I had never felt as admired by anyone as much as by Alina, a budding speaker who came to me for coaching on marketing herself. She had some anxieties about it, dealing with feelings of self-worth.
At her first session she exclaimed: “You were f—ing amazing the other night when you gave that talk, Claudia! Excuse my French — I don’t mean to offend you — but seriously, I always use that word when something is really amazing. I need some of that!! [laughing] That’s why I decided to come to you – I want the best for myself now. I need me some of that!”
I was certainly inspired to give Alina my best, but after only a few short weeks, it became abundantly clear that my amazing coaching seemed useless to her. She was just as anxious, just as unclear about her message and just as stuck on how to promote herself as when she had first arrived.
We started to work on a deeper level, trying to gain some insight into her blocks. But she was growing despondent, impatient and remote. I was losing my inspiration. All I had was frustration and the growing feeling that I was completely inept.
I was starting to wonder: does she really want to change?” and “what in heaven more can I do here?”
How would you handle this conundrum?
The more inept I felt with Alina, the more I wondered if she needed me to feel that way. Clients often seek coaches they perceive to be “great” in the hopes that the coach will rub off on them.
But, while they incite, inspire and invite the coach to be as brilliant, uplifting and insightful as possible, they also become filled with unspoken and unrecognized resentment. The negativity paralyzes them. It takes a certain degree of strength and motivation to take advice and be influenced by a coach; not everyone can do it.
In my experience, when you offer insight to these types of clients, even if they accept it, only confirms the coach’s brilliance and the client’s feeling that they are inept. Even the best insight can perpetuate the cycle of idealizing, resenting and unconsciously thwarting the coach, getting paralyzed, or, three months down the line, showing no results.
So here is what you have to do: become really dumb.
This was not hard for me to do: I had already arrived at this feeling with Alina. “Alina” I said, “you are a really difficult case. I may never have had such a difficult case.” She said “Really?” and I saw the first glimmer of connection to me finally shining in her eye.
“Yes” I continued. “Your blocks are POWERFUL! They are completely unconscious – bigger than I am. Boy, if we could parlay some of that power into something that you wanted, you would be an amazing f—ing powerhouse!” Alina started laughing, maybe because I was using the same strong, angry language she did. I had translated her negativity into something positive; power was something she wanted. We were getting more connected.
Whenever you get laughter, you know you have hit on something that feels true. You have officially exited the power-struggle zone, and entered into a deeper, more positive relationship where there is understanding, compassion and tolerance. I had joined Alina on her path, instead of trying to convince, cajole and reason her into walking down mine.
The conversation continued. “I know you had hoped I might be able to get you to a better place, Alina. How did you get the idea that I’m so successful, anyway? Did you ever imagine that I could be so inept?” I said. Alina could not believe that I was capable of carrying the same feelings she had. She hadn’t really been able to connect to someone as high up as I was on the pedestal she had raised me to. I had to get down off that pedestal.
Finally I suggested to Alina a truly strange progress plan. “I have not yet found the right way to coach you so I am going to need a lot of help. I’d like to know if you are willing to tell me, at each step of the way, when I’m being ineffective. Do you have the patience to coach me? You have tried everything – what do you have to lose?”
Putting Alina in the position of being the guide in our journey together, with me as an assistant getting to know her, was empowering.
At this juncture, Alina asked me to lower my fee. Since I needed so much coaching. Oh, boy. Yikes. She should have paid me double! This was a great step for her, to try to demote my pay. I explained that I had to charge for my time, not for my value. And I added that I actually thought it would be good for her to accept my ineptness and still pay me. She accepted this, continued to pay my fee, and together, we found ways she could get more of what she wanted.