When you’re working through a challenge, who helps you? What is it about them, how are they most helpful? How not?
Through the years I have learned what I can get from certain people. I know to call this person when I need validation, that person when I need a devil’s advocate. I also know which people to avoid altogether—those who cannot be trusted with my vulnerability or confidence.
But when I need to hold space and tension with an issue, to patiently look at it from different angles and process the perspectives, I look to my peer coaches. I feel gratitude and gladness for these friends today, after my LOH group had our monthly peer coaching call. As we progress through our 10 month leadership training, we take tenets and skills home from each retreat to practice. Monthly Zoom calls have no agenda, other than to reconvene, share, and mutually support. Every time I come away appreciating just a little more how nothing in life—work, personal things, social context—can really be separated from anything else.
These friends are not my first or only coaches, however. In 2005 I started working with Christine, my life coach. Every session, 14 years later, is still transformative. How is this possible? Curiosity. Christine coaches every call squarely and unwaveringly from this perspective. It was not long before I realized how powerfully this method could alter my own encounters with patients.
The best coaches have no preformed or decisive answers. They have the uncanny ability to ask the best questions–Open, Honest Questions (OHQs)–which then lead clients to their own best answers. They help frame and reframe problems. They point us to alternate perspectives and help us open our minds to narratives other than the ones we too often grip so desperately. It was my second year in practice when I started asking coaching questions to patients, and I have never since feared any symptom, syndrome, or answer. When there is no clear diagnosis or answer for someone’s distress, I can just keep asking until something helpful emerges. Most often it’s not a single piece of information that gives clarity; rather, it’s the story that materializes. Coaching skills help me help my patients find and tell their stories of health and wellness, illness and pain, agency and action.
Here are the tenets of true Open, Honest Questions, from the LOH syllabus:
- The best single mark of an honest, open question is that the questioner does not know the answer and is not leading toward a particular answer.
- Ask questions aimed at helping the other person come to a deeper understanding (help them access their own inner teacher).
- Ask questions that are brief and to the point without adding background considerations and rationale—which make a question into a speech.
- Ask questions that go to the person as well as the problem or story—for example, questions about feelings as well as about facts.
- Trust your intuition in asking questions. Inviting metaphors or images can open feelings, new lines of thinking, and unexpected possibilities.
- Try to avoid questions with yes-no, right-wrong answers.
- Avoid advice disguised as questions.
My best friends are my peer coaches. And now I have my LOH cohort-mates. We make no judgments about one another’s circumstances, feelings, or experiences. We make the most generous assumptions about our motives. Our role in each other’s lives is almost never to give advice; rather it is to hold space, listen reflectively, offer moral support, hold up core values, and help one another query thoughtfully and honestly.
Questions asked and reflective statements made on the call today:
- If you left work tomorrow with enough money to be unemployed for 6 months, what would you do?
- How does it feel to speak (your issue) out loud?
- When you think about current state compared to past, how does it feel physically in your body?
- Sounds like you’re working on a core tension.
- What do I/you want now?
- What’s roiling around in you?
- Who around you can get creative with you?
We each bring diverse questions and challenges to each call. But somehow we always relate deeply, and listening/querying helps us each learn from every other. Today I saw central themes emerge around identity, contribution, voice, and meaning.
In the end, I think there are few things more important in life than meaning and connection. These are the gifts from my peer coaches, and they always make me better, no question.