Can we talk? Or more precisely, may I please share with you some ideas that can alter how you communicate and work?

People tend not to like it if we enter their homes without knocking. Yet metaphorically, we frequently do this when we teach, coach, or attempt to assist others in their growth and development.

When I went “coaching school,” I learned that permission was the foundation of the process. I have taught and I have been reminded of this lesson many times during the past decade. Trying to coach, teach, or advise without someone’s permission is much like what I imagine it would be to teach a pig to sing — it doesn’t work and it starts to get very annoying to the pig.

A couple of weeks ago, when we started the journey of my “communication skills and strategies” course at the U of A, we explored the concept of permission and we established what actual permission was important for our work together. Shortly after that class, I was with a colleague and I was pleased (perhaps in a somewhat perverse way) to get real-life reminders of what it’s like to be on the other end of someone’s (perhaps well intended) self-proclaimed good advice without my permission. I noticed my initial resistance and my growing irritation as I was given uninvited corrective feedback.

Those of us who spend a good chunk of our professional lives being paid to teach, coach, consult, or otherwise provide our wisdom, need to be particularly careful. The golden nuggets we proffered prior to arriving home becoming lead balloons if we dispense them without explicit authorization.

There are many situations where consent could be reasonably assumed; I suggest it is always good to err on the side of seeking a clear go-ahead.

There are many informal ways to ask permission. One simple favorite is: “May I offer you a suggestion?” Depending on the context, it may be appropriate to get clearance to offer “some coaching” or “an assessment.”

In the vast majority of circumstances, when I’ve been aware enough to ask for permission, people grant it and are then open to receive what I wish to share with them. When I skip this crucial step, the value that I hope to bring is often compromised or the communication is flat out counterproductive.

May I ask you something? If you said yes, then my request is that you pay attention to where in your life agreements to proceed can make a difference. Are they currently omitted, assumed, or overtly established? See if there are places where you can enhance your communication and effectiveness by asking permission.

Although it may “be easier to get forgiveness than permission,” give permission a try.

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