What Isn’t? What Is? What If?

August 10, 2023

By Dave Bushy, PCC

Straightforward questions: What isn’t? What is? What if?

Coaching is a process supported by such inquiry – simple, straightforward inquiry evidenced by attentive listening and focus on the needs of another person.

Inquiry need not always be in the form of spoken questions.  Sometimes I find that just listening to my clients and using my eyes to express concern or empathy or laughter can elicit much more than a series of questions does.  At other times a gentle “Tell me more,” can bring out some surprising insights from a client.  And then there are the evocative questions that support the intention of the person with whom I am working.  Sometimes I can be even more direct and somewhat provocative to elicit a reaction from a client – all in service to their developmental journey.

Often the most powerful questions emerge from what we are experiencing with a client, either from their body language, words or both.

For instance, when I hear a client tell me about things that are happening for them, I remain attentive to patterns of words, facial expressions or body movement.  A recent conversation comes to mind:

“I’m not getting what I need.  This isn’t working, this situation between my boss and me.”

“Tell me more.”

“Well, he doesn’t provide me feedback and he isn’t responsive to my needs.  He isn’t focused and he can’t take the time to recognize the accomplishments of my team.”

The dialogue continued for several minutes as I heard a litany of things that were my client’s focus.  Things that clearly got under my client’s skin. 

At some point there was a pause.  I waited and my client said: “Thanks for listening – he really gets to me and having someone take the time to hear me feels good.” 

I nodded with a look of understanding and then slowly and softly said, “I’m hearing a lot of what your boss “isn’t” and what he hasn’t done or doesn’t do.  I’m curious – what “is” he doing?  And what are you experiencing now with him.”

A significant pause, then: “Well, he’s providing me some of the resources I need.”

“What else?”

“He has a real focus on family and encourages me and my team members to work remotely when we need to.”

“Anything more?”

“Well, I have to admit he’s smart as can be and he gets what we’re doing for the most part.”

“So now I’m hearing more of what “is” for you about your boss.  Tell me what you think that tells you.”

A half-grin: “Well he’s not as bad as I paint him to be.”

“What can you change about your boss?”

“I want to change a lot, but I know that can’t be.”

“Well, what “if” you change how you react to him?  What would that look like?”

A smile crossed my client’s face: “If he doesn’t provide me feedback, then I can realize that it may well not be his intent to do so – he might lack the capabilities to do it.  If I let go of that need, I can certainly get it elsewhere.  And if I recognize the focus on family as a gift to my team and me, I can reframe some of my feelings about him.”

I smiled and continue to listen.

Like so many client interactions, it is the client who does the work – my only tool is inquiry in its many forms, and simple questions like: What isn’t? What is? What if?

Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches – bostonexecutivecoaches.com – is a an ICF-certified coach who was trained at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC).  He is a former U.S. Army officer and senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout the world.

Image by HeungSoon from Pixabay

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