When you know what the client needs to address…

take two aspirins and wait until the fit is over. Seriously — when I talk to coaches who have been coaching for a long time, I often hear the idea that the coach knows what the client should “really” think about. Talk is about “the real” topic, or “what the client wants to avoid” or that the client is “deflecting” by mentioning an easy topic when they would benefit much more from talking about a “deeper” and more difficult one.

I think I understand how this idea can emerge. When you have coached a lot, you start noticing (or creating) patterns in your clients. For example, having difficulties presenting is often linked to a fear of failure, the inability to delegate often strikes people who are very good and fast at what they do who like things done just perfectly. Steve de Shazer (and Sherlock Holmes) would call these patterns “red herrings”, a false clue. This is something that we make up, not reality. And no solution cares about where the problem came from.

So what do you do when this thought arises and you don’t have an aspirin at hand?

Notice the thought. Try to suspend it (“this is just my idea at the moment”). Focus on what the client wants.

If that does not work and you get distracted by your own thoughts, you might mention your feeling to the client a) to get rid of it and b) maybe there is something useful in there for your client. What is important, however, is that this idea is offered very, very lightly, on your fingertips, so that it can fly away instantly if it is not relevant. Maybe like this:

“I have an idea stuck in my head, and I was wondering if I may offer it. It may or may not be relevant and do push back or edit it in any way if it does not fit. Often clients that I talk to who are having trouble delegating are actually very fast and competent at what they do and they like things done perfectly — I was wondering if that is a little bit the same with you?”

If the client agrees, you might look at whether the client wants to continue not delegating, find ways of delegating and ensuring quality at the same time, find faster ways of delegating, etc. You might also use this as a way to find other areas in the client’s life where they are able to live with “unperfect” things or things done more slowly as they prefer.

If the client does not agree, you let go of the idea and trust the client that they know more about themselves than you do.

The best training, in my view, however, is to switch off the “idea and pattern generation machine” in your head entirely when coaching. Every case is different. Root causes do not matter in complex human situations. An idea is just an idea. What’s important is being present to our clients.

Do come to one of our free meetup and exchanges if you would like to discuss and experiment with ideas like these and hang out with a lovely crowd of people.