When the client is fused with an identity that is getting in the way

  • Moderator
    Deborah Helsing
    January 6, 2016 at 2:39 pm #2531

    As a coach, I usually try and maintain an open curiosity about clients’ Big Assumptions… the same type of open, curiosity I hope they’ll have.
    • I assume that if I am not always suspicious and “on guard,” others will take advantage of me and I will look weak.
    Together, we consider the conditions under which the client might actually collect data suggesting others will not take advantage of her. Is there any single one teammate she might trust just a little not to take advantage of her? Is there any possibility of building additional trust on the team that changes the team culture?
    Usually, I strongly suspect we’ll find AT LEAST SOME DATA that disconfirms a Big Assumption. And I let the client know that’s what we’re going to look for together. We’re both curious and eager to look.
    But I don’t always take that open, curious stance. Sometimes my client has a Big Assumption of this variety:
    • I assume I’m not smart enough…
    • I assume I’m not talented enough…
    • I assume I don’t deserve…
    • I assume I am not worthy…
    And sometimes the client is pretty strongly convinced this assumption is true. When I ask what data, if it exists, would disconfirm such a Big Assumption, the client cannot come up with anything. The client can’t believe the Big Assumption might not be true. Or, the only way he or she could believe the assumption isn’t true is in the face of data like this:
    • “…If I already knew how to do this”
    • “…If it was easy for me to do this”
    • “…If someone were unconditionally in love with me”
    None of these answers leads to useful tests.
    I hate these Big Assumptions. The client is completely fused with his or her inner critic and seems to have no ability to separate from it to question it. The client seems completely at a loss about how this could change. So as a coach, I find myself very clearly taking a stance with the client that these Big Assumptions are:
    A) Very likely wrong
    B) Definitely unhelpful
    I am not very open and not very curious. I am very actively, energetically waging war against these Big Assumptions and showing the client how to join me. I am arguing against their self-defeating interpretations, showing them more hopeful alternatives, directing them to seek out other data.
    I know we’ve already talked about strategies for managing the inner critic in an earlier thread… I’m particularly interested in reflecting on my stance as a coach. Any thoughts you can offer? Because I am not usually in such a directive mode as a coach, I wonder if I should or shouldn’t be? Do I need to take this stance to drive a wedge between the client and the inner critic he or she is fused with? Am I ultimately undermining the client’s success by taking such an active role? Are there other stances you’ve tried that have worked well? Are there times when you are more directive as a coach and other times when you step back?