Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Paul Dunn, Psy.D.



"The doors of wisdom are never shut."

- Benjamin Franklin



Have you ever had the experience of being truly understood by another person?


As a Coaching Psychologist I have been and will continue to be committed to learning about the human experience and mastering ways to support and enrich the development of others. One major advantage to being so addicted to learning about human beings and how to support and serve them at the highest levels is that I often meet people who share similar missions and visions as mine.


Once in a while I get to experience a coach/psychologist/NLP practitioner who demonstrates an ability to get right to the heart of their clients situation/concern/problem/obstacle by asking a question or making a statement that deeply shifts the client’s perspective and changes the client’s experience for the better. Recently I was in the presence of a coach who was doing some live- demonstration-coaching who had this incredible ability to get right into the soul of her clients while she was working with them.


As a Neuro-Linguistic-Programmer, I am both fascinated by and interested in modeling such brilliance. I found myself looking for the patterns that this coach was using as she made her way into her client’s inner world.


The Coach

First of all, I would like to mention that the coach I observed, Judy Talesnick, has MS (Multiple Sclerosis). I don’t know if her physical handicap puts her clients off guard to the powerful coach she is or not. Her tone of voice is soft and her tempo is slow. She loves to laugh and is quick with a compliment.


She simply speaks the truth, asks questions, and listens. But there is something special in the way that she interacts with her clients. She conveys a level of honor and genuine respect with a sense of excitement to be interacting with them that caused me to feel goose bumps multiple times as I observed her interactions.


I would like to share some of the patterns that I observed from this coach as possible behaviors that all of us can (and at times already do) use with the people we work with and live with so as to increase our ability to be an individual/leader/lover/friend that can get to the heart of the matter and provide others with an experience of genuine caring and understanding that both changes and challenges them to be the people they are meant to be.


The Encounter

One of the clients that Judy worked with was feeling an overwhelming sense of stuck-ness because she gave up her career two years prior so that she could move back home and take care of her dying parents. Her mother recently passed away and now she was left taking care of her father and feeling a growing sense of isolation and loneliness because of the decision she made two years earlier.


Judy listened intently to her client and made a complimentary statement to the client for all that she has done for her parents. The client got noticeably angry and stated that she does not want to be complimented for her actions, rather she felt that this was her duty. Judy asked in the most curious way, “why.” “Why do you not allow others to congratulate you for all that you have done for your parents?” The client began to talk around the issue using a very fast tempo with many words justifying her sense of duty and her objection to being complimented on her actions, but among the many words that she used, she said the word, “resentment,” once. Judy waited for the client to finish her long statement and then in the most empathic clear voice she said, “I would feel resentment if I had to give up my life to take care of my parents.” (And after a long pause) she asked her client, “could you forgive yourself for feeling such resentment?” There was a long silence and then the client who was now noticeably softened by Judy’s statement and question, spoke with a slight quiver in her voice. She whispered back to Judy that she feels so guilty for having such resentment.


Judy, without missing a beat, said in a slow and deliberate voice (using the client’s name), “you have forgotten how wonderful you are.” A long silence followed and then the client re-emerged with a newfound sense of strength and spiritual alignment. She said to Judy that she wants to have some time for herself and Judy said (again using the client’s name and speaking in a slow and deliberate manner) “yes, you need to take care of you.”


And then the discussion moved in the direction of brainstorming ways in which the client could have some guilt free time each day away from taking care of her father.


The Patterns

Some of the key communication patterns that I observe Judy utilizing during this short fifteen minute coaching demonstration were as follows: First, Judy was “Other-oriented.” This means that she was not focused on her own agenda or on winning, rather she was focused on understanding “who” the client was and “how” the client made sense of her situation.


A second pattern I noticed was that Judy gave the client space to express herself. She would backtrack and rephrase statements, but mainly she allowed silence to occur. If she interrupted the client, it was only to shock the client’s thinking so that she (Judy) could introduce a statement or question that would challenge the client to expand her understanding of her situation (or model of the world).


A third pattern I noticed was that when Judy stated that she (herself) would feel resentment if she gave up her life to take care of her parents, she was challenging the client’s belief that it is horrible for a daughter to feel such a negative feeling when talking about doing such a good and loving thing for her parents. By providing the client with the idea that it is normal and okay to have negative emotions, the client was able to begin the process of holding her sense of resentment with her sense of love for her parents rather than believing that she could only feel one way or the other. All feelings are valid and useful in the right context.


A fourth pattern that I observed was that Judy validated the client. When she told the client that she has forgotten how wonderful she was, she was able to get the client to remember “who” she was and to feel deserving of getting what she wanted. Finally, Judy focused the client on achieving the outcome that she desired. The fact that the client’s model of the world was opened by Judy’s intervention allowed the client to begin imagining actually having what she wanted. This lead them into the brainstorming and problem solving process.


Suggested Experiment

This week, try finding three people who could use this type of heart to heart experience from you. Focus your energy on gaining genuine understanding of the other person. Work at trying to understand who they are and how they are representing their situation to themselves. Trump your desire to judge or fix with understanding. As you interact with them, allow space between statements and questions to occur. Put yourself into their shoes and make a statement that validates the appropriateness of their emotions in their context. Then validate them, remind them that they are wonderful. Be prepared for some magic (and maybe some goose bumps). Finally, after all that, focus them on what they really want rather then on what they don’t want. See what happens.


Paul E. Dunn, Psy.D. is a Leadership and Personal Development Coach.  He supports the development of executives, managers, small business owners, and individuals who deeply desire to actualize their full potential in and out of work while having a ball creating and engaging in a life full of value and meaning.  He brings his training in Neurolinguistic Programming, Ericksonian Hypnosis, psychology, coaching and over 16 years of Corporate Sales Management experience to his coaching clients.  Dr. Dunn offers a free monthly e-newsletter that focuses on leadership and personal development.  If you would like to subscribe to his free e-newsletter go to the fourth page of his website.  Dr. Paul can be reached by phone at (856) 228-2103 or by e-mail at His website is



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