Oh dear. A bit of a ‘D’oh!’ moment for me that I am almost too embarrassed to share, Here I am staying at my Mum and Step Dad’s for a few days helping out as both are getting elderly and under the weather. Maybe some of you are in a similar position with parents reaching a certain age that they begin to need a bit more support, but are still fiercely independent? I care so deeply and want to help but often they would rather struggle than involve me. My Mum often seems overwhelmed and confused with things she used to take in her stride but will argue with me that she knows exactly what she is doing, thank you very much.

I find myself having conservations her when my questions all begin with “Don’t you think it would be better if…”  or “Well, if you ask me you should…” I caught myself earlier today as the strength of my own righteous conviction of ‘daughter knows best’ was almost ready to explode out of me!

It stopped me in my tracks when I realised I was being nowhere near as patient and facilitative as I am with my coaching clients. But why not? I believe totally in taking a clean approach so why can’t I offer that level of support to those I love most?

I suppose that who we are is intrinsically entwined with who we love, especially those who’ve been around all our lives. It’s hard to untangle their needs and desires with our own. So much easier to be objective and open-minded when working with someone I don’t know. It’s clear to me that I have no idea what they might want or how best they can achieve it. But with my Mum? Her pain hurts me and I want to relieve it.

But having said all that, a few moments of calm realisation and I can step back a bit. I remembered that even when it might not feel appropriate to use Clean questions per se, I can put my clean ears on. This is a metaphor I have developed over the years for quelling my too-focused mind from jumping to conclusions. Here is a short except from my book ‘Clean Coaching: The Insider Guide to Making Change Happen’

Listening is an active, all-encompassing activity and is the initial and primary step towards working Cleanly as a coach. Before we do anything else, we must firstly take on the coachee’s message without distorting or shaping it in any way. I have a metaphor for describing what Clean listening is like for me. It’s like I have to put on my ‘Clean Ears’, which when I think more deeply about I can visualise as being rather like ‘Spock’s’ ears from the Star Trek movies.  Like some kind of space-age hearing aid, the Clean Ears improve my listening by increasing the range and depth of information that I can hear. They also freeze my brain somewhat. They slow down my inferential thought tracks and help me to take on the message I hear completely at face-value, without attempting to make greater sense of it by seeking my own examples or experience. I imagine myself a little like an alien on a strange but wonderful world, and adopt a stance of ‘wise ignorance’. If I think I understand, then I assume to myself that I am probably wrong and force myself to check and test any understandings over and over again. When I am Clean listening at my best it is like being completely in tune with another person without second guessing their meaning, simply being attentive to their own emerging messages and watching them with curiosity and awe.

I tried this with my Mum today. Within a short space of time instead of feeling like I was fighting to help her, I calmed down and so did she. We were able to connect on the same page and I could understand and respect where her ideas were coming from. And as I genuinely stayed with her, her confidence and clarity of thinking greatly increased. I know I will always find this kind of situation a tricky one to remain even partially clean some of the time, but I will keep working at it!  (Originally written in 2017 for our newsletter)