Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Getting Your Clients Unstuck

Great coaching models such as GROW are very useful. Except when your client doesn’t know what they want and doesn’t tell the truth about where they are, so any options they come up with are meaningless, and there’s no way forward.

The result of trying to navigate when you don’t know where you’re going and you don’t know where you are is that you stay in the same place, which is called being stuck.

The fundamental problem is that your clients don’t tell you the truth, and that’s because they don’t trust you. Yes, yes, I know you spend lots of time on your contracting, and explaining your ethics, and building rapport, but none of that constitutes trust, because trust is based on past experience. And when a new client meets you for the first time, they already know you, very well. They know you because you are their parent, their teacher, the school bully, their last boss and their critical friend. You are the blank canvas onto which they project the very experiences that prevent them from getting to where they want to be. You are both the enabler of their hopes and dreams, and a reminder of their darkest fears. You don’t have to spend time identifying the obstacles in front of them, the obstacle is you. As they say, what is in the way is the way.

If you have any experience as a coach, I’m sure you’ll have had the experience of working with someone over the course of a few sessions, only to get to the point where you frustratedly say to yourself, “Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place??”

And that’s the issue. They couldn’t tell you any sooner, because they didn’t trust you. They already knew that, presented with their most valued aspirations, you would scoff, or laugh, or dismiss their ideas out of hand. They knew that you would ridicule them and tell them that they’re living in cloud cuckooland. Because that kind of dismissive feedback is what has prevented them from taking action before now. Of course, something has recently changed, because they have decided to talk to you. Yet still, they tip-toe forwards very, very carefully.

Here’s an example of what a client might say to you as an opening statement:

"I want to be able to trust people."

Now, this may not be obvious, but this opening statement is not true. The client isn’t intentionally misleading you. Probably. But they’re not being honest either. They make bad things sounds not so bad, and goals seem not so extravagant. And of course, they would be exactly where they want to be, if they only had the time or the inclination. It’s not because they’re stupid, and it’s most definitely certainly absolutely not because they’re afraid. And if they were afraid, even just a tiny bit, there’s no way they would trust a complete stranger like you with their greatest weakness. Especially a stranger who looks just like their old boss who told them they’d never amount to anything…

For a coach who can’t get the client past this point, the process will go round in circles. So how to get the client unstuck, without the inconvenience of taking weeks or months to build trust? Enter The Unsticker!

Consider this problem statement:

"I am always anxious about almost everything. I want to be more relaxed and able to do every day things without constant worrying."

As a coach, what questions would you ask? Take a moment to think of a few examples that come to mind.

What do all of your questions have in common? Obviously that they are relevant to the problem. And right there is the problem. The problem is not the problem. What the client describes is not the problem, it is a representation of the problem. Because the client has not yet found a solution, the problem is insoluble, and they will both describe it and represent it as such, typically using a familiar phrase such as, “I’ve tried everything and nothing works”. So, give up all hope, ye who enter here. Don’t even try. It can’t be done. It’s impossible. What the client wants is not a solution but comfort that you couldn’t find a solution either, so that’s OK, they’re not stupid. And they’re definitely certainly absolutely not afraid.

Therefore, asking questions that are relevant to the problem is reassuring, which is what the client really wants, but it is not helpful, which is what they client says that they want. And is probably what they really really want.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

2018, Here We Come!

Well, here we are then. Another year rolls round. Time for a new calendar - The Guardians of the Galaxy are confined to my office dustbin and Hieronymus Bosch now graces my wall. Outside, there's a bit of blue sky, a bit of grey, the threat of a sunset and the hint of leftover rain. Nothing to indicate the passage of another year.

Nature understands days, months, seasons and years. They are the natural cycles of the Earth, Moon and Sun, and they have influenced our very existence. So when the Earth is back to the same place in its cycle around the Sun, we humans let off fireworks, dance in the street, fall down drunk and, most bizarrely of all, make ridiculous promises to ourselves about the new things we'll do.

Gym owners love this time of year, of course. If you have joined, or resolved to join a gym this year then the staff will be calling you a 'GBV' - not to your face of course. It stands for 'Gone By Valentines', an indication that your best intentions will last for exactly 6 weeks before your shiny new kit bag joins all the other life change junk in the cupboard under the stairs.

The invention of the electric light bulb forced a new rhythm onto the human race, the rhythm of industry. 24 hour working days, 7 days a week. The supermarkets close for just one day a year, just long enough for us to feel withdrawal symptoms and separation anxiety.

So what? I mean, a big, fat, hairy, so what? Think of all the terrible things that 2016 brought us. Celebrity deaths a-plenty, wars, tragedies, natural disasters. Plane crashes, hijackings, terrorist plots, Brexits, Trumpovers, currency woes, stock market woes. Good riddance 2017, we all say, you were a useless year anyway.

Some people have taken to social media to ask their friends to list wondrous and delightful things that happened during 2017, but the list is short. In truth, it was just another year. We had shock elections and referendums, celebrity scandals, celebrity deaths, regular deaths, births, rebirths and many, many cat videos. As the Gods say, "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again".

And so, like the lemmings at the top of this page, we hurl ourselves over the cliff because, well, because that's the way it is. A year ends, a year starts, the same old routine. Make promises, forget them, pretend it all never happened.

Now, you probably know that lemmings don't actually jump off cliffs unless they are being herded by a Disney camera crew. So in reality, the only reason why you'd repeat the same old routine is because you're being herded towards that cliff. Who is pushing you? Be honest, you're pushing yourself, aren't you?

Well, stop it. Embrace the natural rhythms of life. You're like a tree, you need time to shed the old and create the new. You need a rest, a break, time to regenerate. Reject the electric light! Tell your boss you're going home at 5:00! Take up a hobby for the weekend! Learn to recognise your family again! Reacquaint yourself with your duvet! Hit the snooze button! Hit it again! And again!

You are not a bottomless reserve of energy. You do not have an endless supply of life. You are not immortal. Another year will always come along, you may or may not live to see it.

But sure, spend the evening on that spreadsheet. Spend your weekend preparing for that conference. Have some more caffeine, that will replace all that lost sleep. Buy yourself some paleo juice. And on the way home, read all the adverts, hoping to find the answer there.

You know the answer already. Happy New Year!