At a recent mentor coach training with a group of new coaches, I noticed a very common phenomenon. In fact, it’s one of the guiding principles we teach, and it’s this: Whatever topic a client identifies at the beginning, it almost always turns into something else by the end.
In this case, each of the five coaching conversations boiled down to what we call “Life 101” – foundational ways to take care of yourself, and the permission to do it, how to find the time, and dealing the various blocks and barriers in the way.
In every case, the presenting issue was not the real issue. Sometimes we can see that the person is stuck in a script they learned over time, based on assumptions that might not be true.
Most people rarely have time to think about what they want to think and talk about; they need time to process. That is a really important part of coaching. If you delve right into what clients say they want to talk about, you may not get to the true issue.
That’s why we train coaches to give the client ample time at the beginning of the conversation to just talk. Encourage them to say more, even to go down a few rabbit holes.
I grew up in a home with well water, and I learned that if you don’t use it regularly, you need to run it for a while before you can drink it again. At the beginning of a conversation, the tap hasn’t been turned on long enough for the client to get out their true issue. They need to let their thoughts run.
While we can process some things in our minds, it is when clients hear themselves speak that they can start to understand and identify what is their true issue. Coaches help by listening deeply, and by asking the right questions.
A lot of leaders jump into fix-it mode or problem-solving, wanting to run with the first idea they’ve heard. Of course, you want to resolve the issue, especially if it’s time-sensitive, but what if you were to ask the person or group to brainstorm with you instead? For you all to ask, “What else might be going on? What are some other possibilities?”
There are times when the client’s topic is exactly what needs to be addressed, but in my experience, giving them some space to talk really helps them get down to their real issue.