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Instead of pissing me off, this experience dampened my spirits...........but only for a short time!

It started with a number of DIY projects. Projects I have been putting off for some considerable time! I suspect there are some quite deep reasons for this procrastination. Perhaps a story for another time? Anyway, one such project was the gutting and refurbishment of our little utility room, something that I was nervous about doing as it involved quite a lot of wet work (meaning plumbing, not assassinating people!).


Early in November, for reasons that I don’t entirely recall, I found myself with spanner and crowbar in hand and started to deconstruct the fittings in the room, ensuring that I quickly passed the point where even I could justify saying ‘let’s put the rest off, until another day’.


As part of this work I removed a radiator, did the decorating around it, and refitted it. It was no surprise that air got into the heating system so when I started it again there were all sorts of gurgling sounds going on. I bled all our radiators and then repressurised the system by adding more water. I repeated this the following day, and the one after. The fourth day (getting almost Old Testament here I notice!) dawned, and I had to repeat the process, ……. again. I did my best to pretend otherwise, yet by now all the evidence was pointing to the fact that there was a leak in the heating system somewhere. An inspection of the radiators and visible pipework showed no sign of a leak, so in my head I held onto that story about the problem being air in the system despite a number of feelings and physical sensations reporting that I knew otherwise!


What is it that you are pretending is not so, and how might this be unhelpful to you at some point in the future?


A couple of days later I spotted a dark patch on the ceiling in our hallway and there was a moment of internal dialogue involving ‘I told you so’ and the voice that still wanted to believe the air-in-the-system story! We live in an old cottage, so the ground floor ceiling is one and the same as the floor in the rooms above. I went to the corresponding place in the room above and found that the carpet was damp, but nothing alarming. The damp patch was very close to the shower tray in our bathroom, although in the room next door. An idea took root in my mind (yep, another one!) that the leak was coming from the waste pipe from the shower, an idea that absolved me of all blame as I had not fitted it! The plumbers who had fitted it were great with heating systems but less so with bathroom plumbing. The fault must be theirs…..right?!


When have you moved to blame too quickly and what have the consequences been for you, and for those around you?


I put a mark on the ceiling to show the point where the dampness had reached, turned the heating off and went to do a coaching session. When I finished, the damp patch had moved on by 100mm at least. Eek! Action was required but emotions were now running high. There was frustration (not be able to solve the problem), anger (what did the plumbers do wrong in the fitting of the shower?), and guilt (had I done something to cause the problem?). In the grip of this cocktail of emotions I equipped myself with hammers, chisels and craft knives and was assessing what damage I would do in getting access to the shallow space under the shower. Cos the leak is there for sure………right?! I was on my hands and knees and just about to apply some brute force when my instinct, my voice of reason shouted loudly enough to make me stop and pause for a moment. In that moment I chose to take a different course of action based on common sense.


Is there a situation in your life at the moment where you might benefit from listening to your instinct, your inner voice of reason? What can you do to ensure that you listen for it in amongst the interference of your emotions?


I needed to know what was going on at the highest point in the system so went into the horror story that is our loft space. I checked pipes that I could get to and was getting increasingly irritated by the glass fibre and being on hands and knees (at my age, I mean really!). And then I saw these two little chappies, standing upright against the wall, shiny and benign in the beam of the torch. I almost did not go any closer as they seemed harmless. Then I saw a drop of water run down the taller of the two and disappear out of sight.


Not the most aesthetic of pictures but one I'll take the credit for anyway! It's of the automatic air venting valves on our heating system. Photo by Jeremy Hinks


I had found the leak, or a least a leak. Hoorah! Being the modern man the first thing I did was take a picture and Whatsapped it a friend whose son-in-law was a plumber. I shared the same message to the guys who had put in the heating system (including asking what their availability to help with my problem to which they replied ‘we can come in two weeks’. The red mists descended again for a minute or two!). Intelligence came back from my friend that these were automatic air vents on the flow and return pipes. I was not happy at shutting a vent on a pressurised system for fear of causing a more catastrophic problem, yet was advised it was okay to isolate them. I did and the leak stopped. Hey, who knew I was a plumber?!


It was at this point that I joined my final call of the day, a development session with other coaches, and was telling the story that I have just shared with you. In doing so I realised that I was describing a metaphor for what comes up so often in coaching partnerships. Someone will often come to coaching because they become aware that their behaviour is not helping them. They might notice the evidence themselves, or be aware that something has changed within or around them. They might be responding to their awareness being raised by other people telling them how their behaviour was unhelpful. Either way, the evidence, like the spreading damp patch arising from my leaky heating system, is often what is brought into the coaching partnership at the start point for discussion. While addressing the evidence can be of value to the coachee, it has the same long term benefit as painting over the damp stain. There is a short-term respite but the evidence will resurface. In my ‘leaking situation’ that would be very fast, in a human situation it might be over short, medium or longer term. What is almost certain, is that it will reappear.


Are you aware of a behaviour that comes up repeatedly for you? What is it that triggers that behaviour and how well is it serving you?


How then can a coaching partnership explore a coachee’s issue at a deeper level than the one at which the evidence for it appears? In the case of my plumbing challenge the leak was a long way from the evidence, both laterally and vertically within our home. How can a coaching conversation navigate the route between evidence and root cause? First of all there is a need for trust to exist in the partnership to allow for such an exploration. There also needs to be permission from the client to indicate they feel such an exploration is in their interest. In some regards I had to consciously open my mind to the possibility that my leak was not in the vicinity of the growing damp patch before I was able to get past the urge to rip the flooring up. I sort of gave myself permission for a deeper investigation of my challenge.


There is something else that is important, alongside the trust and permission. It is the question for the coach of whether they are equipped to deal with the root cause of their coachee’s challenge. When confronted with the source of my leak I was not certain what the small brass fitting was doing. I immediately called on some expertise and did a bit of Googling to find out what it did. This real time seeking advice is not an option with coaching, so the coach must be confident that they are equipped to navigate the complexity that might come up (and seek support through coach supervision once the coaching session has ended).


How do you ensure that you are properly equipped to support someone else in their time of challenge? What do you understand about your boundaries and how do you test them without putting yourself or others at risk?


There you go. Who would have thought it! A plumbing and coaching crossover story. Hope you enjoyed it. At least, I hope it prompted some thinking and feeling. Curiously this whole DIY experience has given my confidence in doing ‘wet work’ a boost. I replaced those pesky automatic air vents myself and found I enjoyed doing all the copper work in replumbing the utility room. There was a voice inside that was asking if I was stepping outside my area of competence. This voice was answered satisfactorily through a combination of actions that I took: seeking to understand the theory, asking advice from those more competent than me, and by being appropriately cautious as I was working on my ‘learning edge’. I apply this same level of care in partnering with my coachees and, much as I enjoyed the wet work, my future remains in coaching!

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