Let Me Know When You Are Ready

Sometimes, a coach needs to create an opportunity for a client to hear herself.

Although this one is not exactly a question, it is a powerful coaching technique when applied in the right place.  This is a great tool for the manager who is coaching reports and while I am at it, not a bad strategy with teenagers.

I was on the phone with a client this week who was clearly angry.  She felt dissed by her staff and wanted to describe in very specific detail all the reasons that they did not understand that she was right.  Remember, our brains are made for categorization and rationalization.  We can invent a story to support our pre-existing point of view in about half a second.  After we tell it to ourselves enough, it becomes true (at least to us).  That was absolutely what was happening here.  I felt like I was a juror hearing closing arguments.

So, I let her go through the entire story, in all its rich detail.  When she was done, I simply sputtered a bit “I am sorry, but I am not certain I followed all of that.  Can you go through it again?”  There was plenty of vitriol to carry her through a retelling so I listened intently.  Again, taking the arrow for not understanding I responded “You know, I am just not getting the story clearly.  Will you walk me through it once more?”

When we are convinced we are right we have generally told the story to ourselves often enough that we are blind to other possibilities.  But if we must tell it to others, we generally cannot hold the single mindedness necessary to stay in the story.  We start to become aware that they may not hear it the same way we want them to.  After 3 or 4 retellings, my client’s focus of attention began to shift.  She started to hear herself differently.  She began to see the ways that she had invented a reality that suited her point of view.

This does not mean that anyone was wrong or right.  And there was clearly work to do to clean up communications with her staff.  But that conversation could not begin until she was willing to let go of her polarized need to be right.  If we truly want to understand what has happened when there is a breakdown in either processes or communications, then we have to be able to let go of the need to be right.

Another question that can work well in this situation is, “What are you trying to pretend that you do not know about this?”.