Ass-u-me

Ever heard of the saying “When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME”? It’s a bit harsh, but it gets the message across: don’t assume anything about anyone.

I made an ass of myself just the other day when I was coaching a client. Okay, not while I was coaching (but jumping to conclusions certainly can easily happen during a coaching conversation), it happened afterwards.

It was our first session together, and the first time I had a client with this specific worry. Maybe I felt a bit out of my depth, perhaps I had self-doubt about my ability to help her, whatever the cause, I assumed that the session didn’t go that well. What lead me to believe my assumptions was that I didn’t get any goosebumps or the sense that we had made a significant breakthrough. (The week before I had seen two clients and both times I had goosebumps all over my arms, and they clearly had made breakthroughs. One client said those magic words “You know, I had never thought of that” whilst leaning back in her chair. The other had gone from slouched and a bit withdrawn, to smiling, sitting up straight and looking ten times more energized.)

This client, however, showed none of those signs. I assumed our session was okay-ish, but nothing special. Her eyes didn’t really light up, and I didn’t notice a change in her energy from when we started, to when we signed out of the Zoom meeting.

I record my coaching sessions. It’s an easy way of keeping record and why not take advantage of that feature of Zoom? My clients obviously know and agree to this. I do make notes of my thoughts and what I would like to follow up on next time, but it’s not necessary to go into detail in the written notes because I have the recording. The recordings are also a handy tool for me to analyse how I could have coached my client better. I can watch it back and see where I could have rephrased the question better, should have kept quiet or missed an opportunity to delve deeper.

Having assumed our session was a bit of a washout, I felt I definitely had to watch back this session! If I want to be a good coach, I have to be willing to learn.

Before I braced myself to watch the, what I assumed was a bad coaching session, I sent my client my usual Session Rating form. It’s something I do after every coaching session with every client. There are five statements, for instance, “I felt heard, understood and respected” and “Natasja’s approach and method suit me.” They would then score the answer from 0 (don’t agree at all) to 10 (totally agree).

My coachee returned this Session Rating form to me before I had a chance to watch the Zoom recording. She scored everything 10! In other words, the session was good, and she got value from it. Even more astonishing to me, was that she asked for a follow-up session to delve into something that had occurred to her the day after our session, while she was “processing” what we had spoken about.

And right there, I learned valuable coaching lessons:

  1. breakthroughs can happen after the coaching session;
  2. not feeling goosebumps doesn’t mean anything;
  3. not everyone has expressive facial expressions or body language; and
  4. don’t assume anything.

What saved this situation, was that I had asked the question: how did you find the coaching session? If I hadn’t asked for her feedback by way of the Session Rating, I would have kept on believing I had a dissatisfied client.

Truthbomb: it wasn’t easy to send her that Session Rating form. I was opening myself up to criticism, but… I didn’t chicken out. “It’s not a sign of failure Natasja, it’s a lesson to learn”, “Have a growth mindset, woman!” and most importantly, “Practice what you preach” are what I had to tell myself before I was able to hit send on the email.

Thank goodness I didn’t give in to a fear of failure and didn’t back out of asking for the feedback.

A week later, I was reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Imagine my surprise when I got to agreement number three: Don’t Make Assumptions.

We make assumptions, we misunderstand, we take it personally, and we end up creating a whole big drama for nothing.

The Four Agreements BY dON mIGUAEL rUIZ – the third agreement

That’s so true! If I had chosen not to send my client the Session Rating form – because I had assumed she would say the session was a total waste of her time and I was afraid of hearing that – I would have spent hours watching and re-watching the recording and wasted precious emotional energy on something I believed was the truth, when in fact it wasn’t. That’s a recipe for “big drama” and sleepless nights.

The moral of this story? Don’t assume anything, except for assuming you don’t know anything, in which case you ask questions so that you don’t have to assume.