My Friend Friction

This is about coaching, but it is going to take a little bit to get there-

I love friction, but friction doesn’t always feet the same about me. Over, say, the last forty years I’ve used my bike to get me somewhere, see sights, and keep me pretty fit. There have, however, been a couple of times when friction has come between me and enjoying the ride. In 2006 I had an unpleasant slide down a road in Tuscany just over the border from Umbria. That time, too much friction lost me some skin on my left side and gave me an equal amount of road rash. Later day I had the most painful shower in my life while scrubbing the road grit out. The road was fine, but my tires were defective. Unfortunately, the sidewalls crumbled when they should have stuck to the pavement. The lesson learned slowed me down just a little on descents ever after. A few weeks ago, friction let me down again. This time it was a lack of friction that had me crash on that scarred left side on another road in Tuscany. My tires were fine, but the road was wet. I really was trying to be cautious, but I broke my left clavicle and hip and now I have lots of time at home to write – about lots of stuff, not just friction – while my bolted back together hip heals. Despite my troubles with friction, I still feel it’s important to deal with.

The best car and motorcycle racers figure out how to always use the available traction for the given circumstances. It’s a delicate dance with friction at every turn. Using the brakes on the way in and squeezing the throttle on exit to get through a corner efficiently makes for a beautiful thing. Too much brake pressure going into the corner and you will slide. Too much pressure on the accelerator on the way out of the corner and you can spin. Spinning is costly. You lose time and if it’s really bad you can crash, possibly taking someone else with you.

I think about friction’s joys and dark side at work too. I talk with people for a living. I always want the conversation to go well and if possible be interesting for both of us. I also attend my fair share of meetings. I would put forth that it is much harder to discern the level of grip one has in conversation and, especially in meetings, compared with being on the road. As I just wrote, searching out how much grip one has is risky. Crashing is costly, and often painful. It is much easier to stay in one’s lane, but I often find that to be tediously exhausting so I ask questions; particularly, “Why?”.

It’s pretty much impossible to develop a relationship without asking questions. I don’t think it’s possible to build trust in a relationship if you are not willing to be vulnerable and have the courage to be humble. That said, there is danger in asking why. Balancing humility with questioning may not score you a lot of points if the situation is not correct, but it is important if you want to grow a relationship as opposed to have a successful transaction. I have been fortunate to work with a diverse group of colleagues over the years, but diversity of opinion hasn’t always been favored. I have also been fortunate to have worked with the closest of friends with whom I did not always agree, but trust has always seen us through the friction.

When I coach, I offer help and I ask why. I work to pull the best out of my students at the racetrack and so far, friction has let us into its lab with good results. There is push in the coaching repertoire too, but getting push to work requires my student is on board, that that person is engaged and that enough trust has been built so that we agree about exploring how my friend friction is feeling that day.