Don’t colonize your client’s thoughts!

Ok, maybe this is too harsh, and just maybe I am going on a little rant, so if you maybe are more in the mood for lovely meadows and fields of green, maybe you want to stop reading. But if you want to go on…

…just recently, I read the old view of Solution Focus again. “The client is the expert of their life, we are experts for the process.” This was put forth rather vehemently as if ignoring the clients direction of thinking was a good thing. And I agree and I disagree.

Where I agree:

As coaches, we are the experts for good conversations. We tend to know where are good places to look when someone is stuck or wants to move forward, develop their potential. We also have been in a lot of conversations and therefore also know which avenues of thinking tend to be more or less helpful. Our experience in having helpful conversations is valuable – it is what clients pay us to do.

Where I disagree:

When “our process” (whichever model we are following) replaces the lived conversation of equals as the guiding principle of our conversation, it feels like we are “right” about the direction our thoughts will take and the client is wrong in the direction of their thinking. We are trying to push the client into our structure, seduce and manipulate them to think in ways that we deem helpful. For me, this feels like colonizing our clients’ thoughts. Rather than observing carefully, interacting genuinely and co-constructing the path of the conversation, we push the clients into our boxes.

And as if you couldn’t tell, I don’t like this. I also used to think that clients don’t know how to structure their thoughts and that my main contribution to the conversation is my model — my experience these days tells me differently.

I have some metaphors for what I mean by this difference:

  • holding the conversation lightly as if on my fingertips, rather than in an iron grip
  • partnering with my client in how the conversation flows
  • being a participant observer, like an anthropologist
  • loiter with intent
  • have the client be in the center of the conversation and me decentered but fully there

What shows up in the conversation is that I am inviting the client when I think a shift in direction might be useful (e.g. “would you like to think about … “), that I am crafting my questions from the material that the client brings, that I am tentative in what I say. I am sorry that I cannot describe this more clearly. Note to self: look at your transcripts, Kirsten!

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