Revealing the True Self in a Coaching Engagement with ADHD

Episode 203

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In this episode, hosts Ash and Cam delve into the importance of context and sense of self in coaching relationships. They reflect on previous discussions about context and its impact on self-awareness. Cam shares a disheartening experience with a client who had negative encounters with previous coaches and therapists. The client shared how in numerous engagements he immediately felt like he was failing in the coach’s ‘program for success’ and felt like he could not show up as his authentic self.

The hosts emphasize the responsibility of coaches to receive individuals as they are and not impose rigid programs – that a coaching engagement is the last place a coach wants to encourage masking. They highlight the importance of curiosity, responsiveness to clients’ needs, and building trust and safety in coaching relationships. Ash underscores the balance between structure and flexibility in coaching, emphasizing the need for coaches to listen, adapt, and co-create the coaching journey with their clients. The episode concludes with a reminder about the podcast’s Discord server and gratitude for listener support.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Ash: Hi, I’m Ash.

[00:00:08] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:00:09] Ash: And this is Translating ADHD. Cam, you had an interesting direction for us to go based on our conversation last week. You want to tell our listeners a little bit more about what it is we’re going to be talking about today?

[00:00:24] Cam: Sure, Ash. I thought it was really interesting the last two episodes around a sense of self and context and the significance of context. So two weeks ago, we talked about an example is your client revealing what it is to be a woman in the world and how just watching a little part of a Xena princess warrior episode, opened this client’s eyes to a powerful woman or an image of a powerful woman.

Last week, we talked about your experience with context and having that change and rapidly shift so much with transition and how it just, again, you having that awareness of context changing and shifting and how that informs your sense of self.

And this week, I was just, again, thinking about that same thread around context, sense of self. And I’ve been having several conversations with clients, coaches, colleagues around experiences with coaching, and I’m a little bit dismayed. It’s a little depressing, so I’m not, it’s not gonna be a downer. And it’s not gonna be a Cam rant either because the people who need to hear this are not necessarily listening. They’re not listeners of our podcast, but I think it’s a great place to look at sense of self and showing up in a coaching relationship.

So let me just start with this example. A client had just mentioned a few weeks ago of like, you know, this is great. I didn’t expect it to be this way. This is different from my past experiences with coaches. He said that. And I just, again, let the compliment land. Thank you very much. And let it be. But he said it again a few times later, and I just was kind of curious about, like, you keep talking about your previous experiences with coaches. And how it’s very different than your experience with me.

So I think that when he started to talk about it, it was obvious from the get-go this idea of, our idea of big C coaching and coaching the who and the why, that this is something that was new to him and that these previous coaches were not doing that aspect. So that’s okay, right?

There are different styles of coaching, and a lot of coaches will focus more on performance, especially academic coaches. It’s more about the what, the when, and the how. That’s fine. That is a form of coaching. Outside of a coaching session, I just said, you know, listen, I’d like to be, you know, there’s very little information about the experience of coaching. And I’m just curious about all those other times that they weren’t good. And I was like, could you just clarify or illustrate that a little bit for me because I’m just curious about your experience to get a sense of what that was.

He had six experiences with either therapist coaches or therapist/coaches on the realm of ADHD and helping him understand his ADHD so he could be a better partner to his spouse. That the impact was in his relationship first and foremost – to be there, to be present. And that was the pain point, the place of engagement.

As he talked to me, I just was dismayed by his experience with these coaches. There were some variations, but the main theme was this, is that he felt like he was failing and that he wasn’t okay. That in this relationship who he was as himself, he couldn’t be just himself.

Number 1, number 2, they all had these programs that were for him. He found it to be exhausting. A 7-step program to success, a 6-step transition out of your day, a 14-step strategy to blah, blah, blah. And he said, it’s like I would be dreading showing up to my coaching because it was so cumbersome.

And here’s the thing: I can’t believe these so-called coaches were not tuned into his state of mind. They weren’t picking up on his dread, his I’m failing here. We coaches are paying attention to our partners in the room. We talk about the attached outcome. It’s like they’re so attached to their program that they’re not seeing the client struggle so mightily.

So I thought it was a good topic for today, Ash, to look at the responsibility that we professionals who work with individuals with ADHD have a certain responsibility. I think the number one responsibility is to receive individuals as they are. To reinforce you’re okay as you are. This distinction between the be and the do and not to get so focused on you got to jump through these hoops and be a doer in my program. That’s the thing that got my attention first and foremost.

[00:05:50] Ash: Cam, I want to start by saying just a little bit more about coaching the what and the how. I have coaching sessions like that with my clients all the time. I just got off one this morning where I was coaching a client about sleep schedule, and it was very much a what and how type of topic. But the reason it was a what and how type of topic is because that’s where my client was. We’ve done some other work. We’ve cleared out some limiting beliefs, some stuff. We’ve generated some awareness. And so this is now a topic that we can approach in that way.

