This is a word for word dialogue of a real session I ran with a new manager we are calling Jane. This is the second part of the session in which I broadly followed the GROW model. In the first part we established Jane’s goal and current reality. The session was run using our coaching software CoachMaster®. I tried as much as possible to use the built in questions almost as an experiment to see what happened but, as you will see, conventional coaching skills and common sense were also necessary. I have put my commentary in italics below the conversation. Re reading it I believe it also shows the value of the coach summarizing frequently for the client to agree or disagree with. In addition we see how presenting the client’s words back to them in written form helps them see the underlying realities they are operating from. This for me is one of the real benefits of using text versus voice or video.
Stage changed to Obstacles
Bob Do you have any personal patterns or characteristics which are making it more difficult for you to achieve your goals?
We now move onto looking at Jane’s obstacles between where she is and where she wants to be. The personal patterns question is great if the client is able to reflect on their own role in the situation.
Jane I have a tendency to attempt to mind read and really believe the assumptions I’ve made to be true. I often feel like I’m right about what people are thinking.
Jane is able to see what she is doing very clearly in her own process. This is good news in terms of her coachability. This could be challenged but at this point it felt more important to maintain the momentum of the session.
Jane I also care a lot what other people think of me when it comes to work. Again Jane is telling me an important fact about her inner world, which can be used positively in the coaching.
Bob If you were not to worry about what others were thinking of you, what is the one fear that you do not want to face?
Again this is a standard question in CoachMaster and can be very revealing but Jane still talks about what others think of her
Jane That people won’t think I’m smart
Bob So one obstacle might be that you want people to think you are smart?
I summarise and Jane agrees.
Jane Yes that is true
Bob Anything else?
The ‘anything else’ question is often very useful to help the client to reflect more deeply.
Jane I also want them to like me
Jane gives more information and I validate her for being open.
Bob Thanks for being honest that is very human
Bob Do you have an expectation of how you should deal with this situation?
Again this is one of the standard questions in CoachMaster
Jane Are you asking how I think I should deal with this situation?
Jane asks me for clarification. Which tells me she is engaged.
Bob Yes it sounds as if you are telling yourself you have to have perfect answer every time and that you can completely control what others think of you
And I try and playback what she has told me. It was a slightly provocative way to get Jane to consider what she was telling herself.
Jane I don’t think I can completely control what others think. I don’t think that if I present myself as knowledgeable they are less likely to think I am not smart
Jane tries to clarify what she thinks.
Jane To answer your question, in my mind there are a couple of ways I could deal with this situation. Either by become more knowledgeable i.e. read more books etc.) or somehow defeat the negative thoughts.
But Jane does pick up on the question and starts to engage with what she could do.
Bob Yes I agree. Let’s look at defeating the negative thoughts in the options section. On the other point do you need any kind of resources: money, time, skill etc. that you do not have now?
Since there was nothing I could do about Jane’s knowledge level immediately I decided to focus on what she could do to control her negative thoughts.
It is often very useful to ask the client about what they are missing.
Bob So the main obstacle is that you tell yourself you have to have the perfect answer every time?
I summarise and Jane agrees.
Jane Yes that sounds right
Obstacles Statement updated – the main obstacle is that you tell yourself you have to have the perfect answer every time.
Stage changed to Options
Bob So given you are not going to have a perfect answer every time what might be an option to get around this obstacle?
I start off the options section by simply asking Jane how she could get past this obstacle.
Jane I suppose I need to find a way to accept that I can’t always have the perfect answer.
Bob What happens if you do that?
Jane It would reduce the negative thoughts
Jane immediately owns the issue but it does not lead where I think it would. Jane is now able to some extent to see how she needed to find a new way of dealing with situations where she did not know the perfect answer.
Bob Do you know anyone you respect who is able to deal with not knowing the answer or not having the perfect answer?
