Coaching Case Study By Aysen Arikan
(Performance Coach, CANADA)
Who are the main players?
Jane, my client is a 34-year-old illustrator who is going through a very tough time in her life. She moved to a new country a year ago with her husband. Things are not stable in her marriage and her work life. She is interviewing for a position as an illustrator for a children’s book. She is very excited about it because it is going to be her first project/jobever. She wants to talk about her “procrastination” problem. She believes her time management issues hinder her career success.
We had 4 sessions and this paper is about these sessions.
What is the core problem or challenge?
Jane has a procrastination problem and she thinks it hinders her success at work.
Jane comes to our first session with a clear subject. She wants to work on her time management skills and NOT to be fearful of the deadlines. She then begins with how she used to escape from doing homework when she was at school. She talks about her anxiety about her performance all the time. She can’t stop wondering if people will like her output, which can be a drawing, a dinner she prepared, or anything that she puts efforts into.
She then states how excited she is about the children’s book illustration opportunity. She tells me that it has been her dream. Jane is overwhelmed with the idea of her work being liked by the editor and getting this job offer. She tells me that getting this project is very important for her because people think that she is unemployed or unsuccessful and this job will prove that they are wrong about her.
She wants to change this and she believes she has to be better at time management and be more productive to secure her job in the children’s book project. She defines the problem as “procrastination”.
What Coaching Skills or Approaches Used?
- Creating Trust
- Powerful questions
- Creating Action
- Creating Structures
Jane is hesitant with her words. She tries to pick the correct words, she quite often changes her choice of words trying to pick a better word to describe her thoughts.
I choose not to vocalize this observation initially. Instead, I take a mental note and continue to listen carefully. I don’t think this is the right time yet. We are still in the process of building trust. I want to make sure she knows that this space is hers and this is not a stage to perform. This is her space to just be….
When Jane talks about this “procrastination” problem, she usually uses disempowering language.
- “I haven’t succeeded in anything in life”
- “People think that I am slow”
- “I think I would fail because the publisher hasn’t replied to my email yet”
- “What if they don’t like my work”
She is anxious about the editor’s feedback. If she can put on a good performance and get the position, she can start building a portfolio and get even more projects like this. She explains that people will then see that she is employed and successful. She doesn’t see herself as successful yet and this project will change everything!
Then she pauses and looks at me. I hear myself asking “what does good performance look like to you?”. I just want to understand the word PERFORMANCEbetter. She has already used the word “performance” seven times and used procrastination only twice. She goes on to define good performance.
I pause and make sure she has space. Then I reflect on the word “performance”. I tell her that “I associate the word performance with some other words like audience and stage. What do you think?”
She has a long pause. She smiles. Her voice changes and she looks like thinking. She then tells me that people think she is slow. She wants the editor to like her illustrations so people will see that she is employed. She then pauses and goes on “I don’t want to be inadequate, I want to be a doer”. I can see that she has a huge appetite for success but she completes her sentences by mentioning a negative aspect about herself, such as unsuccessful and unproductive.
I see a creative illustrator. I realize that her self-image is different than what I see. She has big anxiety about the editor’s response to her work. We agree that this anxiety comes from the fear of being “unsuccessful” in other words poor performance! There are so many labels, so many disempowering underlying beliefs about her past. So, I take the focus to a more positive track.
- “So, what do you like the most about yourself?”
- “You mentioned earlier, they enjoy your company very much. You bring people together. What do they like about you?”
- “What else might be the reason that the editor hasn’t replied to your email?”
- “If they don’t like your work, can this stop you?”
- “As you said if they decide not to work with you, what benefit would you gain from this experience?”
Focusing on her strengths helps to reduce her anxiety. She begins to shift- taking the possibility of rejection more lightly. I ask for permission to share an observation. I tell her that there are many reasons for procrastination; such as lack of interest or confidence, lack of motivation, lack of skills, or fear of failure. I tell her that she is very confident about her skills, and creativity and she is very interested in this job. So what blocks her? The answer comes right away. “I think it is me! It is me stopping me.”Boom! After a long pause, she smiles and she asks how we can change this. I ask, “what do you think you want to do now?”. She goes “I want to be more confident about myself”. She has a huge smile on her face. I still need to make the connection though. I ask “what is the connection between your initial goal of “no procrastination” and you “stopping yourself’?”. She explains to me that if she doesn’t self-doubt and trusts herself, she doesn’t stop herself. After checking in with her, she shares that she is surprised by this new awareness about herself. After I let her speak about this awareness, we end the session.
