If you hang in there and coach someone for any length of time, you’ll reach a moment where you’re completely frustrated with the pace of change. You will feel like you have banged your head against a wall and it just won’t budge. The person is stuck, frozen. And you feel like screaming!

It goes without saying that it’s time to step back when that happens. Resist the temptation to yell and scream at your colleague or to give up, saying that coaching is just too hard. Instead, remember a couple of axioms of helping people change.

1. People get to change at their own pace and by their own choice. Sometimes we find that very frustrating. We’re investing time and energy in our colleague and want to see results, both for his sake and for the firm’s. Plus, most of us want to feel good about our coaching ability. A “stuck” client can threaten our carefully-nurtured opinion of ourselves as great professionals and top notch coaches.
2. People change based on their own compelling vision of the future. USC Philosophy professor Dallas Willard knows a lot about how people change. He argues that people need a personally-embraced vision to motivate change. They need to see something that gets them moving, that stirs them to say, “I want that! It’s worth it to me to make it happen.” Without that, many people just stall out as they pursue what everyone else wants for them.
3. People must choose to pursue the vision. This seems obvious, but many of us (myself included) have many motivating visions that we simply choose to ignore. It’s too hard, we’re too busy, we’re too stuck. Excuses abound, but in the end the result is the same: zip, nada. Willard speaks of the absolute necessity of making it our solemn intention to chase that vision if we’re going to make progress. You know someone has done this when they are willing to give up something from the past – a belief, a pattern of time investment, a position of status, a relationship. As my colleague Dave Wondra says, “To create something new, something must be destroyed.”
4. People need help to know how to move forward. After a colleagues sees a better future for herself and makes the choice to pursue it, she will need practical help in taking steps toward her dream. Now is the time for brainstorming, advice, and tips. She’s ready. She’s not stuck anymore and she’s probably open to what you can contribute.

So look at your “stuck” colleague. Take a step back and ask:
– Does he have a vivid picture of a better future painted for him? Do his eyes light up when he talks about it? If not, you can help by asking questions to help clarify that vision.
– Has he put a stake in the ground and made a clear choice about pursuing that vision? Has he made some sort of dramatic departure from his old path as evidence? If not, you can help by asking him what he must give up to pursue his dream – and helping him decide if it’s worth it to him.
– Does he know what to do next? Does he have a practical plan for taking the next step in the right direction? If not, you can help him brainstorm and choose tactics that feel right to him.

How about you? What works for you when you’re trying to help someone get unstuck?