Body language as a cue to unconscious processes

‘Another conflict! Can’t my manager see that they are cutting corners! They never keep their appointments, they don’t meet deadlines, have excuses and don’t finish their work. Or at least not well enough. Slackers. When all is said and done, I sit in the evening hours finishing their work. They also call me a control freak. Pfff…’

Ralph is still angry when he talks about it. It had been the last straw to start working with a coach. For some time he has not been enjoying himself at work. He now wants to explore what might be a next step.

‘I don’t want to talk about our family,’ Ralph says. ‘I’ve already been in therapy for that. My parents are no longer alive and I’ve gotten along fine with my two sisters since that therapy.’ He says it sternly and then looks at his hands and no longer at me. It is the first conversation with him in the coaching practice. The question with which he comes to me for coaching is that he wants to learn to have fewer conflicts professionally.

‘I have experienced this several times now. When I start working somewhere, I do my stinking best and everyone is nice and friendly. After a while, the reproach comes that I’m too controlling, and that I’m too perfectionist. I can’t stand that! You try to help people, this is the thanks you get. Instead of recognition and appreciation, I get reproaches,. While I am doing EVERYTHING! Then conflict often follows, or underhand reproaches lurk. That is actually even worse. Often I then cancel the collaboration, just to be rid of it.

I want to learn to stay and be able to have the conversation.’

Looking at the hands.

It turned out to be an unconscious pattern of going out of contact. Because I brought it to his attention, Ralph made the connection in the here-and-now with the discomfort he avoids by breaking eye contact. He explained that when there is ‘ hassle,’ he withdraws and works hard. That way he avoids confrontation.

By becoming aware of this unconscious movement, it can help as a cue in subsequent conflict situations. The moment he wants to get away from contact, he can now consciously choose to “stay.

I ask if he would tell me briefly what was going on in the family he grew up in. He is the oldest son of a mother who divorced and remarried. His mother got  younger sisters with her second husband. Ralph was disadvantaged by  his stepfather, which his mother watched with distress, but which she allowed to happen. ‘I was angry with my sisters, we argued very much, but I don’t blame them now. In fact, they couldn’t do much about it either, and they have acknowledged that I used to be the laughingstock a lot, no matter what I did to please my stepfather.’

Nice case study to explore for Kom Tot De Kern, which is about the question-behind-the-question and the path to it. Is Ralph’s help request to get tools to discuss his frustrations with colleagues without arguing? Is it about assertiveness, or about working less hard on a team? Learning to let go of perfection and control?

For Ralph, recognition proved to be the key word. We talked about violated values and core beliefs. For example, working hard in silence and hoping to be seen. About being angry internally and feeling wronged and not speaking up. About having to do everything yourself and not asking for help.

model Kom tot de Kern
Ambition, Sense of Purpose
Ego, Patterns, Masks
Traumas, Fears, Insecurities
Beliefs, Norms and Values
Talents, Qualities

The beauty of the growth ring model is that it explores the pathway to personal growth completely and quickly. From the ring of environment (and certainly what you don’t want to talk about), to the ring of traumas, insecurities and patterns that have arisen and are context-independent. About patterns and triggers, needs and qualities that may be seen. It was Ralph himself who came back to his role in the family and the parallel with the situation in his team. And a question-behind-the-question that had much more to do with how he can give himself recognition, and trust it, without having to work very hard to do so. And the answer that lies at the core, the heart of the growth rings model. That recognition and acceptance can be found with yourself.

Staying in touch with yourself.

Becoming more aware when you are out of touch and knowing how you do this unconsciously. Becoming aware of your own ways in which you block yourself. With the goal of staying more balanced in yourself, so you can experience more peace in contact.

Would you like to know more about how executive coaching practice can help you? And would you like to get started with your issue(s), then sign up here for a free introductory meeting.

Picture of Marijne van den Kieboom

Marijne van den Kieboom

Executive Coach, Leiderschapstrainer en Psycholoog. Ik empower missie-gedreven organisaties en leiders, zoals jij.