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Coaching case study: The language barrier


Are you speaking the right language with your coachees? Unlimited Potential's Trevor Edwards tells the community a story.
All too often something that is perfectly clear to us, individually, seems to be totally incomprehensible to someone else; after all we both speak the same language - so why should it be difficult to understand?
Just because we are conversing in English, it doesn't necessarily mean we all understand, interpret or process things in the same way. 'Visual' people will use language associated with seeing, 'auditory' people will respond to language associated with hearing and 'kinaesthetic' people will respond to language associated with feelings. If we use the wrong language to communicate with someone else, what seems straightforward to us can be very difficult for them.
Let's take the case of Tina. As a capable, ambitious and well-regarded manager in a large organisation she is seeking to progress her career, but seems to have encountered a stumbling block. She is soon to have a personal review with her recently appointed director who has asked her, several times, to outline her vision for her career progression during the next five years.
During conversations with her director, Tina finds she is unable to respond with any clarity to his questions. Is there something wrong with her if she can't answer a simple question as 'Where do you picture yourself in five years' time'?
"Just because we are conversing in English, it doesn't necessarily mean we all understand, interpret or process things in the same way...In order to be able communicate effectively we need more than just words"
The time for Tina's review is fast approaching and she is becoming increasingly concerned that her career progression is going be adversely affected by her lack of vision. The subject arises during a session with her coach.
Tina: I'm getting really worried now. My director is asking me about my plans for career progression and where I picture myself in the organisation in five years' time. I've tried, but I just can't seem to do it. My director is getting very frustrated with me and I'm concerned it will damage my career prospects.
Coach: What is it, in particular, that you 'can't do'?
Tina: My director has asked me for a vision document describing how I would picture myself in a number of different roles. I've tried to do this but I just can't seem to do it. It's as if I can hear the words and I somehow know what he wants, but I can't find a way to conjure up any images of me in different job roles.
Coach: You've progressed already to a senior position in your organisation and to do that you've obviously made and implemented career and other plans. Tell me how you normally formulate your plans.
Tina: With my previous director, we used to meet and talk through various ideas and strategies. She would act as a sounding board for the things that were in my mind. She was a really good listener and it really helped put my plans together; she'd let me know if they sounded right.
Coach: I want to take you on a journey now, into the future. Imagine that you are meeting again with your previous director, except that it is now five years in the future. Your previous director asks what you are now doing and says she would like to hear the story of you've been engaged in since you last met.
Tina: Wow, five years on. There's so much to talk about; I hardly know where to start.
Coach: Are you telling her that you're still doing the same job?
Tina: Most certainly not! I'm telling her I'm in line for a director's job.
Coach: So what have you been doing that's brought you to this position?
Tina: I'm telling her that after she moved on I felt that I needed to make some changes and got a promotion into another department and... I'm doing my five year plan, aren't I?
The coach recognised that Tina responds using language associated with talking, hearing and listening rather than visualising; by understanding this and enabling her to use 'auditory' language, Tina is now able to articulate her plans.
The coach was careful to not use the word 'vision' as it may now have a negative impact on Tina; also, the coach has encouraged Tina to move forward in time so that we would be able to talk about herself and her activities (five years on) in the present tense; 'I am doing...' is often more powerful and real than 'What I would like to be doing is...'
In order to be able communicate effectively we need more than just words; by listening to people and they language they use we are able to communicate much more effectively in 'their' language.

Written by Trevor Edwards. Trevor is a senior coach with Unlimited Potential

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