Father Greg Boyle, founder of the largest gang-intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world, was asked to describe humbleness. He shared a story about a man who had asked him how to reach a hardened gang member. Boyle’s response astounded me.
“For starters, stop trying to reach them. Can you be reached by them?” – Father Greg Boyle (From Clear+Vivid with Alan Alda podcast)
My head exploded. Let’s apply this to coaching.
Coaches dread hearing these three words from their client: “I don’t know.” It is the anthem of the client who is stuck. The words are often accompanied by a heavy wet blanket feeling that expresses the client’s low worth.
Here are five good responses for the coach when they hear these painful words.
My opening coaching question has changed.
I used to ask:
“What would you like to talk about today?”
Now I ask:
“What would you like to work on today?”
It may seem like a subtle shift. The word “talk” is replaced by the word “work.” Yet it is anything but subtle. It defines the nature of the conversation. We are going to “talk,” but the nature of the conversation is not to exchange information. One person (the client) will do some work that moves them forward. The coach will provide an environment where work can be done.
Coaches are communicators. We specialize in effective communication in order to draw out what’s inside our client’s head, straighten out their tangled thought noodles, and clarify the fuzzy pictures of what’s possible. And one of the most effective ways to communicate well is the use of metaphors – a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that is not literally true but helps explain an idea or makes a comparison. As a coach, you don’t literally draw out what’s inside your client’s head – that would be creepy and illegal. And your client’s thoughts are not literally noodles or overly pixelated pictures. While metaphors are not literally true, the use of them in our communication is powerful. In coaching, metaphors work for three reasons.