I have clients show up, and they’ve got something urgent happening in the next couple of weeks. And so we set aside whatever bigger thread we’re pulling on, and we do some good tactical work in the here and now. I have a client who switches back and forth between coaching with me on ‘who’ stuff and doing group coaching with some other coaches on the how and why stuff, because she finds that format, when it’s done well, really supportive and helpful for her when it comes to the day-to-day type stuff.

And so just wanted to reinforce the idea that there’s a value in both. Where the challenge comes in is when it’s prescribed, when it’s done this way on this timeline, in this order, that’s a massive red flag in my opinion. And that’s something I would tell anyone seeking out an ADHD coach. If someone is trying to sell you a program of these are the results you will get in this timeline, be cautious of that.

Also, the reason as a coach I don’t sell months-long packages. I tell brand new clients to expect to commit to coaching for a minimum of four to six months to be in a different place at the time that we conclude our coaching, but I don’t require them to commit for four to six months. I think that’s a little antithetical to the coaching process, in my opinion, because context can change. The client’s context could change. My context could change. And you can’t know if a coach is the right partner for you until you’re in the room doing some coaching. You just can’t know. And sometimes through no fault of the client or myself, I’m just not the support that they’re looking for. And that’s okay.

[00:08:29] Cam: So what I’m appreciating their, Ash, is that when you are, you might be doing what and when and how coaching, right, around a sleep schedule or – and I do this – so I just got off the phone with somebody who’s it’s like, they’re reentering the job market. And it’s a strategy session. There’s a lot of strategy around looking for his next job. So, yeah, we’re not just doing who, like, who and why does not pay the bills, right? It’s gotta be this balance, but this recognition of how are they looking at it? Are they showing up as their best self? Are there strengths coming through? Or is it, again, this place of doubt or a limiting belief?

[00:09:13] Ash: Bringing it right back to my client this morning and talking about sleep, I said we’d done a little work. So my client is arriving at this session with a different perspective on the value of sleep. This is not our first conversation about this topic. She’s had some disruptions in the last couple of months that have made sleep difficult, but she’s showing up. Recognizing what those discreet challenges are, where the storytelling is, and also connected to the value of getting good sleep regularly in a way that she wasn’t before. Not as a should. Not as I’m supposed to, but I know that I feel better and function better, and it is better for me when I am getting this much sleep. And now that I am keenly aware of those differences, I’m motivated to address this in a way that maybe I wasn’t a few months ago, when I was less aware of what it felt like to be well slept versus what it felt like to be underslept.

And so it’s both, right? Both. It’s doing whatever work needs to be done to find that stronger source of motivation – positive reason versus negative – should be that I’m in this picture and this matters to me for this reason, and I have evidence that supports that.

[00:10:49] Cam: Yeah. So you’re being responsive to their needs, right? This responsiveness of, what does this moment call for? Is this who coaching? Is this what coaching? And this mix. You’re paying attention to context, again, that the context of the situation to look at what is informing this need. 

So responsiveness to needs and recognizing context. You’ve seen why context matters. And as coaches, if you come in and say to be successful is to be successful in my program, you’re constructing a false context. You’re now playing God and creating a context where there need not be context. Tweet that I sent out this week, Ash, was if your clients are expanding more executive functioning, trying to be successful in your program than in their life, you have a real problem.

And so the other thing I want to bring in here is in every core competency, whether it’s coaching, therapy, you know, it is this Hippocratic oath of no harm. And this is the unfortunate thing that I’m seeing is that here was this guy, I’m surprised he came to coaching again after 6, not great, I would have given up there. Because there are people that are not paying attention to the client’s needs at that moment. They’re also not cultivating a sense of safety and trust. This is a core competency.

If you’re working with someone, you are first and foremost, whether when we teach a class, I’m teaching a class, whether it’s to individuals with ADHD, whether it’s students who are becoming coaches, it’s that first agreement of first and foremost, we want to develop a space of safety. And trust doesn’t start from the get-go. Trust is built over time.

There was never trust built in those relationships. Because my client was led to believe, well, two things: I’m not okay, and I don’t know any better. They’re the expert. They must know this assumption of, well, you know, they’re the expert.

So this sort of trickle-down, top-down dispensing wisdom from your mountaintop, that is not coaching. Stop saying it is okay. That’s my one rant dash – my one rant. Stop, please, saying what you’re doing is coaching if you are disseminating a program and you are attached to some outcome.

