As a helper to people navigating their lives at work, I want to bring the very best of myself to every exchange. Yet there are times when the best of myself would never be enough.
The solutions to the deep challenges that people face follow no special formula; for example, the linked, uphill struggles to lead an organization as one leads oneself. The client may want to know, What have I done to deserve this disrespect? Should I speak up to criticize? Speak out to say how I truly feel? Am I too weak? Coming on too strong? How can I go on working with someone I cannot work with? Should I allow this project to fail? How far should I abridge my own values in order to continue? What will become of me if this all goes south? Such situations often involve stress, high stakes, a multitude of tough private feelings and concerns.
But there’s no special insight or self-reflective process that can be offered, one size fits all, no special, illuminating question that can be asked. To be honest, sometimes the coaching feels futile — although I certainly sense myself still trying, still offering as best I can, advice.
As a coach there may be little I can do to help the person, save being with them, sharing perceptions and ideas and, if relevant, my own personal experiences, reassuring the person of his or her own capabilities, and encouraging them while never taking from them their existential right to choose what’s best. I may know all this intellectually, and I may also still in some subtle or not so subtle way keep offering advice. I’m still taking on responsibilities that I have no business taking on, and somewhere beneath my illusions to the contrary I’m still thinking about my own performance.
As coach and client, in truth we may each be doing our best, and yet it still may not be enough to move key logs out of the way, let alone break the logjam and let the answers come through. The key discovery in such situations is that I don’t know what to do any more than my client does.
When that discovery happens — really happens — something else actually has a chance to operate in our relationship.
I have been surprised again and again by how an implicit underlying order appears. For it to come forward I truly must accept that I don’t know; that in order for me to be of any help, I, too, need help. Then, I can turn toward a different kind of openness. I’m in a different role. I trust in a restorative rather than prescriptive way.
I don’t know exactly what to call that “something else” that operates in the relationship, but I like to see it as some form of redemption — in a spiritual rather than religious sense. It’s the field that has no name. It has faith in it and love, and a care for the best of being human well beyond the circumstances that created the pressures the client is feeling.
On my side, the experience is of revised interior messages: That I don’t entirely need to understand my role in the client’s life. That I’m a messenger, a hollow reed through which a song is played that I didn’t write. And in the end that’s plenty. I’m okay and going to be okay.
The magic of all this is that I think somehow the client picks up that redemptive energy in their own way, too, healing and full of a deeper intelligence meant for them. And because they believe in it also, a little miracle may occur if the mood is sincere…and it’s then the right answer comes.
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