Provision #377: Coaching as Couples Campfire

Laser Provision

What happens when an entrepreneur and a sales professional, in a family-owned business, are also husband and wife? For some people, that might pose no problem at all. But for today’s featured clients, it proved to be like pouring gasoline on a fire. Things would blow up with devastating effects. Fortunately, telephone coaching turned that fire into a source of warmth, reflection, and love.

LifeTrek Provision

Our purpose in this series of Provisions is to discover and share what our clients have to say about the nature and value of coaching. Our purpose is to discover and share what our clients have to say about the nature and value of coaching. In the process, we also hope that you may learn what qualifies as a coaching project.

It’s our guess that you may not realize the depth and breadth of what coaching is all about. Some people have never heard about coaching except in the context of athletics. Others may think of narrow applications, such as sales coaching or career transition coaching. But coaching covers the entire gambit of life. If you want to learn the “why-be-do” of something, then coaching may offer invaluable assistance along the way.

That has certainly been the case with today’s guest clients, a married couple who have had to learn how to both live and work together over a period of many years. Originally, the husband • owner and President of a small company • contacted us for business coaching. He wanted to develop business systems that would both make things work better and enable him to be less involved in day-to-day operations.

Over time it became clear that his wife, who was in charge of the sales department, needed to join the coaching conversation. There were too many dynamics, both personal and business, to be negotiated between the two of them. So we developed a pattern of meeting four times a month on the telephone, alternating between individual and joint sessions.

The process proved to be a dynamic way of facilitating communication and moving forward with both their marital relationship and their business partnership.

Q: How did you learn about LifeTrek Coaching and why did you first contact us for coaching?

Him: Sometime during the second half of 2001, I started reading LifeTrek Provisions on my Palm Pilot through the AvantGo service. By early 2002, I was hooked. The writing really spoke to my need to get the business together. As an entrepreneur, I was busy making things happen, running the operation, and planning new ventures.

It became clear to me that I was never going to get to those new ventures if I couldn’t figure out how to make the old one run without so much of my time and attention. That’s when I told my office manager, I need to call this guy. But I was hesitant about airing my dirty laundry to anyone, including a coach.

Still, my integrity demanded that I not just talk the talk. If I wanted to learn new ways and make changes, I was going to have to get some assistance. And an outside person, who was not biased by knowing me or the business, seemed like the perfect strategy partner to bring into the picture.

Q: How did your goals for coaching evolve over time?

Him: In the beginning, our work together made me worse rather than better. We would cook up various systems and business strategies, which I would turn into great looking PowerPoint presentations and shop-floor aids, only to emerge from my office with yet another scheme for how we were going to do things differently in order to make things better.

I had the best of intentions, but I did not involve our people in the process and our models were much too complicated for such a small business. They turned people off rather than on, and my wife • who was Sales Manager at the time — was always the first one to let me know. We would end up in big, “Here we go again,” conversations that would undermine both my business leadership and our marital relationship.

So after a while, our coaching conversations shifted away from the business systems themselves to the dynamics of my personality in those systems. What was I doing, in my interactions with people, that was interfering the realization of my own hopes and dreams? How could I get out of my own way? Those were huge, difficult questions that needed to be dealt with and that created an openness to self-critique.

That was the point at which I talked with you about bringing my wife into the picture. We needed someone who could facilitate communication. In many ways we both wanted the same thing: we wanted both the business and our marriage to be successful. But we were butting heads in the boardroom, and that made for some cold nights in the bedroom.

Her: It was actually worse than that when we first started working together as a threesome. There was lots of tension and we were hardly talking to each other. I was mad. I knew the two of you were working together on how to make the business run better, but what came back was heavy-handed pronouncements from on high. Anything I said was wrong; it made me feel inadequate both as his Sales Manager and as his wife.

Him: I felt exactly the same way. I felt condemned, no matter what I said or did. And I also felt controlled. Instead of being respected, as the CEO of the company, I felt belittled and undermined in my leadership of the company. My wife’s attitude infected other employees, so there was no way to move forward either personally or in business. It became our goal to crack that nut through getting both of us involved with coaching.

Q: So how did that work out? You’ve stayed together; are things a lot better now?

Her: It hasn’t been easy, but things are definitely better. At first, we were at such a stalemate that our coaching calls were the primary time we ever talked with each other. I think we both knew that if we wanted to improve we had to open up, we had to talk, and we had to listen. The coaching conversations enabled us to do that.

Divorce was never really an option, at least not for us. But it was also not an option to stay where we were. To be honest, I hate thinking back to those feelings.

Him: Today we still run into some of the same situations, and I may still get the same furling of the eyebrows when something comes up, but it’s not the complete shutdown we used to experience. We have greater ability to say what needs to be said and then to move on, without giving each other the cold shoulder. I would say we are communicating, working together, and loving each other better.

Q: What internal shifts did you have to make in order to get to that point?