Two days before our second session, she hears the news that the editor chose to work with another illustrator for the children’s book project. In our second session, we talk about some emotions and what thoughts trigger those emotions. We continue to uncover some underlying beliefs and create a more empowering perspective from those beliefs; in other words, perspectives that serve her. I ask, what is the thing she got from this experience?. She says she has a connection now. I am surprised and very happy about this positive response. I ask how this connection can help her in the future. The answer surprises me even more. She tells me in a humble way that she wrote a children’s book a few years ago and she can ask this publisher to see if they are interested in publishing her book. I see the excitement of action. She starts to talk about the book but then suddenly she goes “They might say no because they didn’t like my illustration.” I reflect this to her; “what makes you think this way?”. She thinks they might be reluctant to work with her. She is so sure that they wouldn’t be able to tell Jane that they prefer to work with another illustrator for her book even if they decide to publish it. I ask if this bothers her. It doesn’t bother her. So I lean in and ask, do you want to role play for the possible scenarios that might happen. She jumps in and says yes. I ask her to be both the publisher and herself. When she goes very negatively, I kindly approach the question “What would be their motivation for this harsh approach?”. She then comes into realization and she smiles and goes “it is very unlikely that they would be saying these harsh words”. We pause and then she smiles.
We do this role-play/visualization for 15-20 minutes. She then stops and tells me that she thinks they might be interested in this. She is ready!
Our third session starts with great news. They like her book and they want to publish it. They asked her to do the illustration as well! Now, this new opportunity is bigger than the previous one!
She makes the third and the fourth sessions about creating a powerful structure. We create a 45-day plan. We talk about what could go wrong, and how those actions she specifies benefit her. She is very energized in the third session.
After seven productive days, she is overwhelmed and she tells me that she started to procrastinate again. This time we focus on what went wrong in the first schedule and how she can overcome those blocks? She divides the tasks into two groups; ones that motivate her and ones that drain her energy. On the new schedule, the mornings are going to be dedicated to the energy-draining tasks and the evenings will be dedicated to the motivating tasks. She allows herself to be on a flexible schedule but promises to keep one from each task group every day. We agree that every page she completes, she is going to celebrate her success and take note of what she does well and what she likes about herself. She agrees to call each step that takes her to forward a success.
Our coaching pack is 4 sessions, but I continue to check on her regularly.
Explain your process in detail
Our session with Jane was like a baked dough. She first told me what she wants to bake; solve her procrastination problem– THE GOAL.
We then discussed what was the meaning of this goal. She identified the PURPOSE to get the illustration project.
Then we visited her VALUES. We uncovered some underlying beliefs that helped her to get to know herself better. We found some new perspectives there.
She chose some new values, beliefs, and perspectives during the journey. As she started to know about herself, her perspectives have changed.
She added these new beliefs to her dough and decided to re-shape it. Once she got to understand her values better, she clarified what the purpose was here… The GOAL is to create an illustration for the children’s book.
We then discussed what the meaning of this goal was, where she wanted to go with this; a successful art career where she can be creative and especially for children- THE NEW PURPOSE.
We welcomed our new VALUES; success, self-love, and peace. She was ready to put the dough in the oven and she did!
What were the results of the process?
I connected with her on the phone a couple of times after the fourth session. She completed the project and it got published! This meant SO MUCH for my client because it was her first project that materialized and it was a children’s book! It was her dream…
When I look back and reflect on the process, I see that establishing trust through an empowering attitude was the foundation of our relationship. However, the key ingredient was the BALANCE of support and challenge. I think this sensitive balance created the awareness that called her into action. I respected her state of mind and the pace of our sessions. I didn’t rush into creating an action. I let myself be with her on this journey. We first explored the path in front of us before walking into it. I owe this to the clear and strong coaching agreements we established at the beginning of each session. Once she had clarity, she walked into this path and loved her new self. Our little celebration agreements kept her engaged and prevented her from sliding back to the disempowering beliefs.
What would you do differently?
In our fourth session, she came to our session with some strong emotions. The editor had postponed the launch date of her book and she was devastated by this. She first blamed herself again, but then she began blaming the publisher for not being a clear and effective communicator.
I challenged her and asked what makes her think that the editor was an ineffective communicator or unprofessional. She closed herself at that moment. I think I should have given more time and space for her to vent out. I should have let her go through the feeling phase.
Top 3 things you have learned from this experience
- PREPARATION: I have learned that being prepared on topics that you are not very familiar with is very important. I didn’t have much awareness of procrastination at the time, but when I researched possible underlying beliefs of procrastination, my coaching sessions became very effective. It also helped my confidence during my coaching application.
- IMPORTANCE OF CHECK-INS: I noticed that check-ins are crucial to establishing accountability. Jane has gone through a transformation of meeting her new self. This journey could have been disrupted by old habits or underlying beliefs. I used check-ins both during coaching for creating awareness and after coaching for accountability and celebration.
- GIVING THE SPACE FOR STRONG EMOTIONS: I have learned that as a coach I will encounter strong emotions or setbacks during or after the sessions. With Jane, I learned that my clients should be able to use the space to vent out and show those emotions.
A coach believes that the client is naturally creative and resourceful. Our job is to provide support to enhance the skills, resources, and creativity that the client already has. With that being said, the coach offers many things to the client during the coaching process, including the acknowledgment of the emotions.