A Coaching Power Tool By Marine Erasmus, Purpose Coach, AUSTRALIA
Discover a Different Burden vs. Benefit Approach
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller
Often clients approach a coach with a circumstance or event in their life that is preventing them from moving forward. It is frequently verbalized as a feeling of hopelessness regarding a situation that they can’t seem to get rid of – in other words, a burden. As a coach, we cannot make that burden disappear, but we can help the client to discover a different, more beneficial perspective regarding that same burden.
A client could, for instance, bring a situation to coaching that may objectively be considered a less fortunate event or circumstance, but how the client views that situation is, of course, subjective. It is within this subjectivity that the power of reframing a client’s perspective lies. Coming alongside a client and helping them move from viewing the situation as a burden to instead seeing it (or at least some aspects thereof) as a benefit can be immensely powerful.
At the outset, coaches should note two important points:(1) “If you get troubled by what troubles the client, you cannot serve them well.”; and (2) the coach also can not label the event or situation as a benefit in the hope of moving the client to see it that way. The aim is always to allow the client to reframe their subjective perspective in their own time when they are ready. With this power tool, the coach should take particular care not to make the client’s situation out to be less burdensome than what the client perceives it to be. As such, it is vital to acknowledge the client’s feelings of,e.g.overwhelm, exhaustion, anxiety, or hopelessness. However, exploring those in detail may only affirm the burdensome perspective held by the client. We will serve our clients better by inviting the client to creatively consider possible benefits or growth opportunities.
Burden vs. Benefit Explanation
In the context of this power tool, when a client comes to a coach with a “burden,” it is considered an issue that is more permanent than an “obstacle.” Whether it is for a shorter or longer time, what’s brought by the client in this instance is a situation that is here to stay for a while or a set of circumstances that changed permanently. It is not something that can be overcome by designing an appropriate strategy or finding a solution. In my experience as a coach, burdens are most often perceived as external (although this is not always the case). In other words, something that happened, or is happening, to the client that is not within their direct control; something which they perceive they can do nothing about.
Benefit, on the other hand, refers to a new, more beneficial way of looking at that situation. For the client, it does not imply ‘solving’ the problem or designing a clever action plan to overcome the burden. The particular burden is more permanent. Yet, looking at it differently and considering possible benefits can unlock opportunities and create a way forward for our clients.
In conversations with clients, peer coaches, and friends, I have seen that people are often able to verbalize a perspective having shifted from burden to benefit only years after the event or change in circumstances. For example, one person described to me how her elderly father fell ill a few years ago and, as a result, needed to be taken for medical appointments regularly. The situation implied for her to scale down on her working hours and other personal activities, which were perceived as burdensome tasks at that point. However, after the passing of their father and time to deal with everything that happened, she realized that the extra time she had with her father (due to driving him around and caring for him) was indeed a benefit of the situation; as well as something she may not have had if circumstances were different. Suppose now, in that situation when things had changed initially, she could have been helped by a coach to perceive those benefits at that time.
Similarly, I once spoke with a client reflecting on the time when a close, trusted friend relocated to another country. Initially, this change in circumstances was perceived as burdensome only, with her struggling to consider anything but the loss she suffered. Over the years, however, she came to realize that the situation created space for additional, new, and meaningful relationships. She was also able to maintain that friendship in a way that she had not foreseen at first, and it even provided a wonderful opportunity to travel. If a coach was able to help her move from burden to benefit at an earlier time, she would likely not have suffered as much emotional heartache and may even have been able to move forward sooner.
As is evident from these examples, what this power tool would have been able to do – and therefore also is its aim –is to facilitate a more beneficial perspective at an earlier point in time. When a client comes to coaching with a burdensome perspective, struggling to see any benefit to their situation, the coach has an opportunity to carefully help the client to consider a more empowering, beneficial perspective.
Burden vs. Benefit Power Tool Useful in Life Coaching
Given the sensitivities often associated with more permanent changes to a client’s circumstances, this power tool may be considered to have a narrow or limited application. This tool may also be more useful in life coaching. However, I have seen its successful application in business coaching too.
In addition to the earlier examples, a few more examples of ‘burdensome situations which clients may bring include:
- A small child requires time, attention, and emotional care from the client.
- A change in market dynamics outside of the client’s control, e.g., hairdressers not allowed to work during Covid-19 lockdowns.
- A critical boss who is rarely pleased with the client’s quality of work.
- Having lost a lot of money on an unsuccessful business idea or investment.
- Having to relocate to take care of a close family member.