[00:13:40] Ash: I think it’s important for our listeners to hear that there is not necessarily black and white. There are shades of gray here. When you and I do one of our classes, I’m going to use Project X as an example, because it’s the most defined of any class. We teach this course where we’re asking someone to bring that thing, that project, that magnum opus, whatever it is that only matters to them, to the class. We are providing some structure, both in terms of having a common 10,000-foot view focus amongst classmates, so that we’re all kind of talking about the same thing. And also there is a bit of a goal for us as coaches to have each participant be somewhere new when it comes to addressing, looking at, and making progress on Project X at the end of those eight weeks.

But you notice how that goal is pretty vague. In any given Project X class, we might have somebody focusing on self-care. We might have somebody making some major career decisions. We might have somebody who is brand new to cultivating ADHD awareness and just needs to be in that place. We might have someone who is halfway through their Project X and needs to reconnect to positive motivation and unpack some stories that they might tell. Each participant is where they are within our structure. And so the question of where they need to be somewhere new is different for each participant.

The other thing I want to say is this isn’t to blanket discount of the resources that are out there. Take what works for you. Leave the rest. I have a client, or a former client who loves Rene Brooks’ cleaning book. Anytime her apartment gets a little too chaotic, something about that book, the way that it’s written, the way that it’s structured almost makes it fun for her to bust out the book and use it as a guide to make her space what she wants it to be again. Awesome. That’s a great resource for that client.

I think so often we, again, can be all or nothing. This is a great resource for everybody. Not necessarily. I do the same thing when I bring my organizing skills. And with a client, I still use those quite a bit in my client sessions. Happy to sort of share best practices in terms of tackling and organizing projects, but without attachment to whether or not that’s going to work for that client. Let’s start with, well, if I was helping you organize your space, here’s how I would approach it. Let that context be in the room and then take it from there. What’s resonating or working for that client? What’s not? And then there’s the opportunity to do some coaching.

[00:16:54] Cam: Those are some nice distinctions. Ash, you know, I certainly have, I have a program, right? I work with leaders and decision-makers – help them be more effective. There are these themes that we have in these sort of general areas that we’re looking to explore. That’s very effective in a group coaching effort to have a general theme of Self-care or Resilience or Project X or Agency – what we’ve done – Purpose for you, Equanimity for me. That is very helpful to have that kind of framework to operate with it. Where are we trying to work?

The other thing I want to say is there are coaches out there that might be listening. It’s like, ah this is attached to the outcome. Is Cam naming me? Possibly if you’re thinking that, then likely not, right? Again, as I said, the people that need to hear this are not here listening. So again, it’s to speak to the coaches who are here and the listeners, potential clients, who are here and to speak to them.

And so, first of all, coaches, your natural progression as a coach starts with a very scripted approach. The whole ACC, the Associate Certified Coach level, is about following frameworks and models. And so there’s a scripted element there of certain, again, the coaching process of discovery of a topic, moving into, you know, perspective work and evoking awareness and developing an action plan.

And so it can feel very scripted. The difference here is that bringing curiosity into the room – that’s what was missing in my client’s experience – was any curiosity about the individual. That just blows my mind, Ash, that how can you say you’re offering a coaching program of some coaching and there’s no curiosity? There’s no curiosity.

Just, again, this is one of those things that’s so important. We want to come in a lifetime of not being heard. A lifetime of being misunderstood. And you come in and you reinforce that? Are you kidding me? Oh, I’m talking to the people that aren’t here again, Ash. So I gotta get away from that.

I just want to say one more thing, is that to turn our attention and pivot towards, listeners, what can you do? And that’s where I’d like to move in the direction. So, how can you come in and be informed and be a partner and be seen and be selective? As you said, be discerning, be selective. And so listeners, we’re going to move in that direction.

[00:19:51] Ash: Cam, I often say that coaching is equal parts science and art. ICF [International Coaching Federation] has an incredible set of tools for the science part of coaching, and that’s still underneath everything else I’ve learned and the way that I uniquely coach my clients today. That tool set is there, and it’s important.

The art part is experiential. As you said, you get better at it as you go. And it’s okay to struggle with it as a coach. But I promise you, if you keep working at it, there will come a time when leading with curiosity and detaching from your client’s outcomes is the most natural way to approach a coaching engagement.

And for those of you listening who aren’t coaches, thinking about, as Cam said, how do I show up as an equal partner? I tell all of my new clients ask for what you need. And you can’t hurt my feelings if something isn’t working for you. Let’s talk about it. Nine times out of ten, that’s going to make our coaching relationship better. And in fact, that’s a coaching skill. It’s called co-creating the relationship. Nine times out of ten, that’s going to make our relationship better.

And maybe that tenth time we discover that we aren’t a fit. Okay, I’m glad that we know so that you can turn your time and resources towards what support you do need right now, because that’s the opportunity for the client. So if you’re sitting on the client side, ask for what you need, ask questions.

