Shadow Sabotage: How you stop your clients taking action
3 min read

Shadow Sabotage: How you stop your clients taking action

Shadow Sabotage: How you stop your clients taking action

As a consultant, trainer, coach or business adviser you have one primary goal: To get your clients to see a clear solution to their problem and take action.

However, many of us sabotage ourselves - and our clients - without even realising it. We make it harder for clients to understand and believe in our recommendations. Harder for them to take action.

When does this happen? If your 'shadow rescuer' gets in the way.

I walk my kids to school most mornings. On the route is a narrow downhill path. My twin boys are 4 years old - they're not the fastest, even on their scooters. Often, behind us, is a growing group of frustrated teenagers trying to get to their senior school. I used to get stressed by this, telling my kids to move to one side and make space for those who want to get past us.

Then I realised something. I wasn't helping these teenagers by solving the problem for them. I was making myself feel better, at the expense of their opportunity to learn. My shadow, a deeply unconscious need to help & be liked by other people, was making me uncomfortable with the situation. Pushing me to rescue them from their frustration.

These days I recognise this and force myself to leave them be. If they want to get past us they can ask us to move (and we always do). By not rescuing them they learn to step forward and ask for what they need. They learn to see the world differently, and take action. I sit with my discomfort as it better helps them.

This same dynamic can play out in your client work.

To get clients to see the world differently they need to understand your insights & recommendations. Understanding requires them to think. To mentally organise what you tell them in a way that works for them. Without that, they won't remember what you've said. And if they don't understand or remember, they certainly won't take action.

Imagine you’ve presented some killer insights or a new framework you're proud of. You've done a great job. This is a game-changing moment - you've smashed it. You sit back and wait for their applause...

But then you see confused faces. Intense concentration. They are struggling to understand, struggling to internalise what you've told them and figure out what it means for them.

At this point you may feel a pull to step in and say more. Their challenges, their frustration - it's hard for you to sit with. You have the urge to rescue them, to explain again. Or to show off your expertise. After all, you're the expert advisor.

But, just like the frustrated teenagers, this doesn't help them. They need space to think through what you've presented, ask questions, and come to a clear understanding in a way that works for them. With that, you have a chance for them to remember and take action.

If your shadow rescuer steps in, you sabotage their thought process and stop them understanding. If they don't understand your recommendation, there's little chance they'll take action. You have failed to get to the outcome you wanted for them.

So, how can you avoid this happening?

When someone is struggling to grasp a concept or accept a recommendation and you feel tempted to 'save' them, the first step is to stop. Breathe. Think about what you feel the urge to say.

Ask yourself: Is this going to help them understand or take action? If not, who is this serving - them, or me? Why am I wanting to step in?

With that comes self-awareness, a recognition of the role your shadow may be playing, of what it may be pushing you to say. And with that, you can choose to say something different, or nothing at all.

And that might just give them the space they need to get clarity on your recommended solution to their problem, and to take action with confidence.

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