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How Do I Connect With My Heady Client?

November 21, 2017

As coaches, connecting with our clients is a natural thing. We support and advocate for our clients, so why don’t we always connect with them?

I don’t know about you, but I have found that some of my clients are more difficult to connect with than others.  I’ve had clients that were what I call heady, operating mainly from their heads (their thinking dimension). I’ve been challenged to feel deeply, truly connected with them.

A few years ago, a close coaching colleague keenly articulated for me the challenge of connecting with heady people. We were in Rio de Janeiro attending TEDGlobal, having dinner in a loud, traditional Brazilian restaurant. We talked fluidly over a dinner of wine and LOTS of meat and enjoyed a lovely conversation. Then, we happened to see another colleague from the conference, and he sat down to join us.

As we chatted with him, I realized my coach friend, who is legally deaf, could not hear him. She often asked him to repeat himself. When he left, I asked her, “Why is it that you can hear me and you couldn’t hear him?” And she replied, “Because he speaks from his head!”  Remarkable.

Getting Out of The Head

For the most part, we don’t connect with our clients at a head level. So, connecting with our heady clients means getting them out of their heads. But how do we do that? And where do they go instead?

For you somatic coaches, you may take them to their body. I’m not a somatic coach, so maybe some of you who are will chime in here and offer your expertise.   

Trying to shift a determinedly heady client to their feelings may be an exercise in frustration for both coach and client. When heady clients express their feelings, it can often be threaded through their thinking (e.g. ”I think I feel like I want to do something different” – a thinking / feeling / wanting combo pack ☺). They may be left with the sense they aren’t doing feelings right, creating more resistance.

How to get our heady clients out of their heads and in touch with more dimensions of their experience? Invite them to share their internal experience through a tool called an attunement.

Attuning to Connect

What is an attunement? An attunement is an expression of one’s present moment experience for the purpose of connecting.

An attunement invites one to notice and name their present moment experience (e.g. what they are thinking, feeling, sensing, experiencing internally, in real time) and to share that with another.

The attunement serves 1) to bring us into the present (leaving the past behind and the future ahead) 2) to build muscle around noticing and naming our internal experience to continually create greater awareness of self and 3) to facilitate connection, allowing the space for both coach and client to see and be seen, accept and be accepted, empathize and be empathized with.

An attunement invites our clients to move beyond the face they might present to the public and connect with themselves and us in their present moment experience.

How do you use an attunement with a client? One way to use an attunement is at the beginning of a coaching session as a check in.

Here’s how it can work:

  1. Ask your client if they are willing to try something new (getting permission first always helps). You don’t need a bunch of preamble – that would engage their brain more, tempting them to over-think what’s coming.
  2. Suggest that your client close their eyes, ground their feet, and take a few deep breaths.
  3. Invite your client to tune into their internal experience – what they are feeling, sensing, experiencing – in the present moment
  4. Mirror for yourself what you are asking your client to do.
  5. Suggest that your client describe their internal experience metaphorically, using one of the sample attunements below, or one of your own making (e.g. ”If your internal experience was like the weather, what would be a description of the weather you are experiencing right now?).
  6. Then, if you’d like, you can share a description of your internal experience using the same attunement.

For your more heady clients, you may want to leave it at that, keeping the experience extra safe by not probing into their answer. As your client builds muscle around tuning into their internal experience, you may find that your client has expanded their capacity to go beyond their head and into other dimensions of their experience. You may find that you feel more connected with your client and with what they are experiencing.

Hearing More Than Words

I’d been working with Paul for a couple of years when he started talking with me about a pain he was experiencing. Paul was a brilliant young CEO, driven, passionate, generally healthy, though overworked, overwhelmed and overwrought.

Paul would talk about how much pain he was in, with a smile on his face. He’d laugh as I asked him to tell me about the pain, how he experienced it, what was underneath it and what was driving it. Because Paul smiled throughout our session and spoke from his head, I made the mistake of not tuning into how much psychic pain he was in.

One day, he showed up to a coaching session looking drawn, pensive and unsmiling. This was new. So I asked him if he’d be willing to try something different.  He agreed. We walked through the process outlined above, using my favorite “weather” attunement.  He described his weather as a tsunami that follows an earthquake. Only then did I truly understand the magnitude of the pain he was in. I could connect with him in a much different, much more empathetic way.

Exploring the Tunes of Attunement

You can use your creativity and have some fun with attunements. There is no wrong way to do it, so play a little! Here are a few examples of possible attunements to get you warmed up.

  • If you were to describe your present moment experience as a weather report, how would you describe it? (e.g. I’m feeling like a clear, blue, sunny sky on a calm summer’s day.)
  • If you were to describe your internal experience now as a river, how would you describe it? (e.g. I’m feeling like a river after a storm, where there’s a strong current, wakes and swollen riverbed.)
  • If you were to describe your present moment experience as a holiday, what holiday would it be? (e.g. I’m feeling a bit sad so I’m feeling like Veteran’s Day, like I’m feeling a sense of loss.)
  • If you were to describe your internal experience like a sunrise or a sunset, how would you describe it? (e.g. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed so I’m feeling like a sunset that you can’t really see because of all of the clouds.)
  • If you were to describe your internal experience like a color and a texture, how would you describe it? (e.g. I’m feeling like a sandy beach, a little gritty, but warm and happy.)
  • If you were to describe your present experience like a phase of the moon, how would you describe it? (e.g. I’m feeling like a full moon, bold, bright, ready!)
  • If you were to describe your internal experience like a tree or vegetation, how would you describe it (e.g. I’m feeling a bit like a cactus, I’m feeling kinda rigid, sharp, prickly.)
  • What is one word that describe an emotion that you are feeling right now, using a feeling word? (That would be a word that is used to describe an emotion – melancholy, embarrassed, anxious, impatient, frustrated, sad – versus a metaphor – like I want to bury my head.)
  • What is one word that describes how your body feels right now (other than tired)? (e.g. tense, overwhelmed, antsy, full, tingly)
  • If you were to give form to your current internal experience as a character or an animal, what form would you give it? (e.g. I’m feeling wistful like Alice in Wonderland.)
  • If you were to paint the picture of your present internal experience, what would the picture look like (e.g. I’m having a lot of very different, mixed feelings so my picture would look like a rainbow colored checkerboard.)

Start Attuning

Your client will probably never ask you for an attunement. Attuning with self and others will rarely be in anyone’s coaching plan. Attuning is a powerful tool that we coaches can offer. We can create the space and the connection with our clients that leads to meaningful change. So be bold, be courageous, be creative and start attuning!

Do you have an attunement you love or an attunement experience you’d like to share? Please do. If you use one of these attunements for the first time, let us know how it goes. We’d love to hear!

Posted in: Learning in Action

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