Why sometimes, in some cases – we’ll have to do and say things we normally wouldn’t

There’s a good reason therapists and coaches get paid good money for supposedly “just listening” to their clients. Thing is: We don’t! At least not in the casual conversational way one would expect.

Even when we listen, we listen differently – and when we talk, we speak different words than those we would if we were having a friendly conversation with one of our friends.

As soon as we put the “coaches hat” on, all small-talk and chit chat stops – even though the true artists of the trade will make their most genius interventions sound just like that: A harmless exchange of words, just like good friends talking. This will allow our clients to smoothly absorb whatever verbal offerings we have to make, without the need to consciously criticize or devalue whatever is going on. This is the epitome of unconscious learning and exactly what makes hypnotherapy so powerful.

We don’t give advice. Never. Instead, we make offerings to the unconscious mind, inspiring it to dip into a heightened state of flexibility, having more choice of feelings, thoughts and actions to pick from – which still leaves the client with the decision of WHICH option to chose, but enabling them to have a lot more to choose from.

We also don’t ask questions out of curiosity. Again, this would lower the quality of any coaching or therapy to a casual conversation you could have just as well with any friend at some coffeehouse – rendering it useless for the purpose of change work. When we ask, we ask in order to make the client discover new ways of thinking and feeling. Like, when they suddenly figure out things aren’t as wrong and black as they’ve always thought … that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. A bright one, urging them to march on. Things like this don’t happen by us TELLING our clients so, no – it’s the right question asked at the right time.

And this is what constitutes the true expert. It’s not the method one is using, neither is it the claims you make or the clever things you say. Some of the very best therapists in the world have been known for actually saying very little (and asking skillful questions instead). And there’s actual proof of recent studies showing that the way you create your rapport has more to do with the effect you cause than the intervention you run.

Let me give you two examples. First one I get to make up:

A client walks into your office and tells you her boyfriend has cheated on her. And when she found out and confronted him, he beat her up. She asks you – “What do I do?”

Any sane person would probably tell her to pack her things and move out of the situation ASAP. Also, we’d tell her that this guy is an idiot and doesn’t deserve her – and so on, and so forth. This would be what would be happening in any regular conversation, and it’d probably be what our first impulse would urge us on to do.

Well, we don’t. We don’t say and do not do what would be common sense or human nature. Thing is – this is what friends do. This is not our job, not what we are asked to do. Much rather, we’ll bite our lips and don’t do the natural thing, but opt for the helpful thing. Which, in this case, would be a question like:

“What would YOU like to do?”

Followed up by many more questions of the same fashion. Maybe out client already has an idea of what she wants to do. Maybe there are underlying beliefs and values that keep her from acting on it. All these things would be addressed by asking the right sort of questions that are devoid of any advice. And questions are only valid as long as they are designed in such a fashion that they enable the client to figure out whatever she/he is dealing with at the moment. Here’s my second example, this time from real life.

Once I was at this beautiful resort where a lot of meditation and healing work was offered. It only felt natural to go for a hypnosis session since it was on the resorts menu, even though I had no particular issue I wanted to work on at that time. I booked up, and the session started with a pre-talk that was very similar to the goal setting process derived from NLP work. So, my hypnotist asks me many questions, most of them taken from her questionnaire. When we got to the “What do you like in life?” part, I told her that I really enjoyed the local food. Which lit up a smile on her face and made her delve into telling me that she knows quite a few excellent restaurants around the area and would be more than happy to give me a couple of pointers on where to dine in style.

Rapport broken at that point. Irreparable damage done.

Here’s the thing: I don’t like scripts anyway and always feel slightly uncomfortable when somebody runs their session according to a piece of paper. With this question though, the lady lost ALL rapport she’s gained so far, for one good reason: When she told me about the restaurants, she clearly demonstrated she wasn’t doing what she was supposed to do. If she had asked me what I specifically liked about the food (maybe it’s the colours? maybe the texture?), she could have not only gained invaluable pointers of things to put in the trance later on, but could have also worked out some resources she could use for the further coaching session.

Say, I was into colours – why not follow up on this and try to figure out where in my life in need more colour? Are there any dab areas, what about my feelings – colourful enough? And so on – you get the point.

I do not want to have to pay someone to chit-chat about restaurants – there’s Yelp for this kind of thing! What I do want is somebody not so much listening to the content of my stories, but to the structure. Which is a thousandfold more helpful in guiding somebody along their change processes than, well: Smalltalk.

So – no matter how long you’ve been doing whatever it is you’re doing – whether you’re a beginner just about to take your first few steps into the wonderful and wild lands of changework, or whether you’re a seasoned professional, here’s some advice that might help you run your sessions much more professional and with much smarter results.

1. Never ask questions out of curiosity

Literally: NEVER. We are not paid to get involved in our clients drama. Neither is it our place nor job do give judgement about what is going on with or around them. We should always strive to stay out of content, and look at the structure. What is my client really telling me? How can I use this information to help her / him come to their own conclusions? What positive resources are overlooked by my client? If all you do is ask the right questions – and don’t say a single word besides that – you’re already worth your money.

2. Never give advice

This is a biggie. Clients are always looking for somebody to tell them what to do. Now, I’ve worked with CEOs, sports superstars, people who’ve successfully raised families with five kids or more … who am I to tell them how to live their lives? Truth be told, I don’t have a clue. At least, this is my attitude during the session (or the attitude I’m putting up on display).

I don’t get hired to have an opinion, but to be helpful. So, in the line of duty of being a true agent of change, I oftentimes don’t do nor say what I would if it were a casual conversation with a couple of friends.

I do have my opinions – some of them rather strong – and I like to have them. But not in the consulting room. So, if a client asks me what I would do, here’s a  reply I sometimes use:

“I really do not know … what I would do, and probably it wouldn’t even matter. But if you knew, and you didn’t already know that you know because that information were just about to surface from the very depths of your unconscious mind, but became clearer and clearer and more easily available and accessible as we speak … right now … and you just imagined what it would feel like if you not necessarily knew but had a very strong hunch … What would you tell me right now what it is what you could do?”

Sounds stupid to the conscious mind. Works like a charm on the unconscious mind. It’s Hypnosis, ladies and gentleman – and there’s a good reason why we always try to utilize the unconscious mind whilst not putting too much attention on the conscious mind.

3. Drop your coaches / therapists hat when leaving the office

Seriously, do it. Leave your skills at your office. Don’t mess around with this in your private life – otherwise no one likes talking to you anymore.

Thing is: A lot of people enjoy whining and complaining about life, circumstances and people. I do it – it’s normal. It’s healthy. If you need proof, check out Facebook – plenty of it on there. It’s a part of human life.

Sometimes you just need to talk it off and need someone with an open ear for it. And this someone can be as judgmental as she or he likes to be – brillant, this is what friends are for. The huge difference is: It’s normal to complain every once in a while, and you just need to vent without the need of someone “pointing you in the direction of solutions”.

Therapy and coaching kick in if your problem persists and venting didn’t help – but usually isn’t the first stop. If you don’t grant your friends the opportunity of just getting it out of their system and if you’re always keen on finding solutions, you will get a lot of your friends mad even whilst (supposedly) doing the right thing. Ask too many questions instead of listening – and you’ll be granted the price of Mrs. or Mr. Unpopular.

There are things we do in our offices, and there are things we get to do in our private lives. The key to successful living and working is knowing how to turn the switch. How – in the line of duty, when doing coaching or therapy – not to do the things we would normally do or say. And how to switch back to being regular human beings as soon as the job is done. It’s all about balance – and it’s something you can easily train.