Thursday, July 9, 2009

Don't try to fix it!

I'm a chatterbox, always have been.

So when I started coaching, one of the hardest things for me to learn was how to be silent. To say nothing, and wait for my clients to come to their own revelations. (I say this like I've actually managed to do it.) But in both working with my own coach and coaching some fairly reticent clients, I've learned that it can be in the quiet moments when the wheels are really turning. It can also be when the inner saboteur is working overtime. Either way, there's movement, and I just itch to be a part of it.

What I have to learn is patience, and to not try to be a part of every experience my clients are having.

I read an article recently, written by a pastor at a church in Boston. And I'm not much of a churchy gal, but what Reverend Kim K. Crawford Harvie says really struck me:

Silence is so powerful! One of the hardest lessons for me in pastoral care training was not to try to make people feel better – at least not too quickly! – and to understand silence as a work of love. I was being “demoed” one day – my divinity school class was observing me conduct a mock counseling session – and I reached for a tissue to hand to my classmate, whose eyes had filled with tears as she spoke to me about a recent death. I reached for a tissue, and the professor cried, “Stop!”

“When you hand someone a tissue,” she said, “no matter how good your intentions, you are telling them not to cry. They can decide when to get their own tissue; leave the box in full view. Just sit there!”

I put my hands between my knees and just sat there. My classmate recovered from the interruption and, after a few more minutes, began to cry. Soon, she was really sobbing. I moved to get up to go sit beside her, to put my arm around her.

“Stop!” cried the professor. My classmate looked up. “Your job is not to make it better. You can’t make it better! All you can do is bear witness, and make room for the holy spirit. Just sit there!”

When my coach holds the space for my emotions (without chiming in, questioning me, or otherwise "meddling"), I feel supported, comforted, and most of all seen. (Which is odd, mostly, because I coach with him over the phone.) And by his not saying anything, but simply being with me, I find my own way out of the tunnel.

I had lunch the other day with a man who was having a very frustrating day. He told me when he showed up that he would "need a minute" to really arrive at our lunch. In my head, I reminded myself to give him all the room he needed -- that it was not my job to fix his frustration. And shortly after we exchanged pleasantries, sat down, and started to eat, he took a deep breath, leaned back in his chair, and told me he was "here."

I couldn't have done it any better myself.