Within the coaching process, the coach should listen carefully to how a client might be describing their particular situation or the turn of events, to identify when the client perceives the situation as a burden. Clients may not necessarily use the actual word ‘burden’ or ‘burdensome,’ but the coach will be able to listen for phrases like:
- “I don’t understand why this is happening to me/ my family/ my business.”
- “I cannot see anything positive about this.”
- “There’s just no way forward.”
- “This will never change; I cannot do anything about it.”
- “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Suppose the coach identifies that the client views their situation as a burden and believes that this is preventing them from moving forward in their own life or career. In that case, it is an opportunity to help them reframe their perspective. The coach can gently invite the client to consider a more beneficial perspective. It is rarely good to have a list of questions in mind, but for illustrative purposes, it helps to visualize coaching conversations where the client may be ready to consider some of these questions. Depending on the coach’s style and the relationship with the client, as well as the stage in the coaching session they’re at, example questions may include:
- What about your approach to this situation is important to you?
- In a previous session you mentioned that you’re looking for new opportunities to serve others, what kind of opportunities may this situation create that you would not have had otherwise?
- One of the goals you set for yourself last week, was to waste less time watching Netflix, how might you best use the extra time with the mentioned person or due to this change in circumstances?
- In a few months/ years, when looking back at this time, how would you like to describe the situation and your approach to it?
- Earlier this year you identified some areas for personal growth, what character traits might you be developing through this experience?
Assuming the client is coachable and willing to consider different perspectives to their situation, the coach can partner with them to move from viewing the situation as a burden to some aspect thereof being beneficial in a way that they had not contemplated previously. Following on from the earlier examples, a client may come to a more beneficial perspective sooner, enabling them to make better use of the privilege (benefit) of spending more time with that family member needing support. Or the client may shift their perspective to see the “bigger picture,” acknowledging that the situation is a season that may not last forever, presenting opportunities that they may not have again later in life. The client may also discover how the situation could be building and developing their character to serve them better as they move towards their stated career and life goals.
Moving the Client Forward Emotionally and Psychologically
In many of the scenarios mentioned above, the client will return to the same situation, having to do the same things, e.g., taking care of a young child. However, instead of resolving the situation and leaving the client with a new action plan, this power tool will bring about a new way of approaching that same situation – it is particularly powerful in moving the client forward emotionally and psychologically. Whereas the client previously could only see the heaviness of that burden in their life, they are now willing and able to look for ways in which it might be beneficial. In my experience, a client that moved from viewing a situation as a burden to considering the benefits it might hold feels more empowered and can take control of their response to the situation.
The coach needs to realize that this power tool may not bring about an instantaneous shift for the client that is visible within a particular session. When inviting the client to explore a more beneficial perspective, there may not immediately be that “a-ha” moment where new awareness is created. Helping a client to shift from burden to benefit is likely to require several sessions of exploring possible benefits of the situation. The coach should also be aware of the client’s particular personality traits, as some people may find it much harder than others to look for the positives in a situation that has already been ‘internalized’ as negative.
As mentioned before, possibly the sternest warning is for the coach to be sensitive to the gravity of the situation from the client’s point of view. A client may easily be offended if they perceive the coach to suggest that there is something good about their family member needing palliative care, for instance. A good coach will be sensitive to when the client is ready – only then inviting them to explore a more beneficial perspective.
Holding on to a newfound, less burdensome perspective may prove challenging for a client. In many instances, the client’s responsibilities and/or what’s expected of them will not change. However, the renewed outlook will impact powerfully on how they approach those tasks or circumstances. The client may now be able to move forward and start thinking about ways of using the ‘burdensome’ situation to their own, as well as others’, advantage (so benefitting their personal growth/ career or business). It is here that the coach will again play an important supportive role as they partner with the client to craft the way forward. Let’s help our clients shift their perspectives from burden to benefit.
Renewed Perspective Burden vs. Benefit
Like most electrical machinery or power tools in a workshop, this ‘power tool’ should be used carefully and with great precision. It can truly work wonders and serve our clients well, but only in a few select circumstances. I have seen that effectively moving a client from burden to benefit has immense positive externalities for the client and those around them or directly involved with the situation.
The results for the client can be very similar to those described in the gratitude literature, which is well researched and documented. Per illustration, Psychology Today  lists various benefits of gratitude, such as: opening the door to more relationships, improving physical and psychological health, enhancing empathy, reducing aggression, and improving self-esteem. A renewed perspective that allows the client to see some benefits to their situation will likely bring similar gains.
Leaf, C., Switch On Your Brain. Baker Publishing Group.
Maxwell, J., Intentional Living. Hachette UK.
Psychology Today. 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude.
Razan Kilani, Powerful Questions – ICA class