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Ordinary People Taking Action
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This is a blog series following my executive coaching client, Christine, as we navigate her personal and career struggles. If you haven’t read Part 1, click here to start from the beginning.
Looking at Christine today with tears in her eyes, I’m reminded of that first time I saw her cry. The first time I saw her cry, I didn’t ask why. Our relationship was so new and somewhat fragile, and I knew that if she’d wanted me to know why she was crying, she would tell me. Since that day, our relationship had evolved to something deeper, so with compassion I asked, “Christine, what are you feeling?” Her response, “Sadness, very deep sadness.”
I have a rule with my clients. When the question “What are you feeling?” is asked, the answers have to be one or two words, with no explanations. I will never ask for the explanation and they don’t need to provide it. It’s a strategy that I learned working with a large corporation – that the action of naming a feeling is often all that is needed. Yet, today, without thought, I asked, “Why so much sadness?” The room was filled with a long silence. All you could hear was Christine’s breathing, and every so often, a sniffle as tears spilled from her eyes.
Over the months, Christine and I had gotten to know each other well. I learned a lot about her, her husband and their 4-year-old twins and 6-year-old daughter. Christine was 10 years older than me and her kids were 10 years younger than mine. We had a lot of interesting conversations about the decades that spanned our lives. We could talk about four different decades seamlessly. One of our conversations centered around independence, as her daughter was starting kindergarten and my son was starting to drive. They were two very different kids experiencing independence in completely different ways, and yet Christine and I shared identical feelings of pride and anxiety, sadness and hopefulness.
I suppose if you haven’t worked with an executive coach before, you might be surprised to hear how much we talk about things not related to work. I don’t know if it’s the case with all coaches, but my approach is to get to know the whole person. So, we talk about both the professional and the personal. Of course, I have some limits on issues that I am not educated to talk about, such as medical diagnoses. I’m not a licensed therapist and if certain topics are brought up, I’m required to report them to HR immediately. After those guidelines are clear – all topics are fair game.
Back to my conversation with Christine today. At this point, I couldn’t take the long silence, which isn’t like me. Typically, I am good with silence – it allows time to think and process. It provides time for reflection. Yet, today, something just felt different. So, I broke the silence and asked, “Christine, is everything okay with your kids?” The look on her face told me all I needed to know. I’d hit a nerve. It would be several more minutes before Christine would ask, “Amber, why are my kids the first thing you asked me about?” I responded, “I don’t know, but the first thing I talked to you about when we met, well, was kids.” Maybe it was a hunch, maybe it was mother’s intuition, maybe it was consequence, but after being with her for those several minutes, I knew that this sadness was much bigger than work.
This blog series is part of my goal this month to provide 31 days straight of tips, advice, and inspiration to my readers via LinkedIn. Watch for Part 3 of this story later in the month to find out more about Christine’s journey.
In the meantime, here are a few thought-provoking questions for you to reflect on:
Some tips in case you find a colleague in a similar situation as Christine:
Author's note: Christine's name is not the clients' name, the name has been changed to protect the client identity and maintain confidentiality. Pieces of this story have been changed slightly while still keeping the majority of the story truthful to remove any elements that would identify or expose the client.