Every parent knows the fright of having a sick infant who can’t tell you where it hurts. Thank goodness, pediatricians have creative ways of figuring out what’s ailing babies.

Being unable to describe “where it hurts” isn’t limited to tiny humans.Sometimes adult coaching clients can’t put words to their painfully stuck places either.So, when you’re in those occasional coaching relationships with people who can’t quite articulate the challenge they’re trying to move beyond, here are some options to try.

Plant seeds, and wait for germination – Introverted persons tend to rehearse ideas before they can share them.  Ask sharpening questions around the edges of what they can already put into words.  Give time for the picture to come into focus.  After all, timing is everything in comedy and coaching.

Draw the issue – Visual learners may have to “see it to say it.”  A former doctoral student of mine became so frustrated by his inability to describe his dissertation idea that he decided to drop out of his graduate program.  Playing a hunch, I asked him to make a last-ditch effort to sketch a picture of his dissertation.  He returned with an eight-sided mobile, hung it from the ceiling, looked at each side with me while detailing his writing plan, and then cruised through his dissertation without missing another beat.  Having visualized his paper, he wrote it easily.

Ask the Inner Circle – Ask stuck clients’ how spouses/best friends/workmates would describe the issue.  People who love us often can see where it hurts better than we can.

Dream the Question – If clients lock down, ask them to “dream the question.”  Guide them to prime their unconscious minds by describing as much of their situation as they can at bedtime, and then literally “sleeping on it.”  Some coachees, particularly compulsive types, can dream their question.  Even better, some of them will dream their answer as well.   Mystics believe our dreams are God’s purest communication with us.

Be Patient – It may take commitment over time to clarify the primary stuck place.  If necessary, ask, listen, and play hunches…over and over again.

In your own coaching experience, what opens up coachees who can’t quite tell you where it hurts?