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The good advice you’re resisting . . . and why we need you to listen up

Every now and then I live a week of my life in obvious, think: blinking neon lights, themes.

Last week it was this:

Everyone needs to empty their cup in order to learn and grow.

What does it mean to empty your cup?  

Picture a tall, clear glass from your kitchen cabinet.  Inside that glass is water and it’s filled to the brim.  The water isn’t clean.  It has dirt and leaves and pebbles and soot in it.  

Now imagine pouring clear, clean water into the already full glass.  What happens?  

It overflows.  The murky water remains.

We have to pour some of that gunk out to make space for the clean water.

We are all glasses and the water is our inner lives.

Last week I had a two hour session with my coach.  There was something going on in my life that was annoying.  I’d been trying to manage it but it’d been going on for almost two months and was starting to really bother me.  My intention for my coaching session was to work on new content for my retreats but nope!  I was blocked up!  I had too much dirty water in me and I couldn’t take in new learning, advice, feedback, whatever. Instead of writing my curriculum, I complained and vented and whined about why my situation was hard and sucky. And my coach is kickass so she gave me a structure to get out what I needed to get out.  After that, I got right to work.

I kind of love-hate when things like this happen.  

There is the high-performing, results oriented part of me that really wishes I could have gotten over my sh*t without having to vent it out for part of my coaching session.  

And then there is the deeply tender and human part of me that felt seen and understood.  So it wasn’t the complaining that helped me get my internal waters a little more clear, it was the experience of being seen and heard in my frustration and anger.

The next day I was with a school leader who was feeling some overwhelm.  It would have been really crappy of me to yeah-yeah them about the intensity and tell them to move through it so that we could do X instead.

Then I was with a team.  That team was frustrated by the people who they coach and lead who are complaining all the time!  And the team needed to vent that out a bit to get their experience honored so they could clear their leadership waters.  (See how meta that was?!?)

The need to empty the cup was all around me and I was swimming in the clear and murky waters of it all.

Here’s the thing we need to get as coaches, resisting the deeply human need to release our painful experiences and be seen, heard and validated, will have us spinning our wheels and likely resenting the people we are supposed to be in service to.

But I hear your concerns about this, chief among them, TIME.

As instructional coaches you are charged with change and transformation.  And those coaching sessions can fly by, especially when a lot of the time is taken up by the person emptying the cup.

So here are a few things to try that can support your dual intention of making space for the person you are coaching to empty their cup and of getting some next steps in place.

**I am and teach Integrative Instructional Coaching.  IIC is a model that believes that the same input (Ex: crying teacher) should not be met with only one response (hand tissue, reschedule meeting).  As coaches, we have to use our complex understanding of the situation to intuit the best next thing.  So the strategies below rely on you pairing them with context and thoughtfulness.  

Structures that support the emptying of the cup:

  • Begin all meetings with a tonality practice.  This simply means asking, “How are you?”  When you have a consistent practice of opening with tonality you will have better ongoing insight into that person’s well being.  You will start to learn what their “normal” way of being is like and this will help you key in faster when they are feeling off or are really struggling.  

  • Teach and encourage expressive writing.  Expressive writing is a research backed practice that improves health and mental wellbeing when the person taking on the practice journals for 15 minutes each day about anything that is annoying, painful, or upsetting to them.  It doesn’t have to be profound.  What happens is the act of writing has an alchemizing effect that isn’t fully understood but by honoring how we are feeling we allow our experience to change.

  • Get an agreement with the person you are coaching to set a timer for them to get out all the things that are bothering them.  This might be two minutes.  It might be five.  Then, let me go!  For the full time allotted, encourage them to keep telling you all the things.

  • If a person doesn’t like to process orally, you might still set a timer but then encourage them to list out all the bad things.

Start with these strategies and then notice if the person you are coaching responds to them.  When I’m feeling murky, I genuinely want to feel clearer.  I will reach for the support being offered to me.  If someone isn’t responding to these structures, it’s possible that something else is going on.

But that’s content for another post ;)

I love coaching and learning about coaching because it is such a dynamic skill set and it asks for our growth and evolution as coaches.  Most instructional coaches have never received comprehensive training for issues like complaining or crying or overwhelm or mindset blocks that are an inherent part of the work.  That’s why I’ve written Integrative Instructional Coaching and am hosting teams of leaders at my retreat space to dive deeply into this work.

If you’re ready to get you and your team supported with the skills and approaches to coaching you have longed for, just click here and let me know you want to set up a time to talk.  Together, we’ll make a plan.

Your coach in life and leadership,



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