Why We Resist Being Coached

Have you ever complained about something in the normal course of the conversation and then had the person you were speaking to try to “fix” you? Although your friend is simply trying to be useful, unsolicited advice can be annoying as heck. The natural instinct is to resist it, even to the point of making the other person wrong.

Here’s an example: Mary says to John: “I had a fight with my boss today. He overrode me on a decision I made and ridiculed me in front of the client.” John starts ranting and raving, telling Mary what to say to her boss tomorrow. Mary shrinks at each word John says. Even if she might agree with him, she still finds herself resisting his ideas, thinking to herself, “That’ll never work.”

Why do we resist being told what to do, whether it’s hiring a coach or innocently conversing with a friend? The answer is in how your brain is wired.

You can see it in toddlers. They resist being told what to do, instead preferring to flaunt their independence and explore and learn on their own. By the time we’re adults, we’re still prominently wired for independence, and anything that remotely resembles a threat to our independence generates resistance on our part.

Learning by Doing

But it’s not the independence so much that has created our bias for resistance to coaching. It is the practice that we get from figuring it out ourselves that makes our brain stronger. When we practice or act out whatever problem we are solving, then our brain can learn. It can’t learn without doing. We are naturally hard-wired to “do,” so that we can benefit from our brain’s plasticity and create new neuronal pathways that support the new task.

Being Coached Is a Learned Skill

It’s not natural to be coached, or to take advice from others. We resist it, just like we do pain. It’s a learned skill, and a very mature one, to simply sit there, take feedback from another human being, receive it gracefully without ego, and thank them for it. Most people can’t do it. They naturally feel like they need to defend themselves. Think about the last time someone gave you criticism and you’ll understand what I mean.

Do You Want the Default Setting?

The question is whether the default setting – resisting advice – is really good for us in the 21st century. If we choose our coach wisely and find someone who has done something we haven’t, then they might be able to save us time. In order to benefit from others’ advice, we need to learn to override the default setting of resistance.

Coaching is not for everyone. Some people get the lesson much stronger by figuring it out themselves, even if it takes more time, money, and effort to do so. Others see a benefit and choose to override their default setting of resistance. Either way is fine, as long as you know you’re choosing.