*Mallory had been following my Facebook feed for a few months when she commented on a Clear Thinking Class post. The day she arrived, the class had an attendance anomaly. That week the regularly attending participants were all absent. As we settled into the scheduled conference room space, I explained we could have other drop in participants. The unexpected one-on-one time could have been uncomfortable, but I took the opportunity to walk through the concepts of the class since Mallory was not familiar with the purpose. I found it encouraging that she was willing to show up for a class that she knew nothing about and had no connection to any of the participants.
“What interested you in this particular topic?” I curiously inquired. I felt it served her best I know; it would enable me to tailor our conversation better and steer my class explanation.
“All I saw was ‘Clear Thinking’ and I thought, what is that? And, I want it.” At that, we both chuckled. “Between work and family, holidays and life in general,” Mallory continued, “I just can’t imagine what I can do to think clearly. I can’t remember the last time I felt clearheaded, even. I have read books on how to say no to things, so you have more available time. It’s a ridiculous notion, because you fill that free time with new things. It’s a vicious, never-ending circle. Realistically, if I cut out events and functions, I know more responsibilities would land on me at the office. I know I sound like a defeatist. I truly do want to find a solution. My attitude is strictly from past failures.”
I slid a blank piece of white paper and a basket of markers her way. These are supplies that are kept out at both classes and sessions. They serve as handy tools for a variety of reasons; at times to ease nervousness and for others, to help illustrate thoughts. “If you wouldn’t mind, will you take a moment and draw out a pie chart of your daily time allotment? Just an estimate of where your time is spent. Make sure you include sleep. Most people forget that sleep is a part of their day.” She nodded and took to the task quickly while I grabbed a couple bottled waters for us. As she considered where her time was spent, I drew a large clock on a different piece of white paper to keep track of what we would review.
When she was finished, she took a sip of water and commented on her illustration. “Looks like sleep could use a little added time and work could stand to lose an hour or two. If you can find an extra four hours in the day, that would be a miracle. There is no way my job could be trimmed back.”
As we considered the longstanding struggle of job demands, I wanted to know more specifics about her job. I started simply, “What is your job title?”
“Account Manager,” she replied. “I have clients up and down the Central Coast, the Central Valley, two in Los Angeles. The nice thing is, I don’t need to travel much for my job. Technology affords me contact with my clients through online video meetings and project sharing in the cloud.”
“In your chart you have half your time allotted to your job. What number of hours would that represent?” I asked. It seems a relatively simple question, but sometimes perception of your time is different from the reality of your time.
“Most days, I am at the office by seven-thirty in the morning and I don’t switch off my office light until roughly seven in the evening. At this point, the house is self-sufficient. It’s a good thing I didn’t have this job when my kids were little. My boss would not be sympathetic to a sick kid call or if I needed to be home to have dinner on the table. She has made it very clear that this is a man’s world and we need to step up our game if we want to advance in this company.”
Intrigued by this comment, I clarified, “Is that your opinion of the company, too?”
Mallory paused to consider her own viewpoint and finally offered, “I honestly can’t say that I personally have seen evidence the company runs that way. I know *Teri wholeheartedly believes what she states is the climate of our company. But realistically, I’m usually too stricken with anxiety over whether Teri feels I am meeting her expectations of me to worry about anyone above her paygrade.”
“Stricken with anxiety, that’s a pretty strong reaction you’re describing. Let me help you understand what’s going on in your mind and body when that happens to you”, I offered. Using the markers and paper, I led us through a simple drawing of the brain and the Limbic System reaction that occurs when the amygdala discerns we are in danger.
As we wrapped up our conversation, Mallory decided the approach to her situation would probably be better served in Personal Sessions, rather than in a class setting and we scheduled her first appointment.
Mallory arrived at the café near her office the following week and we chose a table in a far corner to sit and talk. At first, she was clearly uncomfortable, looking around at the sparse crowd of a few that had their laptops open and earbuds in, working on projects or surfing the ‘net. After selecting a table tucked in a corner and a few minutes of small talk, it seemed she eased into her surroundings. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Barbara, I’m not kidding. My boss thinks I’m an idiot.”
“What? Oh, Mallory! What happened?” I asked, genuinely surprised by the blunt admission.
She fidgeted with her coffee stir stick, looking at only it as she explained, “Teri told me so. I have a potential client that is looking at our different product lines; two are brand new. Our marketing materials aren’t even complete yet. They are interested in one of those lines. I told my contact that I would have our marketing department put together a presentation and we scheduled a date next week for a meeting at their office. I felt this was a great foot in the door. I called Teri and she didn’t agree with me in the slightest. It was as if my introduction of our company was somehow an inexperienced fumble. It was crazy to hear her berate me over my business approach – it’s one of my strong points. Our Regional Vice President said it was key in why they promoted me.”
“I’m so sorry you are feeling this way about your job. How did the meeting conclude with Teri?” I asked.
“Not well. I barely managed an intelligent word after she hit so hard with her criticism.”
“I’m sure you were articulate. Do you remember what her specific complaint was about your handling of the client?”
“I know she thinks I should have involved her. That is part of my confusion. I’ve never involved my manager in preliminary meetings with prospective clients. None of the managers include their Regional Managers at this phase. The only time I can think of that we involve a Regional is if the client is talking about terminating their contract or looking to go nationwide.” Mallory shook her head, still in obvious disbelief. “I’m completely baffled by why she would feel the need to be involved. I do remember her saying that she didn’t think I was experienced enough to handle another client this size. Again, though, it doesn’t make sense. I’ve been with this company twice as long as she has, and I haven’t had any issues with the client load. I’m at a complete loss.”
Mallory needed to get back to her office, so we scheduled again for the following week. As she left, Mallory confessed, “I don’t know why this came as such a shock to me. I feel like it’s been building. I found out last week that Teri has requested copies of my client correspondences. I’m waiting for the other shoe to fall on that topic any day.”
I have shared this story as a glimpse of a coaching relationship. This story is based on multiple clients’ personal stories. *Names and details have been changed for privacy.