The following is the second part of a dialogue of a real coaching session I conducted with a young mother we are calling Karen. This is a ‘warts and all’ dialogue which I have not cleaned up in the hope that it will illustrate some of the opportunities and difficulties in e-coaching. It may be a bit basic for experienced coaches but it is intended for newer coaches to see how e-coaching can be used. I was using a fairly conventional version of the GROW model which was pre loaded into our coaching software CoachMaster®.

In the first part of the session we established what Karen wanted in terms of the school run. Now we moving into finding out more about what is happening currently. If anyone is thinking that this is purely a domestic or life coaching scenario I would point out many of my business clients go through a similar thought process in trying to change behaviours in their teams. This will become clearer in Part 3. My commentary is in italics underneath.

Bob: What is currently happening in relation to speaking quietly and heart rate and journeys?

In classic GROW model terms once you have established the Goal you look at what is currently happening, defined if possible in the same terms as the goal. So I use Karen’s own words to try and discern her current level of disturbance compared to what she said she wanted.

Karen: By the time we leave the house in the morning it is the last minute…so when I am driving I feel unfocussed and upset…worried if we will get a parking space…are we going to get into school before my son is marked late…etc

Karen: in leaving the house my son who is 6 is v unfocussed and so I end up raising my voice in order to get him to do anything

Bob: That’s very useful Karen. Is it just your son you have to take to school?

Karen: I have a list in my head of what I need to do to get out of the house….I give children instructions…I factor in mucking about time…but it seems that they don’t move unless I am furious! And that is not a state I enjoy!!

Karen gives me a lot of details about what is going wrong when she tries to leave the house.

I try and get some specific information about who Karen has to get to school but she is on a roll and I don’t get the information until later. This gives me useful information that she is probably in a state and needs to ‘vent’. This tells me I should not try and control the dialogue too much as she needed the space to talk.

‘It seems that they don’t move unless I am furious and that is not a state I enjoy’ could be really useful information about the dynamic that is happening.

Bob: Does that always happen Karen?

Karen: normally what happens is my older son takes himself off to school…and I then take my six year old and my two year old. And the dog!

Karen: It is variable. Things were getting better because to start with this term my 12 year old was flapping about as he doesn’t want to go to school

A pre formed question that is looking for exceptions to the situation to raise awareness.

Again words sort of jump off the page like Karen talking about her older son ‘flapping about’ which makes me wonder what is happening in the relationship.

Bob: When did you first become aware that this seemed to be happening?

Karen: the last ten days he has been going to bed early and getting up and going…until this morning

Karen: from years ago when I only had one child to take to school….

Bob: Was it the same with just one child?

Karen: I can’t stand being interrupted when I am on a mission to go somewhere….

Karen: yes it was. my sons muck about a lot…in different ways but they both do it

I try asking for some more information about when the issue started. This is often very useful as you find out what changed at the beginning to create the situation. You then have some idea of what has to change in the situation.

But as you can see Karen is not really responding, which is in itself useful information, so I try another question to collect more information.

Bob: How do you react when they muck about?

Karen: by telling them to focus. They don’t respond to normal instructions. E.g. with my daughter I can ask her something and she will mostly do it…I can ask nicely….

Karen: if I do that with my sons I find they don’t listen because they are already in distraction mode. So one loud word tends to get them back on track

I try and find out how Karen responds to the situation on the basis that her responses are part of the system that keeps the issues ‘alive’.

Her answer about telling them to focus makes me wonder how a 6 and a 12 year old will respond to this. It sounded as if there was some sort of ‘game’ going on with the children and Karen.

Bob: Does that work? Telling them to focus?

Karen: but then I have to repeat the process over and over

Karen: I feel that I have to stand over them making sure they do things.

Karen: my oldest can get himself sorted now…but there is an extra dynamic in there….

Bob: What is your attention on at the moment in relation to this issue?

This is a classic awareness raising question about her attention. It is often very useful when people are stuck as it can point to where the problem is. I discover she is focused on the stress and feeling a failure rather than thinking about alternative tactics that might work. It is an example of how, when our emotions and minds become involved we can sabotage ourselves.

Karen: feeling of stress!

Bob: ok understood

Karen: and also feeling of failure

Karen: it seems like whatever I do, they will undermine it

Karen: their agenda is different to mine

Karen: and it is frustrating as I like to work hard and see results…not have the same old problems every day

Karen: re the oldest…he wants to have conflict with me. So when he got to year 5 he could take himself off to school and the problem disappeared literally overnight

Karen: the six year old is more typical…he is just on his own timescale

We can see from the text that Karen is feeling very much at effect and a ‘victim’ to the situation.

