Complicated. Uncomfortable. Confusing. These three generic descriptors are just a few of many that we use with friends and family to recap a difficult experience. Whether our intent is to shorten the story for an impatient listener's benefit, or to skip over the tricky parts to spare ourselves the reliving of it, the resulting tale told is a skim along the surface, while the emotional aspects remain underground.
That's good enough for a casual conversation, but in a coaching conversation, these euphemisms are often "test the water" words. The coachee is thinking, "It's a long story...does he really want the details?" or "If I don't understand it myself, how can I explain it to her?" Their unspoken hope is that you do indeed want to know the nuances, and that you do care enough to stand with them through the sorting-out process.
The easiest way into a deeper conversation is to stay alert to words that are vague placeholders for real feelings. Train yourself as coach to react to euphemistic words as a metal detector reacts to coins. They are your signal that there may be emotional gold to be excavated and examined, just below the surface. Questions like these are a request for more specificity and depth, and support a coachee's self-awareness:
"Would you say more about what you mean by 'complicated'?"
"What emotions contributed to you feeling 'uncomfortable'? Were you angry? Embarrassed? Disappointed?"
"It was 'confusing' to you...do you recall what were you thinking or feeling as the situation unraveled?"
Why dig deeper? Emotions provide critical data, pointing the way to what really matters to a person. Inviting emotions into the coaching conversation can give you both insight to where and how your coachee is stuck. Emotions are evidence of deeply held assumptions and beliefs. Uncover those and the essential, life-changing conversation can begin.