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Ending the Rumination Game for Our Clients

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We’ve all experienced the client who can’t let go of an event. It’s the CEO who wishes she hadn’t screwed up the pitch. Or, the team leader who can’t believe he got passed over for the promotion. It’s the client who deeply regrets offending her sister during Thanksgiving dinner. She spoke too soon, he didn’t think through the consequences, she should have studied harder, he didn’t mean to hurt his mom’s feelings. Whatever the precipitating event, the client is left with if only.

If only I’d kept my mouth shut?

If only I’d included that other slide.

If only I could hit rewind.

Each week, you watch the same movie; the plot never thickens, the conversations run on repeat, and your client can’t seem to move forward. At best, you lose interest; at worst, you and the client lose faith in one another (or yourselves).

Rumination, the endless loop of self-scrutiny, can keep clients stuck and unable to gain deeper insight into what really went wrong (or right!). Breaking our client’s rumination cycles can seem near impossible.

As someone who tends to find herself ruminating more often than I’d like to admit, I knew that for myself and my clients, I needed a plan. These five strategies can help your clients pause the rumination, make a conscious choice to learn from the event, and put learning into action.

Navigate with Curiosity

When coaches sense rumination we tend to shut down and return to level 1 listening. We think, Here we go again, or Will she ever let this go? The client may be telling the same story, but we are asking the same questions and maintaining a familiar range.

Instead of falling into our client’s patterns, we need to ground ourselves in our expertise: deep listening. We must shift from judgment to openness and curiosity: What is really going on for my client? What’s the underlying feeling? As we do this—as we intrude and share our intuition—we  move from venting toward acknowledgment of experiences. We hear what the emotions are trying to convey and can peel back the truth. We listen as only a coach can.

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