FemLovin Learns to Live Beyond Limiting Beliefs with Chantal Below
We all struggle with limiting beliefs. It’s how we’re wired as humans—we protect ourselves. While those instincts served us well in the wild, in the workplace, they limit our success by hindering us from testing boundaries or engaging in challenging conversations. We go into survival mode and, as executive coach Chantal Below says, “We protect ourselves so fiercely that we miss the opportunity to thrive.”
Chantal, Founder of Redcliff Coaching, spoke at the most recent FemLovin event, explaining how she helps her clients reach their goals through leadership and executive coaching. As she puts it, she’s “on a mission to get leaders out of their own way so they can access their greatest potential and profoundly and positively change their slice of the world.”
A lifelong curiosity about human behavior
Chantal’s journey into executive and leadership coaching began when she was nine years old and her family moved from the East Coast to England.
Being uprooted at such a young age was challenging, but Chantal found that once she chose to stop resisting the massive change in her life, she was able to enjoy growing up abroad. More importantly, she was able to observe how living in a different culture informs how you view and interact with the world. This sparked a lifelong curiosity about human assumptions and behaviors.
After working in a series of educational nonprofits, Chantal discovered that she had an interest in leading teams and scaling organizations. Today, she coaches individuals and teams, helping leaders discover and work through the obstacles that prevent them from having a powerful, positive impact.
Breaking down limiting beliefs
People often hold onto limiting beliefs because, in addition to our strong survival instinct, we are social creatures who need to feel as if we’re part of a family or a tribe. We fear social isolation.
This means that even in the workplace, we fight for survival and belonging. While there are generally no physical threats in the office, we will protect ourselves from embarrassment or ostracization. The result is that we carry certain assumptions that feel like truth, but are actually a self-protective mechanism we wear like armor. Those assumptions can include fears of getting fired, of looking foolish in front of colleagues—anything that could separate us from the tribe or put us at a perceived risk.
Much of Chantal’s work is focused on getting through that armor and asking questions that break down assumptions. She helps clients realize that their assumptions aren’t necessarily true and that they’re actually self-defeating. “Those assumptions can keep us pretty small,” she says.
How can we change our own limiting behaviors?
To break down those negative assumptions, Chantal shared an exercise with the FemLovin audience. It starts with a simple question: What’s a behavior you want to change—one that may be preventing you from becoming more effective as a leader? It could be something really simple, like speaking up more in meetings, which can be intimidating. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that what you were going to offer is “stupid.” Or that there’s nothing original you can contribute, so why bother contributing at all?
What if you recognized your responses as assumptions and not truths? What if you saw them for what they are: Limiting beliefs that are there to protect you from your own fear of embarrassment or shame?
Ask yourself next how you might be wrong in those assumptions. What if you spoke up and your question or idea was the one that was on everyone’s mind – the one everyone was waiting for someone to bring up? If you don’t bring up your question or idea, will the meeting be as productive as it might have been?
This line of questioning may lead you to realize that the fears and beliefs you held weren’t serving you, they were limiting you. And perhaps you will ask that question at your next meeting. When you reflect on it later, examine how your relationship with that assumption has changed. Does it still feel too dangerous to talk at a meeting, or do you believe that your contribution will have a positive impact?
Putting it into action: Tips for workplace feedback
When asked for tips on delivering feedback to managers and direct reports, Chantal had helpful advice for the group. “We can get really convinced that we are right. And we are amazing storytelling machines as humans.” She offered these tips:
- Check your response
- Express yourself objectively
- Listen without prejudice
For example, if someone misses a deadline, our response might be, “That person is so selfish and this is so classic. I cannot believe how self-absorbed they are that yet again, they disrespected the timeline.”
But our story may, once again, not be true. Chantal suggests that perhaps, “The person had a parent who passed away. Or, they were sick. Or, their calendar got messed up and the deadline disappeared…who knows? But things happen, and oftentimes, when we’re so convinced that our story about this person is right, they’re the villain and we’re the hero.”
That viewpoint leads us to enter a circular conversation that isn’t helpful because, “We come in with a desire to prove we’re right, as opposed to noticing the story we’re telling, and then pressure-testing that with someone else.” A better approach would be to express that you’re confused and frustrated by the missed deadline and that your goal is to understand why it happened.
A great approach to feedback discussions is an SBI, or “Situation, Behavior, Impact” framework. Make an honest effort to understand the situation that led to the behavior. (In this case, the missed deadline.) Explain the impact, which was more work for the supervisor or the rest of the team. This turns the conversation away from blame and helps it adhere to observable facts.
We all grapple with limiting behaviors and assumptions, whether we realize it or not. There are always opportunities to improve, and most of the time we are our own limiting factors. Chantal suggests, “We could all benefit from examining and building our own self-awareness at an earlier stage so that as our influence over people or decisions increases, we become intentional, deliberate, and thoughtful.” She is firm in her belief that coaching isn’t just for high-level executives, but something all employees can benefit from. “I actually get a lot of joy in working with folks at different levels. If we’re able to support people at all stages, it has the ability to influence the organization and company in a really profound way.”