June 19, 2010

Every Action Has a Reaction

Today, while getting a massage on my injured shoulder, the masseuse demonstrated how one part of the body reveals pain in another part. He asked me to lift my uninjured arm and push up on his hand while he tried to push down. As he did this, he felt around in my injured arm until he discovered which muscle and zone (entry, exit or belly) was most sensitive. I was fascinated by this approach and couldn't quite understand what he was doing until he explained. "Your strong arm, the one that is not injured, is a 'tell' in that as soon as I touch a muscle in another part of your body that is injured, the uninjured arm will no longer hold its strength. That's how I know I've found the spot in the injured arm." Fascinating.

He dug around for 45 minutes and worked out almost all the kinks until I had movement in my arm that I have not experienced in months. He would judge if the pressure he used to work out those kinks was too strong by looking at my facial reactions. When he couldn't see my face he would say, "I can't see your face so tell me if I am pushing too hard." By the end I didn't care if he was pushing too hard because I was instantly feeling the positive impact of the massage.

As I reflect on this massage and the masseuse's "tell" technique, I am recognizing a technique that can I use in my consulting practice. Most of my work is listening, probing and guiding the client based on where it is they have identified as their desired destination. For me, today's massage was about regaining mobility in my shoulder so that I could reach across my chest or behind my back. As we worked together, the masseuse kept having me test if these movements were improving. At each test point I could see inches of new reach based on his probing. I do the same with my clients.

But what is the tell, I wonder? This is something I've been exploring of late. When I first started consulting I remember asking a client some questions that resulted in her grabbing her neck. It was clear that I had hit on something that was choking her. Recently, I worked with a co-consultant who would recognize this pain point and push the client further into in order to find the origin and ultimately relief. This has not been my style. I take note of the tension and then circle around it by probing with other questions that allow me to triangulate the resistence and then use this as the center point for my work. It is a challenging journey for me as I am not a confronter. However, lately, as a teacher, I've begun to recognize that change happens when you push the edge, not when you avoid it.

Yesterday, my Career Development class made their final presentations in which they shared their career goals, personal vision, mission, values, and unique selling point. One of the most cautious students, who continuously froze when making presentations, made the most spectacular speech. He was like a different person, he flowed. Throughout the quarter presentations had been in his panic zone and yesterday his presentation was clearly in his comfort zone. The entire class was blown away by his calm, poised, dance-like style that commanded our attention. Following the presentation the student said he couldn't believe that the presentation seemed any different from ones he had done earlier in the quarter and that he wished we had videotaped it so that he could see how he looked. "I was totally panicking inside."

Earlier in the quarter I had taken a risk and had this student stand in front of the class, his panic zone, and tell his personal story. His classmates asked probing questions to help him identify how his past, as a factory worker, directly linked to his future, as an animation artist. He hated the process but I kept him up there, on the edge, to become more comfortable by interacting with his audience. Clearly, it payed off by the end of the quarter. Early-on his tell had been sweating, stomach aches and a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face. By the end of the quarter he was calm, cool and collected. He had reached his goal.

For some people the pain point "tell" is physical, as in the two examples listed above. For others, it is verbal. I've experienced clients who lash out at me, usually early on in the consultancy. Frankly, I don't take these outbursts personally as I see it that I am pushing them into their panic zone by pinpointing the pain. Some consultants could react by stating, "I do not appreciate that behavior" and I supposed I could do that as well. But for me, I know I've found the point of tension. Usually it is a fear-based reaction. Their aggressive response is them bursting out, indirectly, "Don't touch me there, you're scaring me, I'm being pushed to my limit, people are going to see through me and recognize my weaknesses." However, they've hired me to do just that. It can take months, but eventually I help them work through that spot by probing gently around it and helping them question their assumptions and previous behaviors. Together we discover approaches that allow them to reach their desired outcomes and reach their fullest potential.