Has a great person ever initiated work with you or someone you recommended…but delayed so much that the work never started? Are you open to additional ways to engage that situation?
Here’s excerpts from a real-life client scenario, following a great initial conversation:
1st Email: “The work you’re doing would really help—you have a new client. Can you get back with some dates?”
2nd Email: “Those don’t work…I’m OK to wait a couple of weeks. It feels like I’m in a gestation period.”
3rd Email: “Unfortunately, I need to cancel for now.”
Since: Friendly interactions—but nothing rescheduled, in over a year.
Let’s assume you’d connected well; moving forward felt really good. And yet, you’re stalled.
How do you support someone in this situation with integrity? Respect the parts of them that want to do work…and those that don’t? Preserve potential for growth…and not cross boundaries that erode another’s volition? Act in a real-world way that’s neither surrendering nor bullying…yet actually models curiosity, support, and confidence?
What I’ve learned so far: reframe, befriend whatever is going on, and create the circumstances for a “leap of faith.” Here’s how I got there, and how to enable that leap.
What's the Frame?
In this frame, conventional wisdom can undermine…maybe even be abusive. [For example, see my blog on abusive advice giving.] I once heard a speaker use the acronym DIPSS: “Denial, Ignorance, Procrastination, and Stupid/Stuck.” In five letters that rules out not only the possibility of delay being productive, but blinds us to client potential.
Although sometimes clients regret delay, many other times it allows a necessary shift for the work to be productive. And also, how can I be a voice for client potential at the same time as I’m restricting my sight to flaws? Especially when such flaws might not even exist, except in my own projection? That's the opposite of what coaching is intended to be.
Befriend Delay as a "Lilt"
That’s not lilt’s dictionary usage—from OED, “a pleasing, gentle accent” or “a pleasant, gently swinging rhythm.” But it does hold forth a gentle possibility of resourcefulness in what might well be a period of normal germination. Befriend it, rather than alienate!!
In the lilt context, our job isn’t to talk someone into anything. Or even to “agree” with them (although we do want to be validating). Rather, help them explore this period of gestation so that it can be productive: our clients learn what they need to learn in an optimal way and time.
That frame allows that some of our client’s parts might not see the whole picture, without labeling them as “Deniers.” Clients are not ignorant or willfully stupid, but in a place of learning. Holding off on doing work might be something that supports the work we had in mind—or something else still better.
And at the same time, it opens a powerful dialog.
Timing—Is it the Right Season to Work?
But how do you know what the right timing is? Especially if “not feeling ready” is a constant challenge? In that case, “not feeling ready to work” with a coach might be the exact time when coaching is indicated.
Waiting for the issue to resolve itself comfortably is a disservice (because, if it goes away from neglect, the issue may never get worked on and become a lost opportunity). Yet if being aggressively pushy undermines the client, where’s the middle ground?
Actions to Invite a Leap of Faith
I hadn’t focused much on that leap before. Yet, isn’t it likely that every client who elects to do transformational work experiences a leap of faith? Despite fears about vulnerability, time, expense, etc., those who become clients connect to something still greater.
How can we support that leap?
1. Get your own parts to step back. Coaches have parts, too. Part of me will want to agree with the client—to it, being proactive feels bullying. Another part will feel that unless I pull every counter-perspective out of the book that I can, I’m not doing my job—to it, being agreeable is wimpy. It makes sense to ask both these parts for their perspective…but also for them to step back and make room for additional possibilities. Often “power” comes from allowing more possibilities rather than zeroing in quickly.
2. Use the conversation as a discovery space--for you, and the client. What are the outcomes they seek to get from a lilt? (And call it that!) How will they know it’s time?
For example, in my twenties, I was thinking about marrying a woman I’d dated for seven years. My father asked if I was happy in the relationship. I responded, “not yet, but I imagine we’ll be able to work things out in a year or so.” He innocently asked what I thought I’d uncover in a year I hadn’t in seven. That got me to realize it wasn’t likely that things would change, and this wasn’t a good relationship to continue. It was hard to part at the time, but a great decision for all parties involved. Get the idea?
4. Invite dialog among client parts. Let the parts of the client that have concerns have an open say. Ditto about the ones that want to move forward. They will almost always have the same positive intention…just different strategies to get there. Inviting that conversation will help the client release tension, make a better decision, and help you and the client experience what working together might be like.
By the way, there are specific tools to do this. If you know IFS (Internal Family Systems), help protectors negotiate for Self-leadership. In NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), one method is the Disney process. Strategic Choice Structuring is yet another tool for clients with a strong cerebral orientation.
5. Help the client open to what they deserve. From my “leap” client: “I reflected on why it took me so long to take action… the impetus that motivated me to ‘want more.’ The answer simply was....I finally started to believe that I deserved more.” How did she get there? "Getting tired of living on the outside." And also, "a friend who’d done transformational work, and shared her story, vulnerabilities and all." [See her letter for more details; it's compelling and insight-provoking.]
6. Invite still greater perspective. Many believe that “healing” comes not from a healer, but from opening channels to still greater energies. You don’t have to be a mystic to start this inquiry: What’s important to your client? When we make decisions “about ourselves” in the context of who and what we serve, it’s easier to see the right path.
7. Invite“higher powers,” too. And, if there is an order to the universe, why not invite higher guidance in as well? Ask clients how they hold this kind of perspective, and invite them to bring this resource to bear in whatever way works for them. It might be setting an intention, meditating, saying a prayer, invoking angels, looking for signs, opening to dreams…who knows? Remind clients they have these resources, too!
8. Invite inner wisdom--even "body dowsing" (the "sway test"). I often ask if clients already use a pendulum or "body dowsing" as a way to make hard decisions; many already use this as a way to get answer their body knows, but is mentally confusing. Sometimes I offer and teach this in exploratory sessions as well. (If that's not familiar to you, and you're curious, let me know...I haven't posted anything on it yet, but can send you an article I published on this additional perspective.) It's a lot more convincing to clients to move forward—or not—when it's their own bodies showing them their best interest.
9. Remind clients they can relax into results; it may not be all that painful. A lot of clients exaggerate the pain they expect to experience—and it’s true old modalities could invite gratuitous pain and confrontation. But let’s not assume that’s the case. For example, when clients approach work first having reconnected to a gut-level sense of purpose, it’s a lot easier to guide shifts then when they’re only aware of their deficits and flaws. (That’s why I’m such an advocate of the Core Intention tool I use with my clients, and teach other coaches/therapists/leaders.) IFS also guides clients to connect with robust “Self” energy before engaging challenges.
Illustrating the benefit of delay, it’s taken me well over a year to write this. But during that year—including up to a few days ago—I’ve been gifted with essential insights I wouldn’t have received otherwise.
What ideas do you have to add? Please comment in the blog!
And, in the meantime, can you see more gifts in delay—and engage with it as a lilting opportunity to invite a leap of faith and client resourcefulness?
Finally, feel free to share this with your clients and colleagues. If it would help to have a PDF version to print as a handy reference, or share, just email me and I'll send it.