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Testing the Fence

Remember that scene when the dinosaurs were exhibits like in a zoo? Then one was trying to get out and was looking for weak spots in the fence for the escape? Creepy for a reptilian creature. Methodical. Maybe diabolical. Effective.


I found myself doing this just the other day. The problem was complex and had many ways it could get worse; or better. However, finding the way to Better wasn't as easy as using a navigation app or even a treasure map. The trick in getting from Now to Better was to find the path of least resistance to promote more travel.


Without doubt, this is all metaphorical. When coaching clients, I do not try to exploit their weakness. Of course not. Clients know they have a need. Clients know how the need is presented. Clients don't always know what path is going to get to their need to BEGIN to address the issue.


Effective coaches ask a lot of questions. Effective coaches ask intentional questions. This is not idle chat or small talk. The purpose is to understand the client, how they see their situation, where their comfort zone is, where their growth zone might be, and how to proceed through growth to turn that into a broadened comfort zone.


One example is a mid-level employee who is trying to manage up without putting themselves out there. The plan is to advocate for themselves and their team. If this goes awry, it could have negative impacts on all parties. If it goes well, it could improve morale among the team. Where does the client see themselves engaging this topic? In a super truncated version...


What happens if you do nothing?

What might happen if you just lay it all out there?

Who else on the team might have this conversation?

How has your supervisor responded to critiques in the past?

Please tell me about your comfort level with confrontation.

How do you approach accountability?

If you imagine the conversation about understanding rather than confrontation, how might that go?


When we got to the last question, there was some room to breathe. "I could ask my question for my own understanding instead of making it a big deal."


We were on a walk. We walked around the perimeter of the fence. Trying to push here, trying to pull there. No movement, keep walking, keep trying, keep learning. Until eventually, metaphorically, we found the weak spot in the fence.


We can continue the metaphor using phrases like breakthrough, but nothing was breached, broken, pierced, or exploited. We found the bridge. We found the most opportune place to make the journey from Now to Better. The bridge is there, now we walk it...


What might you say?

How might they respond?

What are hot spots to avoid?

Where might the tale resonate most strongly?

To what degree are you prepared for the conversation?


From there, we can only examine possibilities. It then becomes the clients responsibility to take the next huge step down the path. They've explored their own options, their own way to engage, and their own presumptions about possible reactions. Then, they have earned the opportunity to learn, develop, and help their team.


For those involved, testing the fence should happen in many different ways in many different industries. We are testing the fence not to find the way to break through, but to find the bridge that takes us beyond the fence. As much as we may not like it, sometimes the bridge is hidden, intentionally or unintentionally.


It might be easier to make sure the bridge is visible, but the fact that it's hidden is not malicious. The bridge is hidden until we know it's there. Then it becomes incredibly obvious that it's been there the whole time. When we see the bridge and begin to traverse it, it may not be clear that the fence was there at all; because it becomes a non-issue. We can walk, grow, and learn as we leave the fence behind becoming a more and more distant memory.


Test the fence to find the bridge. Walk the bridge. Find the next fence, the next bridge. Get to the core of the issue and solve problems. Easy to say, but difficult to do. The only option is to move, keep moving, rest when needed, but keep on advancing.



Cover Art from Unsplash

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