I am delighted to introduce Emma-Louise Elsey as my guest blogger. Please enjoy her insights of turning “I don’t know” into “Aha”. As a coach, I know you will appreciate them.
12 Ways to Turn “I Don’t Know” into an Aha Moment!
Often when clients say, “I don’t know,” what they really mean is that it’s uncomfortable to face the answer.
It could be that our client says, “I don’t know” because they already know what they need to do, but they’re not ready to do it. Maybe the client doesn’t trust us enough yet and is afraid of what we will think. The client may not want to speak their truth because their inner critic thinks their answer is silly or childish. Or, perhaps our client believes that if they say the answer out loud, they’ll have to commit to doing something scary.
When we trust our instincts as a coach, and help our clients give voice to their uncomfortable truths – we may just create a transformational or “Aha!” moment.
It’s important to face feelings honestly.
When people don’t acknowledge what they’re REALLY thinking, they’re rejecting a part of themselves. It means clients are more focused on who they think they SHOULD be, rather than who they actually are. And it’s likely that their “I don’t know” (when it hides an uncomfortable truth) is exactly what’s blocking them from moving forward.
The answer isn’t to help them act, but simply to help our clients face their thoughts and feelings honestly. Whether it’s “I know I need to quit my job, and I’m afraid” or “I know it’s petty, but I just don’t want to give in” or “I’m ashamed and I’m terrified they’ll laugh at me” or “I know I need to stand up for myself, but I’m afraid that if I do, they’ll end our friendship.”
Now we have the truth—and something real to work with.
Looking at uncomfortable thoughts and feelings is deep work. It’s important to remember that if it was easy for our client to say aloud and acknowledge these truths, they would already have done so.
When the client takes the bold and brave step to speak their uncomfortable truth, it’s like taking the plunge. It’s scary, but it can also be exhilarating and a relief too. Once the uncomfortable truth is out in the open, you can look more deeply at your client’s feelings, desires, fears, judgements, assumptions and limiting beliefs.
Now you can help them move forward. Help them break something hard down into smaller steps, discover new/better options. Perhaps you can role play difficult situations. And you should also help your client prepare backup plans for how they will respond should their worst fears happen eg. if the friendship is ended or they do get laughed at.
What you’re doing is helping your clients honor their whole person – their “good” bits as well as the “bad”, and this is powerful stuff!
Facing our truth, however painful, is what sets us free. And this is often what leads to “Aha!” Moments.
Here are the 12 Ways to Turn “I Don’t Know” into an Aha Moment!
- Simply be silent. Don’t respond at all and wait calmly for their next words.
- Ask, “What is it like for you to not know?”
- Try, “How do you benefit from not knowing?”
- Ask, “How do you feel right now, as you think about answering this question?”
- Use only with sensitivity and in good rapport: “Hmmmm. I wonder what are you pretending not to know?”
- Ask, “If you allowed yourself to speak aloud whatever you might be avoiding thinking and feeling, however childish, silly or petty it might seem, what would it be?”
- Gently ask, “What’s underneath the ‘I don’t know’?”
- Slowly say, “Take a deep breath, and just allow yourself to feel into the question for a moment. Relax into this ‘don’t know’ place.”
- Try, “So, if (what they don’t know about) had a color/smell/taste/sound, what would it be?”
- Say, “I feel that too sometimes. Take your time, and let me know when you’ve thought of something.”
- Ask, “If you secretly knew the answer, and no one (not me, you or anyone else) could judge you or make assumptions, what would it be?”
- Ask, “Imagine you’re in a helicopter flying over the map of your life. What do you notice about your life from way up there? Looking down with this new perspective, how would you answer the question now?”
Important: When we encourage our clients to reveal themselves, they must trust and feel safe enough to be vulnerable with us. What seems small or unimportant to us could be significant for them. Take your time. Be kind, compassionate and understanding. Remember to reflect on what they’ve said and confirm understanding, without judgement. But you already know how to do that. So just be a coach. Be YOU!
Now you need never feel caught by, “I don’t know” again. Have patience. Use one of these responses, and you never know, it may even be YOU who has the Aha moment!
Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is founder of The Coaching Tools Company.com, Life Coach on the Go and Simplicity Life Coaching Ltd. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies, she loves to write and create life coaching tools and exercises. Sign-up for her exclusive newsletter for coaches, or check out all the free coaching tools, exercises & more for your coaching toolbox at The Coaching Tools Company.com.