Assisting Your Client to Move Themselves Out of a Story

Sometimes our clients get caught up in a story they are telling themselves, either about themselves, others, or their situation. They may say something like, “I need a big win. Things just aren’t going my way.”

A coach can challenge the seeming truth of the story by asking a question such as, “What do you feel is going your way and what do you feel isn’t?” This could begin to move the client forward out of their story and uncover awareness about themselves and their interpretation of events. And it can free the client from the global absolutism of that interpretation.

Let’s face it. We human beings have a tendency to often exaggerate events to make us look better than others, or even to make us feel worse (i.e. guilty, not good enough…..)

It’s really challenging to change what you’re not aware of!

Once we have awareness about a behavior or way of thinking, we can start to consider different ways to think and act instead. As coaches, one important way that we add value to our clients is by assisting them to gain awareness quicker, in order to make different choices around how to respond.

The ICF Core Competency of “Creating Awareness” gives us clues on how to coach

The Creating Awareness core competency has a sub-point (c) that provides a lot of clues as to what we coaches can do to help our client move out of the loop or story they may be in.

Sub-point c says [the coach] “Identifies for the client his/her underlying concerns, typical and fixed ways of perceiving himself/herself and the world, differences between the facts and the interpretation, disparities between thoughts, feelings and actions.”

An Example

Maybe your client says something that seems to conflict with something else they say: In a coaching session, Peter says to you, “I really want to move on from this situation with how John took over my meeting. It’s over. It’s done.” Only to say a few minutes later, “Yeah, that’s typical of John. He never listens to what anyone else has to say.”

As coaches, we are unattached or uninvolved in their situation, so we have the ability to observe our client’s behavior, and emotions. We can even take a ‘birds-eye view’ and see the ‘whole’ picture as presented so far by the client, and make observations back to our client or ask them questions.

Taking each piece of the Creating Awareness definition (sub-point c) can enlighten us as to what to do. As you are coaching Peter, you offer questions, or observations, intuitions and comments:

To bring awareness to his ‘underlying concerns’

  • Peter, what is your underlying concern here?
  • What are you upset about?
  • It seems there is something really bothering you about what John said and did.

To bring awareness to his ‘typical or fixed ways of perceiving himself and the world’

  • Peter, how would you describe your reaction to John’s behavior?
  • What is your belief about people who behave like John?
  • How do you typically respond when people take over a meeting that you were supposed to be leading?
  • Peter, you said you want to move on from this situation, and then you said that John never listens to what others have to say. How do these two statements relate, or not?
  • I’m wondering if there is another reason you can think of to explain why John took over your meeting?

To bring awareness to ‘the differences between the facts and the interpretation’

  • Peter, what are the facts here?
  • What is your interpretation of John’s behavior?
  • What is your interpretation of your behavior?
  • What is the story that you’re making up about John?
  • What is the story that you’re caught up in right now?
  • It sounds like you have a lot of evidence that John never listens to what anyone else has to say. What other evidence do you have?

To bring awareness to ‘disparities between thoughts, feelings and actions’

  • Peter, you seem to have some emotions just below the surface about what happened in the meeting. How would you describe how you’re feeling?
  • When John took over your meeting, how did you respond?
  • Peter, you said, “It’s over. It’s done.” Then you spoke about John again in a way that indicates it’s not over and not done.

Of course, there are many, many more questions and observations you could ask besides the examples given.

Something to Reflect On

Consider the following. What is the story you may be living in, about yourself, your coaching, or your clients? What might you use your coach for to help you gain awareness, and uncover your ‘story?’

Are you preparing for your first or next ICF Credential? Or do you want to “Sharpen the Saw” of your coaching skills?

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