This is a standard CoachMaster question for the client to consider inspiring examples from other people. It often sparks the client’s imagination to consider options that they would not otherwise have considered.
Jane Well, there are definitely people who I respect, who are charming and would likely deal with “not knowing” in a good way.
Jane My dad and one of my aunts.
Jane gave me an example of two people from her family who seemed to have the ability she wanted. Now I wanted to help her see that she carried that ability in her head (to not know the answer and be ok with it) as well. Even though she did not consciously use it yet.
Bob What do they do when they don’t’ know something?
Jane They say they don’t know
Bob Do people think less of them for it?
Bob Or do you?
Jane Not at all, but I guess I feel like there are certain situation where you should know.
I could have explored this answer but I felt it would be more useful for Jane to get into a more resourceful state about not knowing.
Bob What tactic could you use when you feel you should know the answer but don’t know right now?
So I attempt to help her think through an alternative to her normal behaviour.
Jane I could tell them I have a solution but it might not be the perfect solution and then look into a better solution later.
Jane pretty immediately comes up with a solution which she feels would leave her integrity intact while doing her best.
Bob Sounds honest. How would it feel to do that?
Jane Actually yes, I think prefacing it with the truth would help.
I validate the approach and check in with her as I was not sure it would be enough for her.
Bob Would that be enough or would you need another tactic?
So I did a quick check
Jane In that situation I think that would work well.
Options Statement updated – I could tell them I have a solution but it might not be the perfect solution and then look into a better solution later.
This as the only option seemed a bit sparse to me but through our discussion I thought that Jane had learned enough to be able to apply it so I went forward with just the one option.
Bob What support do you need to remember this?
Bob That could be support you create for yourself or support from others like me.
Getting the right support in place though seemed very important since Jane was in the habit of using perfectionism against herself I did not think the habit would let go easily
Jane Maybe a written reminder.
Bob Ok, how and when would you create that?
Jane Right now. I’ll add an alarm in my phone.
Jane came up with a solution but I was not sure how that would work.
It seemed like a good step forward but I could not see it working in practice when Jane had to come up with an answer in the moment. This is called the ‘common sense’ test.
Bob Great but how will that remind you when you are suddenly faced with a difficult situation at work?
Jane well, I suppose it won’t.
Jane could also see this. And was perhaps trying to come up with something to please me as a coach rather than with a more complete solution.
Jane If it reminds me once a week though maybe it will eventually become a habit to think that way.
Bob Is there another way you could keep it in awareness? Perhaps a coded message on your desk for instance?
This was just something I made up on the spot that I thought might work. But I thought it might work in terms of Jane’s wish to be reminded about her intention without it being too obvious to her colleagues as she was concerned what people think of her.
Jane I could get something that represents the new way of thinking that will remind me whenever I look at it.
Bob That’s good. When will you get this something in place?
I probably should have found out what specifically Jane was going to do as well as by when.
Jane For Monday.
Bob Thanks Jane. Before we finish, what have you learned about yourself and how you approach work that might be useful to you in the future?
This was an opportunity to use reflection which coaches can use to help the client reflect on the session so they can anchor the learning and apply the lessons in other situations.
Jane I’ve learned that attempting to be perfect isn’t getting me anywhere and that if I’m honest with others about not knowing certain things they won’t think I’m not smart.
Jane seemed to have taken in the learnings very well.
Bob Sounds a useful bit of understanding. Let me summarize
Bob I will get something that represents the new way of thinking that will remind me whenever I look at it. I’ll add an alarm in my phone. All by Monday.
Bob Thanks for taking part in this session Jane.
Jane Thanks Bob, you’ve been helpful.
Bob Bye for now I look forward to hear how it goes.
I think the actual actions from the session were less important than the learnings Jane took about herself. My focus is usually finding a resolution which gives the client enough resources and information in terms of awareness and actions that they are able to make the changes that they want. Sometimes this will involve more actions and sometimes the focus would be more on learning.