One of the things I get to do as an executive coach is help a client who is stuck in their story to unblock and move on. You, the reader, may or may not be an executive coach yourself, but I guess you probably have a colleague or two or ten who are also stuck in their stories. How do you help them get out of the mud and into a more productive place?
Here’s the five-step process I’ve used with my clients who need this kind of support. It doesn’t always work but it works most of the time. Chances are it will work for you and your colleagues stuck in the mud.
Step 1. Meet them where they are – If a colleague complains of being stuck or you notice that they are, meet them where they are. Don’t start by saying, “You’re stuck. Pass it and go do something! If it was that simple, they would have done it already.
Step 2. Ask permission to coach – There are few things more boring than being coached when you don’t want to be coached. (At least that’s what my family members tell me.) Before you dive in and start asking a bunch of questions or, worse, making suggestions, ask your colleague if they’d like to be coached about his situation or if he just wants to vent. Ventilation can be healthy within certain limits. If all they do is vent, you might want to point that out and suggest that some coaching might help them unblock.
Step 3. Help them distinguish between what should be and what is – People who are stuck quite often find themselves stuck in a loop of do’s and don’ts. When you hear them say, “It should be like that” or “They shouldn’t do that,” you can interrupt the thought process that’s been blocking them by asking them to describe what’s really going on. This is reality or at least their version of it. Once you focus them on the current real, factual reality, they can begin to exceed expectations and move into productive actions they can take.
Step 4. Ask so far and what else – This step involves one of my favorite questions and my absolute favorite question. One of my favorite questions is “What have you tried so far?” This is a good wrap-up question for the client or colleague and also helps me learn more about their situation. My absolute favorite question is “What else?” and its various variants. “What else?” is perfect as a stand-alone question to encourage the colleague to continue. When you ask “What else could it be?” you can help someone question the assumptions that might be holding them back in the first place. When you ask, “What else could you try?” After their recap of what they’ve tried so far, you help them generate options to unblock. When you ask more than once, you help them generate multiple options. In my experience, the most successful options are the ones people come up with after the second or third time they’ve been asked, “What else could you try?” To help them get unstuck, you need to get them past the usual suspects.
Step 5. Pace the work – Help your stuck colleague move forward by helping them identify the next step or two they need to take to move forward. It’s rare in life to be able to solve 100% all at once. Help them build momentum by helping them pace the work. Highlight the small wins they get and use step 4 above to help them get back on track when things don’t work out or when they get stuck again.
The benefit of this process is that it helps your client or colleague get the job done. The only job you do is to provide the guidance and support to help them recognize that most conditions in life are temporary and subject to change. From there, you help them exercise their agency to create the changes they need to unlock.
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