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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Always good stuff from you, Dan. The questions for self-reflection in your 2nd par. are helpful, IMO, to support me to focus on “me”…attitudes, feelings. motives and the like.
As far as “…But thereâ€™s no special insight or self-reflective process that can be offered” I always (and suggest to my clients, and others, when appropriate,as well) to ask: “Why is this (situation, event, person, feeling, energy…) happening FOR (as opposed to TO) me…with the notion of moving away from any real or unconscious victim consciousness and moving toward the learning, lesson, insights as to why this event, person etc. is in my life at this particular moment on my journey. Often very helpful for learning and growth.
I hope you’re well. Happy New Year.
Thank you for your wonderful question for clients. Indeed, victimization is all too often a quality of response, and I like the way you’ve headed that off by asking “for” instead of “to.”
Of course, there are many such questions. For example, I might also ask a client, “How are you colluding in the problems you say you want to solve?”
I’m sure you see how this post isn’t about our favorite questions, however. It is about what happens when those questions are no longer helpful, perhaps because they seem irrelevant to the client’s context, he/she has already tried to answer them, the deep complexity of the issues, or for some other pressing reason having to do with the circumstances of the coaching. I am here just trying to report my own experience of a change in energy that I think is a gracious (and mysterious) release for both the helper and the one helped, an “it” that changes things.
Thank you again for stopping by and Happy New Year back to you!
Many good wishes
Dan, I love how you shared this. The humility of surrendering to our role as a conduit of the energy needed in a situation is one the highest honors I have experienced. Thanks for sharing this.
Thank you for sharing your thought — with which I completely agree. It is a kind of surrender, and it is a great honor.
Much appreciation to you, and I hope you are doing well.
All the best