If something isn’t sitting right with you and you can’t even articulate it, start with what you do know. Any excellent coach should be receptive to that. More so than that, my long-term clients, I love that if I ask them a question, the direction that’s not the direction that they want to go, and they already know something has their attention, they’ll say, nope, I don’t want to answer that. I want to answer this. And that’s fantastic because more so than anything, I am not in the room to be right.

[00:22:04] Cam: Ooh.

[00:22:05] Ash: You know so much more about you than I ever could. I’m not in the room to be right. It’s okay for me to be wrong. If that’s not where we’re going, okay. If the question just doesn’t do anything for you – happens all the time with my clients – I’ll throw out a question and they’ll go, huh? Can you ask a different question? Yeah, I can ask a different question. Or if I don’t have a different question, I say, okay, I don’t have a different question. So let’s take a step back and orient to where we are and decide together where go from here. Yeah, I’m not sure. Yeah.

[00:22:38] Cam: I love that. I’m not in the room to be right. And I think that was sort of a common thing with my client’s experience with these coach/therapists, was this, again, something, some attachment around there about status, my program, my pedigree. And so if you sense that from somebody that they have this, they have to be right in some way, then that’s a warning sign. That’s a red flag.

I wrote something probably five years ago about how to find an ADD coach, and I just pulled it up. It’s still relevant. Five years ago, like, how do you find a good ADHD coach? And here it is. A good coach will listen more than talk back to this curiosity. And curious about you and your lived experience. What’s going on for you? They’re listening for values, principles, strengths, positive connections, barriers and blind spots. But that if somebody is chatty and filling up the room and not sitting and giving you space to share, that is a sign. If they’re not transparent about their training and experience.

That’s another thing, if they pressure you into working, right, the pressure to sign on the dotted line. Last week, as you talked about speed running ADHD, I think this is where we’re going to be going the direction of, so it’s like, ah, ADHD, this thing, like, ah, I just need someone. It’s like, again, you sort of fall into this, like anyone, anything just helps me. So we trust. We put our, you know, we put it in their hands.

This is back to the beginning around responsibility. They’re the expert. So they see you as capable, even in your struggle with this ADHD. You might fully believe in the one down and that you’re not deserving of this job, of this partner, of this life, and that there’s this opening for looking at that, holding that lightly. And there’s this, the coach is thinking about helping you find and reconnect with your authentic self. Again, that capacity for curiosity and growth. And there is no, there’s nothing about being right or successful in this specific program.

[00:25:14] Ash: Damn, what you just spoke to. There’s a reason that you and I started our coaching engagements and our group coaching engagements that we do together the way that we do. And it’s not the same way. I start with values and needs and a big agenda. You and I together start with stories that build. What do you start with?

[00:25:36] Cam: I started with a lot of different things. I start with context for change. Like what, you know, I talk about how you experience change.

[00:25:42] Ash: Okay. So I’ll just, is it okay if I say context for change? Is that good enough?

[00:25:46] Cam: Yeah. We’re just like, how do you create change?

[00:25:49] Ash: You start with this curiosity around how your clients create change. Three very different approaches, all in the realm of let’s connect to something positive, and let’s get to know this person beyond the current struggles first.

And so, in particular, the coaches that are listening, you don’t have to do it. My way or Cam’s way or are combined way, but there’s a real opportunity to think about how can you start a coaching engagement on a positive note in a way that helps you as the coach see this powerful person before you start digging into the painful dilemmas that are keeping them from realizing that incredible potential.

I love starting this way because it’s coaching, it just makes it so much easier to hold that space and that belief. When you get somebody talking about their, why those bigger reasons for doing this work, it’s informative from the coaching perspective, as much as it is from the client perspective.

[00:27:01] Cam: I think that’s a great place to finish up, Ash.

[00:27:04] Ash: I agree, Cam. So, listeners, we haven’t talked about the Discord server in a while. Just a reminder – it’s there. It exists. Our listeners are using it to work together to do their understanding and translate work. And if you become a patron for five bucks a month, you too can have access to this incredible community resource.

And Cam and I are committed for the rest of the year to providing one live coaching demonstration to our patrons per month. So if you’re listening to this episode now and thinking about joining, you will have missed February’s, but Cam will have one coming up for you in March. So if you haven’t joined and checked it out, we hope you do.

And as always, Patrons, thank you for your support of this show. Whether or not you’re using the Discord, that money helps us. Doesn’t help us, it does pay for all of the overhead of running the show. And it’s a big part of the reason that Cam and I can sit down every single week and continue to bring you this excellent content. So whether you’ve supported us once for one month or ongoing, we’re very grateful for your support in the work that we’re doing.

[00:28:14] Cam: It’s huge.

[00:28:15] Ash: So until next week, I’m Ash.

[00:28:18] Cam: I’m Cam.

[00:28:18] Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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