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The Outcome: Peeling An Onion


JC explains how watery eyes, layers and getting to the core is akin to encouraging a coachee to open up.

Her eyes shifted as she remembered and calculated how long ago she started with the company. “I’m in my fourth year now”, she said looking back at me.

“What were you doing before you joined the company?” I asked.

“I had moved from further south and started about a month after the move,” she replied.

I noticed that Dee had given me a short answer to the open question, and with a less than comfortable tone. Dee had a defensive mechanism that let everyone know where they were. Again, I needed to bring Dee back into a more comfortable place for a while.

“Is this a similar job to the work you were doing in the south Dee?” I asked her, making my tone conversational and less questioning; more personal and open, than businesslike.

“Pretty similar when I started, but the responsibility has grown with the size of the team over the last couple of years,” she explained.

“I see”, I said. “Mind you, that must have been a blessing when you started here,” I said, almost as an aside. “I know when I have moved to live in a different area its been like starting a whole new life, so to have something I knew as my work was always a benefit”.

“You know what it’s like then,” she said. “Where did you move to?” she asked.

Whether Dee had done it consciously or not (although the change was so smooth I guessed it was part of the way she functioned), her tone and body posture had both softened when she asked me the question.

The question was a good one, and would generally open up conversation and allow you to get to know someone much better. This was such a contrast to her reaction when she was asked a question, I wondered if this may be a pattern of Dee’s behaviour.

I was aware that in my time speaking with the others in the company, both in the coaching sessions and generally, I had not heard anyone mention anything about Dee, nothing! No negatives or positives; just nothing.

I wondered why this was, was it because they had nothing to mention because nobody really knew her on a personal level?

I decided to explore this side of Dee’s question and go with the flow of her questioning for a while.

“I moved to London for a year many moons ago, working as a Sales Executive for a company that serviced windows and doors for large office and government buildings. What made it seem even more difficult for me at the time, was the fact that I am someone who likes to be around countryside, which is how I grew up, I am not a city person.

"Suddenly there I was, stuck in the middle of the city, the traffic and the severe lack of fields and trees that weren’t trapped between buildings, I found it really hard. But when I was working, the difficulties faded into the background a little, because I was in a place I knew my place in, so the days were not so bad, apart from the traffic!” I smiled and raised my eyebrows at Dee.

She responded with a knowing smile, but said nothing, happy to let me talk.

“It was the night times and weekends I found the most difficult,” I said. “I remember, there was this pub near where I lived at the time called ‘The Crocodile’, and I popped in there a couple of times a week for an hour out of boredom more than anything else. The amazing thing to me was, that when I went in there for the last time before I moved back to the midlands, the bar staff still didn’t know my name or what I drank, what a lonely place London can be!”

“So you were glad to move back then?” she asked.

“Round peg in a round hole,” I said, “It was magical to drive back, I took all the long country routes around Leicester to get home rather than the shortest route through the city, it was like that feeling you get when you slide your shoulders under the bathwater and breathe a sigh of comfort and relief,” I smiled.

“So you don’t plan on moving to live away again?” she asked. I smiled inside as I was aware that Dee was far more comfortable in the role of asking the questions than answering them.

“Well I stay away from home a lot with my work, and travel to other countries which I love, but I do love the element of coming home, you know having a sanctuary so to speak, do you know what I mean?” I said, purposely putting the question at the end of the sentence.

“Yes I understand what you’re saying,” she said.

I smiled acknowledgement of her understanding, matching her tone and body language again.

“So, where is Dee’s sanctuary?” I asked in a calm tone, “How do you get that feeling of ‘sliding’ under the bathwater, apart from in the bath of course,” I laughed gently as I said it, and then leaned forward slightly inviting Dee to answer.

Key points:

  • Getting a coachee to open up is like slowly peeling the off the layers of an onion, as the centre contains the truth – tread carefully.

  • Be prepared to share of yourself to both reduce the threat of your questions, and do connect with the coachee simply as another human being.


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