’s triggers or being understood and heard, and then what you really want. I am super excited to get my copy of the book. Is there what is how would you describe the essence of the book for people to really like lean in and make their purchase as soon as they hear this?


Oh, well, that’s two different things.


But I think the main thing is that it’s very practical so although it starts with what really is coaching and five crazy coaching beliefs that people have created that has stopped them from coaching, are they I think it’s too hard. And then there’s the essential practices. So I go into the five essential practices to implement and again, with tips to make it easy. And then the three mental habits that make the practices come alive that if you don’t do the mental habits that create the coaching mindset, then it’s just a formula, you know, and it’s not going to work. So I really grappled with do I put the habits first, or the practices first, you know, it’s kind of a chicken and egg thing, but I think people always want to know, what do I do? What do I do? You know, and then step back and say, and you need to align your brains and receive what they give you and release your judgment in order to be present to create the results to get the impact in the breakthroughs that you want.


I am super Excited to pick your brain for just a minute or two on how you how writing a book such as this has been for you and then how to get it to the bestsellers list so quickly. What is the magic?


Well, you know, I’ve always been a writer since I was a kid and so writings a problem for me but I’m an I’m an immersive writer, I don’t do the writing a little bit every day I would like immerse on Saturday and produce a chapter and then work on the chapter every month and but it’s only based on when I see a need and when I see a problem, it wasn’t the purpose was to resolve that to make coaching better to help bring coaching out in the world. So I had a purpose and a reason. Not like I just wanted to get a book out. So so you know, that helps me stick with it because it is a long process. And but being that I’ve done a number of them. I’ve learned what it takes to You know, you do have to work on your visibility constantly, you know, the posting and getting out there and having people know who you are and see you as a thought leader and an expert. But then there’s the whole creating the videos and the graphics and you know, all the different types of social media posts that are that people want. So you’re not just saying buy my book, you’re saying, Here’s good information, you know, in three minute videos, and or I use my own photos for graphics, so I don’t even have to buy them. And I just put words in my own quotes, you know, instead of just using other people’s quotes, quote yourself, you know, and that is from the book and by the time the book comes out, people see you as a valuable resource. And I think that’s, that’s The most important thing besides the tips and tools and hire a PR firm, you got to do that.

Unknown Speaker  29:09 

It’s right. So bestsellers list in less than half a day, right?


Is that Yeah, well, I have to say that I kind of knew it because even before in the pre launch, we already have gone into second printing because we’ve had a number of huge bulk orders, which I have never had before. So organizations are buying them but now I do have launch bonuses. You know, so if you buy five books, you get three bonuses. If you buy one book, you get a bonus, but you buy 20 you get a whole bunch more and so I’ve have even outside of us, and people say okay, I want 2030 bucks, I want you to come to because one of the bonuses is to do a little webinar. For them, and they’re like, yeah, yeah, we want that. So which also helps sell the books?


It does. Yeah, that’s brilliant to kind of get the launch deal, portions of it. Awesome. Yeah, I know that that’s just hit the stands and that people are getting their copy. Do you have something that you’re working on? That you know you’re moving forward in the future? Are you gonna give yourself a break?


Well, you know, I always say, Don’t ask me when I’m going to write next because it’s such a pain to market it.


And usually, I don’t know for another year. So I always say I’m not doing it again.


But I think this actually this program with w x is going to be huge. It’s going to be it’s like a six month program or a breakthrough coaching and we’re really going to take people deep into this work and I’m so excited about that. It’s also exhausting.


And putting all that together. So congratulations on being part of that though. I think it obviously stands to the quality. You know, of The of you know the just the experience that you bring to the group standing Thank you awesome and Marsha’s book and coach the person not the problem is now available on Amazon is there is there a specific you know location you want people to go by it because I’ll put that inside of the show notes is Amazon well


today for sure on Amazon but if they have a favorite place I would want them to do that. But standing


Marsha, where is the best place for people to follow you connect, reach out and learn more.


My website is It’s one word covisioning. If they want to know more about the book there’s, it’s on the website or coach the person calm. And there’s the launch bonuses link there too so you can see what those are so you can use them for your own books.


Okay, fantastic. And how long are your lunch bonuses going on? For About three more weeks. Excellent. All right, I will make sure that this gets some good traction on my feeds in that time. Great. It’s been such a pleasure to have you join us this afternoon. I have huge congratulations on your new book. And I’m sharing it here first. So, thank you so much.


Yeah. Thank you.

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