The Old Man on the Bus

A favorite coaching client got blown off by his CEO.

As the afternoon got later and later, my client watched the clock and seethed. He felt disrespected and unimportant. He was too busy being angry and anxious to get much else done that afternoon.

“I tend to do that,” he told me. “I focus on the negative outcomes and it takes up a lot of space in my brain.”

“I want the inverse of that feeling,” he said.

We talked through how he could have played out the scenario differently.

“Rather than focusing on the negativity, I want to figure out a solution to the problem,” he said. “I want to try to figure out what the desired outcome is. I’d rather be a problem solver.”

I asked him to tell me three stories (one of my favorite coaching assignments) at our next conversation; stories about recognizing that angry, frustrated feeling in the moment— and choosing to focus on the desired outcome instead.

The next week he told me about the old man on the bus.

During the bus commute home, a homeless man sat down next to him. My client described bracing himself for a crazy conversation; he just knew it was going to be awful and kind of scary.

He caught himself in that angry feeling.

“I let go of the anticipation that something awful was going to happen,” he said. “I decided to just let things unfold.”

So he and the old man started talking.

They talked about the old man’s daily walk around the city for exercise and about the old man’s search for work. “It turns out, there was nothing to be afraid of,” my client said. “Letting go of that negativity allowed me to be more representative of the person I am.”

So using the Old Man on the Bus as a guide, how could he have managed getting blown off by his CEO? How could he focus on positive outcomes and be more himself?

“I’d just find another way to follow up,” he said. Rather than getting spun up with feeling angry, “I’d try to solve the problem and get back to work.”