What’s the real problem? Getting to heart of matter

“How was your back-to-school transition?” I asked as Chad sat down for our coaching session.

“The kids did great!” he said. “But this time of year is difficult for Carrie. She feels like others are going back to something important, but her life doesn’t change. ”

“How would she like it to change?” I asked.

“She wants to go back to work,” Chad said. “She’s mentioned it several times and I haven’t responded. I thought I’d let her work her way through it and she’d get over it. Last night, however, I realized how important this is to her.”

“What do you mean, ‘get over it?’ ” I asked.

“Every year she goes through this,” Chad explained. “After about a month, she gets busy and forgets — but not this time. Last night she was talking about it again. There are a couple of jobs she is interested in, but neither sound promising. I don’t know why this is important to her. ”

“Have you asked her?” I asked.

“No, but we did talk about two jobs,”  Chad said. “I don’t think either one is a good option. When I told her so, it turned into a fight.”

“Let’s pull this apart by first talking about how you feel about Carrie going back to work,”  I suggested.

Chad talked about the job opportunities and his objections to each. I interrupted and asked him to step back from the details of the jobs and focus on how he felt about Carrie returning to work.

Chad paused. “I guess it doesn’t matter what type of work she’s interested in. I don’t think she should work.”

“Even though the argument centered on the two jobs,” I said,  “maybe the real problem is differing beliefs about if she should work, not what type of work she should do. ”

“We were so caught up in the details that I didn’t realize we weren’t discussing the real issue, ” Chad said. “We spent an hour arguing about the two jobs, but what we really needed to talk about was why she wants to work and why I’m against it.”

“Why are you against it?” I asked.

“We don’t need the money,” he began, “and I like having her home for the kids and taking care of our household.”  He paused. “I like the convenience of having her home and how things are right now. ”

“What do you think are her reasons for wanting to work?”

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Our fight focused on the job details and not on the real issue of her working. That feels like a waste of time!”

“What’s your next step?” I asked.

“I’d like to explain to her that I was so focused on the jobs that I didn’t get to understand why she wants a job,” Chad said.

“When will you have this conversation and how will I know?” I asked.

“I’ll talk to her tonight and e-mail to let you know,” Chad said.

As we closed the session, I gave him a question to ponder: “At what other times in your life are you focusing on the details and not the real issues?”

Coaching Challenge: The next time you are upset about something, pause for a moment and ask yourself, “What is the real issue?” By taking time to ask, you open the door to deeper understanding, not only of you, but of the other people in your life.

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Sheri Fisher is a life coach in Grand Junction. The situations and characters in her column have been altered in order to maintain client confidentiality. Go to coachwithsheri.com for more information.


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