Would you rather be truly heard or get good advice?
I had a conversation with a close friend the other day. It began with my asking about a strategy that he used to approach a massive undertaking. It was similar to a project that I was working on, only my project was my own inner work. I reached out to him because I was seeking some rationale and framework that I might apply from the physical world to my more abstract project -- my personal growth and development.
Once I understood the mechanics of his approach, I immediately began coming up with ways in my mind that I could apply it to my situation. I wanted to give voice to that process and be truly heard by someone I feel so free to confide in. However, in his eagerness to share what he knows that might potentially help me, my well-meaning and gracious friend launched into a whole different direction of advice -- advice that I wasn’t actually seeking. In and of itself though, the advice was high quality and very rich. He took his experience and knowledge, and synthesized it into some valuable guidance about life. I realized that this is the very thing that a consultant does and my friend regularly functions in this role with such brilliance. When I originally reached out though, I didn’t do it to have means laid out for me, but rather to gather the pieces that I needed to put it together for me, so that I could empower my path of discovery and movement forward with full ownership. This is the very thing that a coach does. And being truly heard is an essential part of this process.
On a personal level, once I realized that I wasn’t truly being heard and instead being advised, I could feel a little part of myself close off. And it took something away from our usually close connection. My initial instinct was to recoil and not go down that road with him again. Without having the ability to process this more objectively, I could see this instance leading to future distancing. Advice was not the thing I needed right now, although I could easily save it for when I was ready. What I needed most was to speak and be heard by my close friend, and to be truly heard.
When we are truly heard, there is something that opens within the mind-body system that is liberating and generative.
And that is miraculous!
The beauty though of strong personal relationships is that the imperfections are the very things that give them depth and meaning -- what we might call magic. This conversation gave me a tremendous gift: it brought to life, in a very tangible way, the distinct difference between a coach and a consultant, and how they fit together depending on the stage and nature of the process.
The core distinction is internal versus external. Coaching is an internal process; consulting external. Coaching is about figuring out, “What do I want? What is important to me? How will I bring this forward in my own way?”
These internal processes cannot be advised. They need to be uncovered and brought into awareness. This is exactly what coaching does.
Once the inner vision has emerged and taken shape, the means of execution serve the purpose of bringing the vision to fruition, and this part of the process is external. When there are gaps in skill or knowledge after the vision has taken shape, then this is when consultants and advisors are most effective.
During the early stages, inner voice and internal values need to be at the forefront and are best served through coaching. Consultants can tell you their vision, their thoughts and their ways, but they can’t tell you yours – your own unique dharma – only you can. We get to know this though the process of open-ended inquiry. When there is just a little spark inside of a new idea or something yet to emerge, a consultant won’t ignite it when it’s at this stage; in fact, they may inadvertently extinguish it or send you off on a tangent that fails to kindle. The vision needs to grow first before the means to implement it can take place.
Igniting the spark into a flame and encouraging it to become strong enough to keep burning, even when the winds blow or the rain falls, is the role of a coach.
This is a delicate and often vulnerable process that needs to be handled with care and expertise.
During my training as a professional coach, I was taught to develop the skill of active listening, which is being fully present to another person as they give voice to their heart and soul without judging or having an agenda. This was further emphasized during my hospice massage training through the wise instruction, “your presence is enough.” This allows a process to unfold organically and without interference.
In the early process of discovery, the heart and soul long to be heard and acknowledged. It is a part of the process that cannot be glossed over in an effort to “just get onto the doing.” Letting go of others’ voices to hear our own is essential to aligning with our inner values. When we are heard and acknowledged, it lets us know that we are safe to explore and develop further.
It becomes a secure environment in which I am free to express who I am, even if it doesn’t conform to the outside world or others’ expectations of me. This opens the door to a deeper level of consciousness that allows vision to take shape and ultimately becomes the way forward, having been built upon the foundation of integrity and conviction that produces transformative action.
When we are being truly heard by another, we also hear ourselves. And we may truly hear ourselves speak for the first time.
For many people, the process of internal inquiry may seem scary at first, mainly because we aren’t encouraged to do it very often in our culture, or if we do, we are not truly heard when we do it with another. A skillful and compassionate coach gives space for you to be truly heard and encourages what comes out of that authentic inner self to take shape and blossom. This is precisely what makes the coach-client relationship different than the consultant-client relationship or even that of close, mutually-fulfilling friendships.
One of my coaching clients, Evelia, describes it like this, “a life coach helps me focus better on my priorities without judgment and helps guide me to a solution that I develop. I enjoyed the way Michael helps to guide the conversation without offering an opinion on what I should be focusing on or how I should achieve the particular goal we are discussing. He allows ideas to flow organically and, as such, they seem more attainable.”
That is the difference between a consultant and a coach. Which one you need at the moment depends on where you are in your process. The internal formulation stages are the domain of a coach. The external implementation stages are the domain of a consultant. Be sure to always get what you need, at the exact time it is needed.
Circling back to the title of this post, for those of you who would prefer to have good advice instead, here is some that I will share with you: give yourself the experience of being truly heard by a professional who is trained and practiced in this art… and then watch what happens inside and see where it takes you!
Michael Patrick, Founder
Centered Presence, Ltd.
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