The Critical Importance of Timing

Timing: It's important to  get it right!

Timing: It’s important to get it right!

Do you remember the lyrics in the song ‘Send in the Clowns’? Isn’t it rich? Isn’t it queer? Losing my timing this late, in my career”.In Executive Coaching (and in managing generally), timing is an important consideration. In relation to managing people, a central question is when is the employee or the client ‘ready’ for an intervention? Dr. Geoff Pelham (UCD Lecturer) captured this as follows: ‘Right’, may not mean right now”. To bring this idea alive, here’s a recent case (client name/details have been changed).

First Meeting: Sheila made a strong initial impact through her physical presence. She was statuesque and immaculately dressed. As the first session got underway, she wanted to know about my ‘approach’ and qualifications, making it clear that she would decide whether we’d work together. Most new clients are nervous; the initial session, in particular, can be daunting. Yet it seemed that Sheila was exhibiting more than the usual level of anxiety – perhaps a signal that she was protecting herself? I made a mental note to return to this idea later – after we’d built rapport.

Nervous Coach: Her questioning had made me nervous and I moved around in the chair, unable to get comfortable. I wondered if she had a similar impact on others or if it was my confidence which felt threatened? Perhaps this was what psychotherapists call counter-transference, an unconscious communication from the client which suggested her own anxiety? I spoke about my normal way of working, trying to avoid defensiveness. To reduce the formality, I made coffee and we chatted about coaching as a concept, the underpinning design and timeframes. Prior to the meeting, I was impressed when I’d read Sheila’s CV and mentioned this. At that point, she began to visibly relax, settled back into the seat, smiled and stretched out, almost cat-like. When I said: “I’m always a bit nervous meeting new clients”, we both laughed. Sheila said she’d been very nervous coming to meet me – but wasn’t sure exactly why.

Cycling Back: Much later we were able to return to that initial ‘clue’ about Sheila being defensive. She told me about a father who was unrelenting in his criticism and how it had left an indelible mark – a lifelong dread of being evaluated. Yet, there were many qualities which her father possessed that Sheila admired. She‘d learnt a lot from her dad and also inherited a substantial sum of money which allowed her choose a career she was interested in but which didn’t deliver a high income. For many years Sheila had felt a ‘contradiction’ (and quite a bit of guilt) about “not fully loving her dad”. She admired her father while, at the same time, carried a strong discomfort based on an overall sense that she’d never fully ‘measured up’ to his expectations. Sheila eventually came to a balanced view of the role her father played in her life and was able to reconcile these contradictory feelings.

Correct Timing: If that initial clue about Sheila being defensive had been tabled in the first session (despite the fact that it later proved to be correct), the coaching project would never have gotten off the ground. It’s not just humour that depends on good timing! For some people, this may seem like quite a minor point and hardly represents ‘breakthrough’ thinking. But it’s not a small point for me. Historically, I had prematurely raised hunches, sometimes ‘challenging’ clients before the relationship was robust enough to withstand this. While bravery has a role in Executive Coaching (and in managing people generally), it should not be at the expense of derailing a potential relationship. Where issues emerge and the timing is inappropriate to address this, I normally make a physical note. Having it noted allays the anxiety that I might forget the issue and therefore not add full value. Overall point = sometimes, being clever means knowing when to say nothing. In Yalom’s descriptive term ‘strike when the iron is cold’ (2005). Q: Is there anything in this ‘timing’ issue for the way you manage or coach?


PS: Lighter Moment (courtesy of Nicola Horgan who has a robust sense of humour)

Everyone knows that in today’s business MARKETING is crucially important.However, people often ask for a simple explanation of this term. Well, here it is:

* You’re a woman and you see a handsome guy at a party.You go up to him and say, “I’m fantastic in bed.” That’s Direct Marketing.

* You’re at a party with a bunch of friends and see a handsome guy. One of your friends goes up to him and, pointing at you, says, “She’s fantastic in bed.” That’s Advertising.

* You see a handsome guy at a party. You go up to him and get his telephone number.The next day you call and say, “Hi, I’m fantastic in bed.” That’s Telemarketing.

* You see a guy at a party; you straighten your dress. You walk up to him and pour him a drink.You say, “May I?” and reach up to straighten his tie, brushing your breast lightly against his arm, and then say, “By the way, I’m fantastic in bed.” That’s Public Relations.

* You’re at a party and see a handsome guy. He walks up to you and says, “I hear you’re fantastic in bed.” That’s Brand Recognition.

*You’re at a party and see a handsome guy. He fancies you, but you talk him into going home with your friend. That’s a Sales Rep.

* Your friend can’t satisfy him so he calls you. That’s Tech Support.

* You’re on your way to a party when you realize that there could be handsome men in all these houses you’re passing. So you climb onto the roof of one situated towards the center and shout at the top of your lungs, “I’m fantastic in bed!” That’s Facebook.

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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