Daaaamn, that was a bold thing to say! I read the statement: “Don’t believe your clients” in a book yesterday, and as soon as I saw the words, my hackles went up. “My clients don’t lie to me!” I wanted to yell at the author. But then I read further, and I realized that she was right. Kind of.
“She” is Marion Franklin, author of The Heart of Laser-Focused Coaching. When Ms. Franklin said not to believe my clients, she was referring to the concept that a person’s perception of an event or situation colors how they interpret it, and can therefore cause them to misspeak about the facts or (in the words of evidentiary law) “assuming facts not in evidence”.
Ms. Franklin was not referring to an actual willful lie. Her point is that every person perceives a situation from her own perspective, carrying her own baggage, reflecting back perhaps a lot of who she is onto the other person(s) involved, and this colors what she sees and affects how she feels and reacts. It can, in fact, make a situation seem exactly the opposite as the viewpoint being adopted by another.
We are taught as coaches that what the client tells us is just the tip of the iceberg. When I look at a coaching session with a client, specifically where we start and where we end, I notice that the conversation is often filled with a lot of perception in the middle. As a coach, I have to dig deeper than your perceptions as my client to find where the perception is coloring the event and keeping you from seeing it clearly, from identifying the real issue you need to manage before you can progress. We cannot focus on temporary strategies to “fix” what you perceive as wrong; we need to shoot for transformational and permanent shifts in perspective, and to do that, we must differentiate between truth and perception. What’s really, really going on? What deep, foundational issue underlies your other surface issues that is keeping you from your goals?
As your business life coach, my job is to listen intently during our conversations to your emotion and your perceptions, to be on the lookout for assumptions you’re making that may not be “true”. I am duty bound to seek “alternate truths”. I will use certain questions to challenge you, to figure out what is real, to uncover unconscious bias, and to discover where your perceptions might be getting in the way of your truth.
Here’s an example from a coaching conversation I had (details changed to protect confidentiality) that illustrates my point: that sometimes the client says her problem (her “truth”) is A, but her problem (truth) is actually B.
THE COACHING CONVERSATION
Me: What would like you like to cover today in our session?
Coachee: Well, I think I’d like to talk about finding out what kind of coach I want to be. What my niche will be. I can’t seem to move forward with this big career change without this basic thing figured out first. [This is my client’s Problem A, according to her, the thing getting in the way of her forward movement.]
Me: What does your ideal client look like?
Coachee: I don’t know. I want to say she’s looking for a spiritual connection but that sounds silly. I personally went through a process of finding a spiritual connection in my life, but I know that sounds hoakie to a lot of people. So I don’t really know. Maybe she’s a woman looking to make changes.
Me: What kind of changes?
Coachee: Changes like with how she lives her life. Overcomes obstacles. Be more connected. It all seems so amorphous to me, though. Like it doesn’t make any sense. It’s important to me, but I can’t imagine that anyone would want to hire someone for that.
Me: I’m listening to what you’re saying, and I can feel that it’s deep and meaningful type work for you, but I also keep hearing a lot of self-denigrating talk. What’s that all about? [I listened to her telling me her “truth” but her offhand comments are leading me down another path. I have to challenge her claimed truth here to get her past this and on to what her real truth is.]
Coachee: [Long pause.] I guess I hear that too. I didn’t realize I was doing that. If I’m being honest, I guess I’m feeling a little embarrassed about what I want to do. Like people aren’t going to respect it. Like it’s not even a thing. That people will think it’s stupid. [Here we are at Problem B. This is her real truth. This is the thing deep down stopping her from making forward progress.]
Me: Who are these people?
Coachee: [Laughing] I have no idea. No one maybe.
Me: I’m going to offer an observation if that’s okay with you.
Coachee: Sure, go ahead.
Me: Sometimes when we doubt ourselves like this, we’re hearing a mean-girl voice in our heads, or we’re imagining someone we care about not agreeing with our choices or not understanding them. Could these denigrating thoughts be coming from one of these sources?
Coachee: Honestly, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think anyone would think badly of me. I think I just don’t believe deep down that there’s a niche that I’m talking about that exists.
Me: What niche are we talking about here?
Coachee: Maybe spirituality coach?
At the end of our conversation, I asked her to go look up this website and be ready to talk about it next time if this niche topic is still important to her: https://gabbybernstein.com/. This is the website of life coach Gabby Bernstein, the very successful, very popular self-proclaimed “Spirit Junkie”.
My client didn’t lie to me about what was bothering her, but she was kind of lying to herself about what her real issue was, that deep down conflict that she wasn’t recognizing or dealing with that kept putting a giant wall up every time she tried to imagine herself being a life coach. Self-doubt can be a very potent, very solid-looking obstacle.
Every one of us has doubts, fears, and obstacles of our own creation that get in the way of us living our best lives, of accomplishing our goals, of feeling fulfilled in life and work. A good coach can be a real asset for identifying the real truth, getting to the heart of the matter, and debunking these hidden “lies” getting in the way. I sometimes feel like Lara Croft, Tomb Raider when I’m talking to clients, finding those hidden treasures underneath all the layers of other “stuff” that are obscuring the real deal. What a joy it is when we find that treasure together! It’s always worth the searching, even if it feels scary and painful sometimes.
If you’d like to uncover your truths, find the treasure that is your connection to your authentic self, contact me! I’d love to chat. The first 20-minute call is always free.
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