Interrupting your client gets seriously bad rap from coaching educators, competency frameworks and other sources aiming at increasing the quality of coaching. But is interrupting your client really such a bad thing?
As always, in coaching, there is a golden rule: “It all depends!“
As coaches we co-create the conversation with our clients. So when you are reviewing one of your own coaching recordings or when you are mentoring someone else on theirs, it might be useful to take the following considerations into account. Have a look at what the client did before the interruption to check whether the interruption was productive or destructive:
What did the client do before the interruption?
- Developing ideas, insights, thoughts, helpful things
In this case: shut up! As coaches, we have no business getting in the way of fruitful feeling and thinking of our clients!
- Giving you a lot of detail that is not necessary for you to help the client
Sometimes clients want to be helpful to us by providing us with a lot of detail around the issue at hand. However, they already know the story and have probably told that story before. So going into details and more details around this story is not going to help the client move forward much. In that case, interrupting gently by asking the client: “I am realizing you are giving me a lot of detail on this and I just want to check with you, whether it would be more helpful for you to tell me the whole story, and I’ll gladly listen, or whether you’re happy for me to start asking some questions. I’m fine either way.“
- Describing the problem and how difficult life is
This is a tricky one. As I mentioned before, if the client has never told anyone about the issue or if they don’t have anyone who will listen to them, providing an open ear to the client is a very valuable service. If they are often talking about how difficult that is, then going through the problem and the difficulty again is probably not going to make a big difference for the client. Of course, you want to acknowledge the difficulty, yet you don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the problem as “problem talk creates problems”. The danger is that the client talks him- or herself into perceiving the situation as more difficult and unsolvable than it actually is. Here you might consider asking a coping question: “I am so sorry to hear that you are experiencing difficulties with this. How are you holding up?”
- Talking negatively about people the client needs to collaborate with
Talking about what somebody else did and why they are a *insert favorite expletive*, aka venting, does serve a purpose of psychological hygiene, but it doesn’t help the client move. On the contrary, it hardens perceptions and interpretations that make future collaboration more difficult. A question about hope or confidence might be useful here: “I am sorry to hear that the behavior of *difficult person* is making life difficult for you. May I ask, what gives you confidence that you can resume a good enough collaboration to continue working together?”
- Move to a completely different topic
We never know which topics are connected in the minds of our clients and what is relevant to be discussed in a coaching conversation and what is not relevant. So, when the client is starting to talk about a topic that to us seems unrelated, we can check: “I am noticing we are potentially shifting the conversation from topic A to topic B, are we? I’m not sure how they are related. Could you connect the dots for me? I just want to make sure that we are talking about what is most relevant to you.”
So is interrupting always bad? I hope I have convinced you otherwise
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