Saturday, November 17, 2012

Grist for the Mill

"I love what I'm hearing. You're giving me the opportunity to see myself in a different way. Not like two sessions ago when I had a kind of tantrum after we finished: I am not going back to Mary Bast! She reminds me of my mother!
Hmmm. Well, of course the first part was pleasing. But even more so, the second half of my client's admission pleased me. First, because she felt free to tell the truth, which was useful feedback that I'd unwittingly let out my preachy side; second, because a coaching session can be the perfect place to relive and experiment with parent-child patterns that still hold influence.

As a coach you may not get a chance to observe clients in interactions with others. You'll hear only their reports of what happened and, because none of us is entirely objective, that report will be missing some pieces. So it's vital to pay attention to how a client's patterns show up in exchanges with you.

In that former session I'd forgotten a simple guideline for making process observations: describe specific behavior. Instead, I'd offered a theoretical analysis, suggesting she loved her career because it provided variety. Yes, yes, I know: ask powerful questions, don't give advice. My style is conversational, however, so sometimes an opinion comes off as a pronouncement. And I believe it's good for clients to see how we, too, get caught up in archaic patterns, and to observe how we own and learn from them instead of being defensive.

So I was able to authentically applaud my client for sharing her reaction to my off-putting behavior, model my willingness to explore a persistent pattern of my own, and invite her to signal if she felt the same way again -- confirming our equal partnership and at the same time opening the door to some real-time information about her relationship with her mother.

Years ago, in my social psychology program at the University of Cincinnati, Len Lansky gave me the best piece of advice I ever received from a mentor: "Everything is grist for the mill."