My first order of business is to express my enormous appreciation for Amy's contribution of the coachNote two weeks ago. Her offering allowed me to stay completely off the grid for two weeks and fully in my right brain, snapping endless photos, taking long walks in centuries-old cities, and maintaining a balanced diet of Swiss cheeses and chocolates!
This week, I'm going to slide sideways into a note about coaching. I want to focus less on a "what to do" skill, and more on a "why" -- why we are focused on coaching at the Church. What is our purpose in developing a coaching culture?
A dear friend and her husband are thinking about leaving the church they've faithfully attended and supported for over a decade. He has been out of work since April of 2011. It is becoming unbearable for them to face the weekly barrage of well-intended but inappropriate, anxiety-producing questions and expressions of concern from their Christian brothers and sisters. As she described a few of those exchanges from last Sunday, I thought to myself, "This would not happen in a coaching culture!"
But for good measure, I asked them to compile for us a "Top 5 Things Not to Say to Someone in a Long-Term Job Search," and I added a parenthetical note about the non-coach approach I see at work:
1. It's because you are in your 50's. (expert analyst--spinning a story from one data point--even if true, how does this "explanation" help?)
2. Have you followed up on all the resumes you sent? (unsolicited advice with a side dish of unrequested accountability)
3. Satan is after you--he really likes to destroy those closest to the Lord. (at best, a backhanded compliment)
4. How much longer until you lose your house? How are you making it after all this time? (a projection of fear in the form of a question or two)
5. Walmart is hiring for the holidays. (problem solved--not! Now you'll have to solve the problems created from that "solution," like how to stay fully engaged in the job search while working unpredictable, low-wage retail hours)
So what responses are proving to be balm for their souls? Here are their "Top 3 Helpful Things to Say to Someone in a Long-Term Job Search," and my coachNotes:
1. I am praying for you everyday. Keep me posted on the specifics. (say more, I want to hear your story, share in your ups and downs)
2. I can't think of a company that wouldn't be proud to have you working for them. (a statement of respect without the rah-rah cheerleading)
3. My opinion is that your age and experience will be an asset, not a liability, for the right employer. (Walk the person gently down the Ladder of Inference, to consider issues complicating the job search that could be actually changed or improved. For example, follow up your encouragement with this: "I am hearing you say that age has been an issue. Do you know that for sure? What else have you learned? Would it be helpful to explore this together?")
People in a coaching culture know how to be with grieving people. It's not easy, and it can be even more awkward when the loss is not the death of a loved one, but a loss of dreams. We have to manage the "but for the grace of God, there go I" internal chatter, the anger and frustration we understandably feel when we see good people in pain, and we can't solve it. Coaches know that in offering easy answers, implied judgements, and unfounded explanations, they aren't being present for the other--they are attempting to manage their own discomfort. Coaches can stand in the fire with another and withstand the flames.
My sweet friends are trying to remain calm, hopeful, and action-oriented as they experience waves of rejection on the work front, and the loss of his 56- year old brother to a sudden heart attack in August. This is not the life they planned on living in their mid-fifties. It is not syncing with the mental scrapbook they envisioned, a time of working and playing hard, traveling, hosting family gatherings, giving of themselves abundantly. My prayer is that they find a community with whom they can live life together, especially the toughest chapters.
I look forward to the day when God's purpose for the extended trial of my friends becomes clear, and they have the privilege of supporting other job seekers with a compassion that can only come from personally "walking the walk." In a coaching culture, compassion is cultivated each time a person walks with another, not from a place of "knowing about," but from a willingness to "be with."
Go be with.