Top Coaching Tips To Help Someone Get Unstuck

When you’re coaching someone who is stuck it’s easy to doubt yourself, jump in and try and fix their problem yourself.
Even us coaches find it hard. Here’s what Jennifer Pierce, a coach in my network had to say in response to last weeks letter:
I have a post-it on my monitor that says “my value is my attention” to remind myself that the value I bring to my coachees is not my advice, but the space to explore their thoughts with someone who is totally focused on them.
So this week, I’m going to share how I know someone is moving out of stuckness and how summarising as a coaching tool helps with that.

The paradoxical theory of change

You know someone is stuck when you keep having the same conversation with them, for example it might be that work gets more of their attention than home. Despite knowing what they need to do to change, they just can’t seem to do it. Logically it makes sense to close the laptop at 6 and yet the compulsion to check their email has them online again.
In Gestalt the paradoxical theory of change states that you have to face the truth of a situation before you can move on from it and the coach’s role is to help their client to explore what that truth is. The Simple Coaching Circle with TED that I showed you last time is the perfect way to do this.
A likely frustration that will come up for your thinker is that they feel like they are going round in circles and they can clearly see what they should be doing and are mystified as to why they can’t do it.
When this happens reassure them it’s natural, tell them about the paradoxical theory of change and then summarise what you’re hearing back to them.

Don’t take notes

I’m hearing the objections even as I type this:
“But you say to summarise back in their words, how will I remember them if I don’t write them down?”
“But I’ll never remember everything they’ve said”
“But, but, but….”
Don’t take notes.
Firstly, you have to break eye contact when you take notes and maintaining eye contact is the main way you signal that you have given all of your attention to your thinker.
Secondly,  If you’re taking notes your attention is divided, you’re trying to capture what they’ve said and so will be missing what they are saying.
Thirdly, it’s not your responsibility to find your thinkers solution so you don’t need to hold onto any data on the problem.
You will be genuinely surprised by how much you can remember when your attention is on your thinker and not on notes, or trying to think of the next question  to ask. The Simple Coaching Circle was designed to remove any need for you to figure out what next.
I don’t always get everything right in my summary and I often can’t remember everything so I ask my thinker to fill in the blanks.
And If you get really stuck and can’t remember enough of what they’ve said to summarise then ask the TED questions until you are back up to speed.
T – Tell me more
E – Explain more
D – Describe  more

The magic of summarising

Remember those spirograph kits you had as a kid, where you’d draw these elaborate pictures like this one by effectively going round in circles?
That’s what it’s like when you are going through the process of getting unstuck. You first need to go through each rotation before you see the compete picture. And summarising is like adding another colour.
When you hear your own words said back to you you hear them in a different way giving you a new perspective on your dilemma. And summarising also helps your thinker and you see that they are moving through the stuckness, even if they keep coming back to the same place.
With one client who was struggling with the home and work tension I described above I was able to summarise back to her that we’d explored her need to prove herself, how let down she felt by senior leadership and how she didn’t have a peer group she could lean on. We’d never have gotten to these truths if we’d just focused on her time management.

What is clear and what is still unclear?

It’s also useful to get your thinker to summarise where their thinking is for themselves and I find this question works very well. It’s the same one that my supervisor asked me when I was stuck on how to help my clients when they are stuck.
And it’s a question I’d like to ask you, drop me a line and let me know what is making sense and what is not landing, it would really help my thinking.
My thinking for this piece was inspired by the Gestalt paradoxical theory of change that states you need to own your truth as it is now to be able to move on from it and Karen Dawson who used the TED analogy in a workshop we did together and I knew immediately I had to steal it.

Get in touch if you’d like me to run a workshop for your organisation or network.

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