“What to do with a client that may have addiction issues” Part 5 – Acknowledging change, conflict and collateral damage.

Executive Coaching and the Recovering Executive
“What to do with a client that may have addiction issues”
Part 5
Acknowledging change, conflict and collateral damage. Working with the client on moving forward on their recovery plan, keeping in mind that every day the client must work on repairing whatever collateral damages has been caused by the addiction.

Character defects, broken relationships, aggression, co-dependency, enmeshment, manipulation, enabling, all are characteristics of addiction. In facing character defects, I use my ‘ally’ in recovery coaching; the 12-steps. Namely steps four through ten:
• Moral inventory of ourselves.
• Admit the exact nature of our wrongs.
• Be entirely ready to remove all these defects of character.
• Be willing to make amends to persons we have harmed
• Make amends wherever possible, except when to do so would injure others.
• When we are wrong promptly admit it.

Embracing change without out relapsing
The 12 steps are not the only tools for a recovery coach to use. When it comes to the wide range of changes that can occur in a client’s recovery lives, anything that shifts the status quo – negative or positive – is known to exacerbate feelings of insecurity, vulnerability and other emotions. For many addicts, their feelings are at an unconscious or subconscious level, because for many years they have altered these feelings with a substance. The coaching client may just feel uncomfortable, upset or off-balance, but have no idea on how to verbalize these feelings. It is often very hard for them to identify feelings of insecurity, fear, vulnerability or any other emotions.
Acknowledge change, and acknowledge that change creates conflict
Change of any sort, precipitates interpersonal conflicts that may flow from these unrecognized fears and emotions. Gaining increased awareness of what is happening for our client doesn’t stop their ability to resist it. Sometimes these related emotions overwhelm our clients and contribute to the eruption of unnecessary conflict, chaos or even relapse. Here is a story about a client I had that was working through her own change:

I had a client, a smart doctor in private practice with four years of recovery under her belt. She was willing to look at the collateral damage her addiction had caused in her practice. Let’s call her Grace. Grace was a strong, controlling person as assessed by her LIFO survey. She also concentrated on building a team around her, and was very focused on the well being of the employees and other doctors in her practice.

For years, during her addiction, Grace ran her practice like a bully, forcing her ideas on everyone, and not asking for opinions. After her all, it was her practice. Now, she sees that this behavior didn’t work so well. She now avoids conflict at all costs; because she does not want to return to her controlling behaviors from the past. She is unable to strike a happy medium. We discussed what a happy medium would like. In this discussion, Grace saw that she still had to be the leader, but did not know how to be a sober leader.

So we worked on embracing conflict in a positive way. Some of the questions I asked were:
• What about you, what surrounding you is changing?
• What about it are you resisting or unsettled about?
• What does your reaction to this change tell you about how you feel in this situation?
• How would you describe the emotions you are experiencing at these times?
• If you haven’t mentioned a fear of some sort, what fear(s) if any, do you have about these changes?
• In what ways may you be taking out your unsettled thoughts and feelings on others?
• What is important to you, in this particular situation?
• How would you rather be and be seen during these times of change?
• In what ways can you manage the change that aligns with the recovery image of yourself?

Grace comes into conflict continuously with the Director of Operations for the practice, who is also her son. She wants him to take more of the managerial aspects of the practice, but she doesn’t necessarily think he is doing it the way she wants him to run the practice. So in breaking down typical conflicts with her son I ask these questions:
• What do you know about the way you habitually respond to your son that you would like to change?
• How have these habits helped you in the past?
• How have these habits not helped you?
• In your last dispute, what reaction of yours was the most counterproductive?
• What could you have said or done differently that would be more in keeping with how you prefer to interact? Or more in keeping with your recovery plan?
• What kept you from responding that way?
• What do you want to learn about to be able to respond in positive ways when you are in conflict?
• What may you need to learn that will help you cope more effectively in your adjustment to change?

I asked Grace to keep a copy of the answers to these questions on hand, and review them before every meeting with her son. Grace also recognized that her son had adopted her controlling behavior of presenting to the staff. She blamed herself for teaching her son this dysfunctional way of communicating. She requested I give a workshop on the Eight Essentials Steps of Conflict Resolution to the top tier group of doctors and administrators of the practice to disseminate the correct approach to looking at conflict as an ally instead of an adversary.

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