On self-reflecting I knew I had to be careful to stay in helicopter mode while being compassionate and not get drawn into the ‘drama triangle’ that seemed to be going on.

Bob: So to summarise

When the boys don’t move fast enough you yell at them and that works for a bit and then they lose focus.

You feel stressed because you can’t stand being interrupted when you are on a mission to go somewhere

Your daughter does what you want. Your oldest child might be looking for conflict and the youngest has his own agenda.

One of the great features about CoachMaster and text coaching in general is the ability to easily summarise sections of the discussion. I usually simply use copy and paste so that the client sees their own words reflected back to them and can correct them if necessary

Anything else? For the current situation summary?

Karen: that is pretty much it. But the issue is that they are unfocussed to start with or focussed in the wrong direction.

Karen: also this morning my 12 year old had decided he wasn’t going to school. As he has been going for the last ten days I was v surprised

Bob: but what exactly do you mean by unfocussed?

Again the text mode offered the chance and space to reflect that I was not really sure what Karen meant by unfocused.

Karen: it turns out he has been talking to his friend who told him he was not going in today…I didn’t know that…so 12 year old was stalling v badly…at one point falling into a deep sleep when he was meant to leave the house. it is one of the things he does when he is stressed

Karen: easily distracted

Karen: e.g. his friend knocked on the door….I told him call through the door and tell him you are not ready

Bob: ok let’s look at the older boy in the next section

Karen: I make a lot of plans and try to plan for every contingency yet they will always find something to ruin it

Karen: yes please

I get the impression from this section that Karen really needed to talk to someone about how difficult the school run had become for her. In this situation it is important for the coach to give the client a chance to vent if they really need to as long as the session moves on afterwards.

The phrase ‘yet they will always find something to ruin it’ could be sadly or very bitter depending how it is said. As I don’t have tone of voice to judge this I just have to keep in mind I don’t know how exactly Karen is feeling about this. The use of emoticons is one thing you can do in text which I took to indicate she was not in despair about it.

Reality Statement updated – – When the boys don’t move fast enough you yell at them and that works for a bit and then they lose focus.

You feel stressed because you can’t stand being interrupted when you are on a mission to go somewhere

Your daughter does what you want. Your oldest child might be looking for conflict, has started not wanting to go to school and the youngest has his own agenda.

Then I have a go at summarising again. With every summary it is always a judgement call for the coach to decide the level of details ant to include in the summary. Again the key message is that it does not have to be perfect. But you can use the cut and paste function to summarise the important details.

Obstacles section

Karen: yes..the youngest is the middle though…I have T aged 12, A is 6 and my daughter is 2

Bob: A fairly basic question but I should check Karen: – are you willing to change your behaviour in order to move this issue on?

Karen: yes definitely!

I am not sure why I said it was a basic question.

But it is always useful when you are dealing with conflict issues to check if the client is aware that they might need to change to get a change in behaviour in the other person.

Bob: great

Karen: my daughter is a ‘normal’ toddler…i.e. she has her own agenda too haha but she is just easier!

Bob: Do you think you might have any personal patterns or characteristics which are making it more difficult for you to get the boys to cooperate?

Karen: hmmm I am sure I do

Karen: I hate conflict

Karen: I like to work hard then relax…don’t like being side tracked…and I get really irritated by things I perceive as pointless

Karen: I like to know reasons for things

This is another standard question in CoachMaster® and is often very useful if you have established a good relationship with your client. Karen then provides a lot of info about her patterns which could be making a solution more difficult. As a coach this is really helpful in order to understand the client’s inner world.

Karen also gives a lot of information about her own childhood. As a coach I would not normally use this type of information directly in a session as it more properly belongs in a therapy session. So I just noted it. But it does give a great explanation of how her model of how the world should be is coming up against that of her sons -which is not the same. And the conflict that is produced is really coming from both parties being unable/unwilling to see or understand the other person’s model.

Bob: and how does that affect what happens?

Karen: Because I have a basic belief that if I work hard and try to accommodate everyone’s wishes as much as possible, we can live harmoniously and happily….yet every morning I am proved wrong!

