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Not my problem!

A row of closed doors depicting options

Not my problem sounds like an unhelpful take when discussing coaching relationships, but I think it’s fundamental to good coaching. A coach isn’t there to sort anyone’s life out, solve their problems or make judgements about what might improve their lives. Coaches help clients connect to their own inner resources, access a fuller and more balanced perspective of their situation, building their confidence and resilience so they can make the best choices and decisions for themselves, at this point in their life.


Throughout my years of coaching, I have experienced certain milestones of understanding where I know I became a better coach. One was learning that what the client does going forward, has got nothing to do with me. I measure my success on how they are making their decisions rather that what those decisions are.


In my coaching early years, I thought I knew what would make other people’s lives better. I was so wrong. We can never fully comprehend another person’s situation. You’d have to have lived their whole life to really understand. So solutions based on our own life experience and circumstances are highly unlikely to be the best fit for them. In short, I learned to trust my clients.


There is a liberation that comes from letting go of trying to be part of the solution, it allows you to focus all your attention on what is happening right now for your client. Instead of getting drawn into a problem, you are free to observe how they are responding to it. For example, what are they focussing on? What beliefs are they holding? What meanings are they making of what is going on? How do they see themselves in their situation? How do they talk to themselves? What descriptions are they using and is their body language in agreement?


Thinking that you know best is an unhelpful distraction. We all make judgements, it’s impossible not to. This is a human trait you don’t lose just because you entered a helping profession. Instead of these judgements taking you to solutions, let them be the trigger for gentle exploration and curiosity.


For example, sometimes people use excess weight to make themselves less visible, stay in jobs they hate because they need stability, or they may focus on the detail so they can ignore bigger issues. Gabor Maté in his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, talks about how, for people with addictions, their fix can be the only period of relief in an otherwise chaotic or unbearable life. So get curious about how a client’s seemingly negative behaviour may actually be having a positive impact for them. Until they find an alternative way to get the same benefit, you are asking a lot for them to just stop what they are doing. And if they can stop, it likely won’t last.


Being divorced from the client’s problems means I often get to the point in a coaching relationship when a client is talking enthusiastically about how they are going to address the same situations they were working on at the outset of our sessions, and I help them reflect on how differently they are now talking about it. Instead of being overwhelmed and stuck, they are clear about what they need to do and how they need to manage themselves. In fact, they often stop thinking of them as problems, just aspects of their life they are addressing.


In summary, the world hasn’t changed, but their relationship to it has, and that’s a change much more likely to last.

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