Her: A major decision that we made through the coaching process was for me to stop working in the company as Sales Manager. Maybe some couples can figure out how to both work together and sleep together, but for us it was just too difficult. And, of course, there’s a lot of ego on the line when it comes to leaving a position you’ve been in for many years. We had a lot to negotiate. But once the decision was made, it went pretty smoothly.

Him: One thing that helped was taking the DISC surveys together. It became very clear that we were two dominant personalities with an equal sense of authority over the organization. That was a recipe for disaster. The company had become a two-headed monster. We either had to completely retool our personality types or one of us had to back out of the situation. I’m thankful that my wife was willing to do that.

Q: So you ended the Cold War by tearing down the wall that was keeping you apart?

Her: Well, it was not just a matter of our deciding that we no longer wanted to work together in the same company. It was also a matter of focusing on what we really wanted out of our home life and our future. Sitting back and looking at those questions was an important part of the process we went through.

By both of us working in the same company, with such intensity, we really didn’t have a life. Coaching with you was like sitting around a campfire, watching the flames and the embers, talking about the things we wanted out of life. In that safe and relaxed space, we were able to make new decisions about where we wanted to go and how we were going to get there.

Him: It was uncanny how reading your weekly Provisions also assisted us to move forward. Sometimes they seemed to be written just for us. You would write about being healthier, taking time for yourself, or Christina would write about parenting, and there would be some little tidbit that would speak to our situation. By opening us up and connecting our humanity with the rest of the world, the Provisions really supported the coaching.

Q: What’s different about how you treat each other now than before?

Her: We listen to each other more attentively, and your Provisions’ series on listening certainly supported that process. When I hear something that I don’t agree with or that I don’t like, my natural tendency is to react without thinking. The listening work we did, and the exercises you had us do • like sharing the things we appreciate and need from each other • taught me how to control those gut reactions.

I no longer react, at least not so obviously, in the moment. I react differently now. It’s a growing thing. There’s the mountains and the valleys of it. There are still things I don’t like about what my husband or my daughter does, but I don’t let them get to me like they used to. I now catch myself in the moment more quickly. I have become more aware of my body language, and it has actually become a signal for me to step back, to take a deep breath, and to move on with a more positive attitude.

Him: And, for my part, I try not to get so defensive when my wife has something to say. I used to react to everything as a put down, because there was so much spin to every communication. And because we were both equally invested in the company. Now that my wife has backed out of the company, I am able to receive what she does have to say with more openness and consideration. We are, as she says, still not perfect. But things are a lot better.

Q: So coaching really stretched you to grow?

Her: In so many ways! I’ve started running again, for example, and I don’t think I would have done that without the guidance from you. That’s become my down time to think. It’s part of what enables me to catch myself better, throughout the day.

Him: And I have become more consistent with my morning devotions. That hour in the morning has long been important to me as a value, but it’s easy to sacrifice that hour when life gets busy-busy. And life always gets busy! Our coaching conversations have helped me to see that if I want to be a better communicator throughout the day, I need to get my head on straight at the start of the day. So my follow through is more consistent now. My practice is more in line with my values.

Q: Was it difficult to do this work over the telephone?

Her: No, it actually made it easier. Back when we were hardly talking to each other, the phone was a safe way to meet. We could be in different rooms, or even in different cities, and the phone gave us an accessible way to say what we needed to say. Instead of a raging bonfire, our conversations became more like a cozy campfire around which we were able to sit and share. It was very special, and super convenient. The telephone format worked great for us.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for our readers, perhaps other couples, who may be thinking about coaching?

Him: All couples have their communication challenges. In our case, coaching enabled us to break through on some fronts that we had been working on for years. We wanted to talk more freely with each other, but things would always break down. We would just end up mad at each other. Now, we are better able to handle our relationship. And we are looking forward to making our dreams come true. So I would say, if you want to rev up your relationship, give coaching a try.

Her: I agree. Our coaching with you has assisted us to get together and work out the kinks in our relationship. This has been nothing but a blessing for us. If a couple is looking for an opportunity to bring on positive change, I can think of no better way than “sitting around the campfire” with a LifeTrek coach.

Coaching Inquiries: When was the last time you had a heart-to-heart conversation with the one you love? Are you able to talk freely and openly? Are you both on the same page when it comes to your hopes and dreams? How are you going to get there? What is your communication like along the way?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.

Congrats to Megan on the new book! I already like what it has to say, based on your interview. I hope that trust and the behavior that accounts for it become “fashionable.” I hope you know how much I enjoy your wisdom each and every week — you’re doing a marvelous service • thank you.

I am very excited to see this book come out! Megan is taking some important things that I learned from my time in social work and studiously applying them to education. This is so important, especially now. Great news, and good luck!

I live in the west African countries. Please explain how LifeTrek Coaching could make more your vital information available in this part of the world. (Ed. Note: In addition to reading our free weekly newsletter, you could visit our online coaching chat room, review our extensive archive of materials on the Web, and call us for coaching. Please help us to spread the word by forwarding our Provisions to others.) 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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