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When the Coach Needs the Coaching

By Guest Blogger, Jane Mobille, PCC, CPCC.

For a week I had been living with the news that a family member required rather urgent scary surgery. Just two days away, my head was lost in a very private worry-fest. Add to that a liberal dose of self-pity, due to the resulting cancellation of my annual summer pilgrimage “back home”. So what does this have to do with coaching? Well, in 15 minutes a young manager would be walking through the door for her coaching appointment. My thoughts may have been justifiable – their timing was inappropriate.

So why didn’t I “clear”?

I thought about “clearing” with my client. We had designed this into our coaching relationship – a brief verbalization of any “extraneous” thoughts at the start of the session – so that we could be fully present for the rest of it. I intuitively knew that my client was fond of me, just as I was of her. Furthermore, not only was she concerned about others; she had experienced long-term illness in her family. She would feel for me, and I believed there was a risk that her empathy and generosity would get in the way of the work that we needed to do for her that day. So I consciously chose not to clear.

No Turning Back

The young manager – an expat – was considering applying for a specific job back in her home country. She wanted me to help her distinguish between her emotions and the professional opportunity. Her emotions were torn between the pride of having built a life in Paris, a city she loved; and the comfort of returning to a country where she fit in naturally. I was able to ask questions that allowed her to go deeper into her exploration. As we discussed the eventual benefits to her career of such a move, I had no trouble fully listening: I stayed focused and curious about my client’s situation; my own thoughts and feelings were in full service of my client.

It was when we began exploring the emotional impacts of moving “back home” that listening properly became difficult: I struggled to hear her words in the context of her needs. I was like a buoy, submerged by waves of invasive thoughts about my own situation, no longer listening in service of my client. I immediately self-righted myself back to focusing on her, only to get pushed back down again. When my client spoke about her family “back home”, I thought about how I wouldn’t see mine this year; when my client spoke about the close friends she would leave behind, I thought about how if she were my friend, she would know exactly what to say to reassure me.

I had to call on every ounce of my professional coach acumen to squash my very needy thoughts in real time. And I did squash them. Honestly, my client had no idea what was going on. And that is how it should be. As coaches, we know that every time we coach, what concerns us most is that our client receives the value they deserve.

When I think about it now, by not clearing, I made things more difficult for myself. Was it wrong of me to make assumptions about how my client would have reacted to me clearing? Maybe. Did I jeopardize the value of my client’s coaching? Probably not: We coaches make connections with our own situations while coaching all the time, for all sorts of reasons; that is why we are trained to return rapidly back to focusing on our client’s needs. Rather, that day, I had recognized that by choosing not to clear, I would avoid the temptation of using my client as my coach, and ensure that she receive the value she deserves.

Coda

One gorgeous August evening a few weeks after the coaching session (and successful surgery), my son and I were on a bike tour with a group of tourists, having some “staycation” fun. While relishing our Bertillon ice cream on a bridge overlooking the Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral, who should walk by? My client! She was surprised to see me…thought I was “back home”. Now I was free to talk and listen, with her and myself in mind, and I told her why I was still in Paris. She reacted just as I had thought she would, with warmth and reassuring words.