Karen: so it makes me feel like a failure

Karen: also I was thinking..oddly…that despite my mother being an early organised person, I remember it always being a big stress getting to school every morning…and feeling v bad as a child for being late.

Bob: Very very observed Karen!

Karen: oh thank you

There is a danger in text that you can come over as patronising in text because your messages could be read in a different tone to that which you intended. From the smilie I would say I was OK.

Karen: I do spend a lot of time thinking about things because I like to solve problems if I have them…

Bob: We will work on options in a minute. But could your basic belief that if I work hard and try to accommodate everyone’s wishes as much as possible, we can live harmoniously and happily be part of the problem?

If you are using GROW you have to work skilfully to help organise the client’s thinking. I tried to challenge Karen gently about how her way of thinking could be contributed to the situation.

I was trying to support Karen in her thinking and extending her thought process to starting to consider solutions.

Karen: I think so…I think it is a bit simplistic and naive and doesn’t account for family dynamics. Plus it is unrealistic!

When she thought about it Karen was able to see very quickly and perceptively about why her approach might not be working.

Bob: Well observed. You are very easy to work with! What cooperation or assistance would you need from the boys to help you find a solution?

Reading this makes me wonder if my compliment was a bit over the top but it was a genuine reflection of how I was feeling about the work right then. And compliments are rarely misinterpreted in text.

Karen: But one of the things with me is that I am happy in my own company so re adult relationships I don’t understand people that enjoy conflict and philosophy is if you don’t want to enjoy someone’s company, it is a free world so go and do your own thing! and it kind of translates into kid relationships…like why would you not want to be happy if there are a few things you can do to keep your mum happy haha

Karen then goes on to tell me even more about her inner world and it becomes clearer why she finds the conflict with the boys so difficult.

Again it feels like she needed a space to express how difficult she found the relationship.

Karen: I think if I could trust them to do what I have asked

Karen: eg if I leave E’s clothes out for him…I could trust that he would just put them straight on and not spend ages doing it…losing a sock in the process etc cos then I would get on with the next task and be confident he was taking care of that one

At this point she spontaneously starts creating some options by herself which are different from what she has been doing so far.

Bob: ok great you are moving onto options. Let’s summarise where we are.

Using cut and paste to summarise is very easy and it is a good idea to do often.

Karen: I think the unpredictability of kids is tricky….e.g. needing the loo at the last min etc.

Karen: yes please

Bob: you have a basic belief that if I work hard and try to accommodate everyone’s wishes as much as possible, we can live harmoniously and happily – but it does not seem to be working.

You can’t trust the boys to do what you have asked

You don’t like unpredictability

You don’t understand why they don’t want to make you happy.

Anything else?

The anything else question again..

Karen: hmmm….the last one…I don’t want them to feel responsible for my happiness…just to understand that there are certain things that are unacceptable and will create problems.

Karen: I am trying to think of how to put something into words…

Bob: It might not be what you want but it might be the way you are feeling at the moment…

I try and validate her feelings.

Bob: take your time

Delays in replying can sometimes indicate you have become disconnected but I knew from the system that Karen was still there.

I have my doubts about whether Karen’s idea of explaining to her children would work but at this stage it was just important to note and listen.

Karen then spontaneously tells me about a friend of hers that seems to be organised. I thought this might be a useful bit of information we could use later.

Karen: I think because I had the same stress when I was young, I really wanted to avoid it…so I explain clearly to them why we need to change our ways of doing things…have read books etc…but it feels really inevitable…also the other element is I know people that seem to be so organised…e.g. one friend with six children and it takes her a really short amount of time to get out of the door…so I feel that my failings are just the worst.

Karen: yes. I don’t think we are responsible for anyone else’s feelings but I like to do things for kids that they will enjoy and appreciate….

Karen: and that makes me happy….

Bob: I understand. Could your trying to avoid stress be inadvertently contributing to the problems?

This question was a useful test of Karen’s ability to reflect on the situation.

Karen: yes I think that is very insightful

Karen: I don’t mind a bit of stress to keep me focussed as I def have issues with keeping focussed

Karen: eg I like deadlines as I can work v quickly

I then summarise again and we move onto the next section.

Obstacles Statement updated – – you have a basic belief that if I work hard and try to accommodate everyone’s wishes as much as possible, we can live harmoniously and happily – but it does not seem to be working.

You can’t trust the boys to do what you have asked

You don’t like unpredictability

your desire to avoid stress might be making things worse

End of Part 2


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