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Helping our Clients Reframe Their Circumstances

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Earlier in my coaching career I was working with a healthcare client who was experiencing an unusual amount of change and disruption, both at work and at home.  At the beginning of our session, he itemized the list of demands and changes that were impacting him and his team.  The list for that week went something like this:

  • “The care models keep changing on us and the team can’t keep up.”
  • “They are moving us under another department leader that we continuously have conflict with, and now they will be our boss.”
  • “I have two key employees who had to go out on leave, and I am not allowed to backfill them.”
  • “My wedding is next month and I don’t know how I can be out for two weeks on a honeymoon.”
  • “I don’t know why this is all happening to me right now!”

I would not in any way want to put labels on this type of thinking, like victim mentality or victimism, because I am not a therapist, and labels are not helpful. These events were real, and exceedingly difficult to lead to and respond to at the same time.  He and his team were suffering.

My natural response as an executive leader was to problem-solve and wrestle each of those issues with him to resolution.  Most leaders do this automatically.  Even today as a coach I need to resist the temptation to chase the issue, stop and focus on the person instead.

The quality of life is not determined by the circumstances.  How can we help leaders move focus away from the circumstances and reframe their perspective on their relation to the circumstances? I needed to remember that it was not about what I know, and what has made me successful in the past. I was not there to advise him, and he did not ask me to.  Giving people the answers or offering advice can shut down the client’s innate curiosity and resourcefulness.

It was about my coaching presence and how I needed to show up for the client and hold the space for them.  I needed to acknowledge and then resist my natural impulses to fix the issue or “help” him and remember that he has the answers he needs within. My job is to make space for his own wisdom.

In an unusual moment of clarity as a new coach, I realized that using his own language to reflect the circumstances back to him would open the door to reframe the perspective; the quality of life is not determined by the circumstances. I stopped for a moment, took a breath, and asked:

“So all these things are happening to you and your team at the same time?”

“Yes,” he responded.

“What would be different for you if all of these things are happening for you and your team instead?”

There were a few minutes of silence, and I could tell there was a shift.

“What’s happening for you right now,” I asked.

He responded, “Wow, I guess I have to look at this from a larger perspective and figure out how to help my team navigate these changes more easily. None of these issues are stopping or going away.”

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One Comment

  1. Rey Carr

    September 14, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    Good article. Cory. Never let the story get in the way of the truth. Most people tell a story as if it’s 100% true or accurate (as they see it). But in reality a story is only 5% truth and 95% how you react to that truth.

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