Coaching Case Study By Juliane Corman
(Executive Coach, UNITED STATES)
1. Who are the main players in this case study
My client in the case study is Ann. I have coached her 7 times, thus far. She is married with two young boys. The first coaching session began with the challenging relationship with her mother. Her parents are divorced, mother lives alone and Ann’s siblings have moved away from the area. Ann’s mother comes over all of the time, overstays her welcome, and undermines her parenting. Ann was angry, frustrated and wanted her mother to back off.
2. What is the core problem or challenge you applied your coaching skills to?
This is a problem because it caused Ann a serious level of constant frustration and anxiety. She felt like she did not have any control over her family or her children when her mother was around. The tension was very high and was impacting her relationship with her husband. Ann also felt responsible for her mother’s happiness and felt like she couldn’t be honest with her mother because she needed to protect her.
This has been a problem since her first son was born 8 years ago, however the extent to which Ann is upset by it varies. That said, Ann acknowledges that this has been a problem throughout her entire life where she feels like her mother is guilt-tripping and undermining her.
Ann feels like there is no control and whenever her mother is at her house, she no longer has authority over her children and feels like she may explode at any moment. Ann is someone who likes to have as much control as possible. To Ann, the worst thing about this problem is the emotional toll it’s taking on her.
When discussing how Ann has been trying to solve this problem, she says that she has been trying to solve it by dropping hints and hoping her mother would pick up on them but that her mother was not picking up on the clues or, if she was, she was ignoring them. This furthered the tension and frustration that Ann felt.
2. What specific coaching skills or approach did you use in this case?
Ann and I were a good coach/client match and she felt comfortable trusting me from the beginning. I also created the space for her and allowed her the room to be open and honest. We had a number of sessions about her mother and their relationship. The specific skills used in this case were:
Responding v Reaction: Part of the problem for Ann was that she likes to feel like she has control. In this situation, she was constantly in reaction to her mother’s words (in text and in person) and actions. She felt like she had no control over the situation or over her own feelings about it. In constantly reacting and having feelings of overwhelming frustration and anger, she let her mother control the situation. We discussed the option of controlling how she may feel if she took a breath and chose how to respond, bringing control back. Largely embedded in this issue was the idea of controlling the situation.
Responsibility v Blame: Ann was stuck in blame. She truly blamed her mom for not listening and not picking up on the hints that Ann was dropping. Ann felt that her mom was a nuisance and had not necessarily thought about the role that she could play. With this, we talked about what had worked in the past and what had not, and why what she had tried had not worked. She was able to see that perhaps if she changed her behaviour, that perhaps her mother would react differently. She was able to acknowledge that perhaps her mother had been reacting to some of the things she was doing. We discussed how she can only control her own actions to change the situation and focusing on Ann working on herself versus trying to change her mother may make a difference.
Trust v Doubt: When discussing the options, it was clear that Ann doubted very strongly that, no matter what, her mother would not have the ability to change. She kept saying lines like “she’s just like this”. Yet, Ann was later able to acknowledge that she needs to change her mind frame and at least give her mother the opportunity to make a change. She was able to acknowledge that if she tried something different, perhaps her mother would be more responsive.
Action v Delay: To the extent possible, Ann was hoping to feel better about the situation without having to do much. She did not want to make her mother feel bad and was apprehensive about having an awkwardness. She also wanted to make sure that she did not get emotional. While tempted to put off action, she began to understand through discussion that nothing would change until she took action.
The tools listed above are the primary tools used and that came up during our calls. Others were also discussed (such as commitment v trying and feedback) but were not as prominent.
3. Explain your process in detail
During our first call, Ann explained the situation and wanted to simply find a way to not let the situation bother her anymore. She did not want to address or confront the issue but find a way to not be bothered by her mother’s actions. Throughout the first call, Ann kept saying that she feels out of control when it comes to her mother, in addition to feeling offended. We focused on this idea of control, which is something that is important to Ann in her life. This idea of getting control of the situation became the new contract and goal. She wanted to get ahead of the situation instead of always being in reaction and impacted in that way. In this she realized that she would need to have an honest conversation with her mother instead of being passive aggressive. She needed to honestly and kindly make clear to her mother the impact she was having and lay out some boundaries. We spoke about this conversation and discussed what she needed to get comfortable about the conversation. She decided to do some reflective writing. While Ann was doubtful that her mother would change in reaction to what she said, Ann also acknowledged that this was taking control and that she had to focus on what she could do versus her mother changing. The conversation occurred over the phone and, while difficult, Ann immediately felt empowered. She was able to take responsibility for the fact that she had not been clear with her mother previously, and laid out the ability to be clear with her mother going forward. This was accomplished over a few sessions of her speaking and responding to my open-ended questions.
4. What were the results of your process? Was your coaching/program effective? Why? Why not?
The coaching program has been extremely effective. Ann has taken the lead in her relationship with her mother and no longer feels out of control. She realizes that her mother is working hard to hear what Ann had to say and has responded in a way Ann had hoped. Since the initial conversation, Ann’s mother only comes over when invited and only stays for how long Ann allows. There have been some uncomfortable moments or exchanges with her mother, but Ann has been able to site them as an example with her mother. She knows that this will be a work in progress and is hoping to positively acknowledge the work her mother has been doing. Most importantly, at this point Ann feels that she can be more transparent with her mother and has been successful in not holding on to any anxiety. As a result, she is feeling less tension and this is not carrying over into her other relationships. Through coaching Ann was able to remove blame from her mother, take responsibility, be respond to the situation versus always reacting to it. She realized the power that she can have and has put her energy towards being proactive in the relationship versus reactive.
5. If you could approach this problem again, what would you do differently?
Honestly, I don’t think I would have approached the problem much differently. Ann’s level of anxiety and anger towards her mother was so apparently in the first call, yet she was so hesitant to take action. I believe that my questions, observations, and the trust between us led to a huge difference in Ann’s life, as she has acknowledged to be true.
6. What are the top 3 things you learnt from this experience?
1) I learned to be patient and the impact the of the client coming to their own realization. While I felt early on that Ann had to speak with her mother, it would not have had the impact that it did if she had not come to this idea and realization on her own.
2) I learned the importance of trust in the coach/client relationship. Ann does not like to appear vulnerable to people and is usually hesitant to open up to them. Because trust was so quickly established in our relationship, I believe it allowed Ann to open up and arrive at her path much quicker than she would have otherwise.
3) I learned how it feels to move a client and have an impact in such a significant way. My success in this case has reiterated my passion for this field.