The conversation you need to have
One of the questions I sometimes ask at the beginning of a coaching session is this: “What’s the conversation you most want to have, that you keep putting off?” Perhaps you know what the answer is to that one, and just need to decide to get on and make it happen. Or perhaps you’re not sure how to answer the question, and would value a little help to focus in the right place. Let me help. Coaches are sometimes described as “a guide at your side.” So for a few minutes, let me walk with you as we discover a little more about that, as yet, unaddressed conversation. What’s that face saying? Take a moment to relax and identify someone who has been on your mind a lot recently. If a few people come to mind initially, keep reflecting on them until one in particular really stands out. Imagine their face, forming as detailed a view of them as you possibly can. What expression is that face wearing? Is it a smile or a frown, a puzzled or quizzical look or something else? Maybe it’s a slightly ambiguous expression and you’re not quite sure what that look is saying. Whatever it is, get the image as clear in your mind as you can. Listen to the tone Bring to mind something they said to you recently. What tone of voice do you associate with them? Tone is vitally important in accurate communication. We’ve all read those emails where we see the words and just wish we could hear the voice which would tell us what mood our correspondent was in when they typed them. There’s a particular tone you are associating with this person right now. What is it? Check the weather And just before we move on, imagine they are outside a building. What’s the weather doing? Do see them in sunshine or rain, snow or heat, calm or wind? What weather system do you associate them with? Are they bringing you sunshine? Or do they bring something else? Check your emotions Now you have a clear picture of this person, what is the strongest emotion that they evoke in you? Is it something more towards the happy end of the emotional spectrum or something you find less comfortable – maybe anger or irritation. It could even be something more neutral – a sense of curiosity or uncertainty. So what’s significant about this person right now? Put it all together – the person, the face, the voice and the place, and the emotion they bring out in you and ask yourself the question: “Why is this person significant to me right now?” Frame the question in a number of ways until you find one that really strikes you. Try these, or craft the question yourself: “Right now, this person is…..” “What is this person to me?” “When I think of this person, they remind of…” “When I think of this person I am reminded that….” “Because of … this person is now more significant in my life.” The conversation you need to have Now you might have discovered something already which is enough for now. Perhaps you realize that there is a relationship – personal or professional – that you have been neglecting, that there is someone new in your world that you need to get to know, or that a relationship is changing and you haven’t yet adapted to the new situation. This might be enough for now. But perhaps there’s more. Perhaps, as you are thinking about them, you are coming to the conclusion that there is a conversation you would like to have with them. If that conversation is obvious, and you will find it easy, then just decide to set the wheels in motion. Put them in the empty chair If you think the conversation may be more challenging, or you’re not quite sure how it will go, you can try and rehearse it using the empty chair technique, popularized by Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls. Put an empty chair in front of you and imagine the person you want to speak to sitting in it. You already have a clear image of them in your mind, so that further step shouldn’t be too hard. What do you want to say to them? Listen to yourself as you’re speaking, and think about the tone of voice you want to use. If you don’t like the first tone you use, try out a few more until you find the one that you really want. Do you want to sound more confident, or more reassuring, challenging or exploring? Try speaking at different speeds and see which pace seems most appropriate. Put yourself in the chair You might be wondering how they will react to what you are saying. You can gain some powerful insights by, quite literally, putting yourself in their chair. Swap places, and sit in the empty chair yourself and start playing the role of the person you want to speak to. What might they say back to you? Now respond to what they have said, and keep this up until you feel you have enough confidence, empathy, and insight to go ahead and book that conversation. Start a habit Make a note in your diary or set a reminded to create some space to do this again in a few weeks or months. Taking some time out regularly to cast your mind over the crowd of people you know will help you keep your various relationships in perspective and reduce the risk of missing out on the conversations you really need to be having. Inspiration for this post came from Mark E. Thibodeaux SJ’s Kindle book, Re-imagining the Ignatian Examen, and insights from Gestalt psychology. For an excellent synthesis of Gestalt methodology and coaching practice, read Peter Bluckert’s Gestalt Coaching.