I remember with affection a very dynamic (as in not a shrinking violet) client, in her late 30’s, I came to know when I worked as the EAP person for the State almost a decade ago.
We started right out with a bang. Even though she was an instinctively good manager, she’d been a tad too dynamic with one of her more frustrating employees, and had gotten herself – and possibly her entire department – into some hot water because of an unguarded comment she should have kept to herself.
After that whole thing was resolved, (with EAP consultation – to a huge, collective sigh of relief) she began calling me: “I’ve got something I wanted to run by you.” I’d go a stretch not hearing from her, then out of the blue she’d call saying she had “something urgent” at work, or the home front, and she wanted to get my “take.”
According to her, it wasn’t that I had the exact right answer, it was the way I “thought out loud” as I reacted to her story that helped her get her own “clarity.” She said she better understood, after a call with me, how she’d gotten into her situation – something she absolutely had to deal with now – without being unnecessarily defensive or afraid. She also said that she liked that I was “there” for her, but I didn’t sugarcoat my feedback. She could “see” the problem, especially her own piece of that problem, without feeling she had to take on responsibility for more than that. Plus, she had to be cautious about being too candid with her own boss.
From her perspective we’d “just clicked.” As we said goodbye in our final session (I was leaving my EAP position,) she reflected on how she’d come to “use” me. She said she’d always seen herself as someone who needed to go with what she thought was her gut instinct – “I shot from the hip, and it worked pretty damn well, so I went with that because I didn’t want to look weak. I knew being aggressive could be a problem for some people, but I felt too much ‘thinking’ might bog me down.” But now, with a family and a serious supervisory career (and a few mistakes she’d survived) she now realized the “shoot first” approach wasn’t her wisest path. The “clarity” she needed wasn’t some sort of zen mental state. It basically boiled down to being aware of what she really thought and felt – even if it wasn’t particularly pretty, or what she’d initially wanted. “I needed to do better than just react. I needed to at least know my own starting take on a situation. Talking with you helped me get there and see that: I got clarity that I needed clarity.”
I liked that. Thanks. I’m honored to be helpful, but you did the heavy lifting, my friend.