The doorknob moment

In the last ten years there have been many, many moments where a client and I have finished the session and as they’ve gone to leave the room has turned to me and said “just one last thing”. During my coach training, I learned there is a name for this…The doorknob moment, or sometimes known as a doorknob confession as clients often drop a bombshell or reveal the most extraordinary intimacies just as their hand was on the door ready to leave.

Why do people open up right at the end of a session?

I believe it’s a combination of factors that mean folks open up – either at all or specifically in a doorknob moment. Maybe the trust has been built sufficiently that the person can open up. This can happen surprisingly quickly! Maybe they are embarrassed and want to tell you with no time to explore it. Perhaps it’s taken time to think about what’s going on.

I like to think that during the session the person has cleared their mind sufficiently that the real issue bothering them is able to be seen. Whatever the reason I believe it stems from the person feeling heard. By opening up and starting to talk and having the space to do it they are able to find their own voice. That’s the magic of listening to others and it can be life-changing for that person.

Using the doorknob moment to take action

I was talking about this phenomenon in the Mental Health First Aid course I recently attended. As I described it, one of the other participants interpreted it slightly differently. They said that we listen until the other person is ready to turn the doorknob and open the door to take action. Wow. I really like the image that this conjures in my mind.

How do you get other people to open up?

Whether it’s your child who has something bothering them or a friend who keeps alluding to something they want to talk about, sometimes people want to open up. But how do you get them to open up? The truth is, you can’t, they have to want to. The key is breaking down barriers, which although it can take some training as a coach or therapist, we all have that friend who gets you to open up even if you had no intention of doing so! The beauty is that you never know when this is going to occur, it’s a feeling rather than a specific moment.

Building trust

Building up trust with the person you are talking to is the most fundamental thing you can do. It’s about creating a space where someone feels safe enough to risk telling the truth about themselves and know they won’t be judged or shamed. Some people find it difficult to feel safe in the presence of another person, perhaps in the past they have shared something and been rejected, shamed or punished. The invitation to allow yourself to be known is like a double-edged sword. We long to express our deep, personal thoughts and feelings, but we dread the negative consequences we’re used to experiencing when we do so. The psyche protects itself by only allowing access to material that has already been processed and is, therefore, safe to be known.  In all cases, the person talking is required to be vulnerable and they need to trust the person listening.

Choose your moment

Lots of people choose to have conversations in the car – no awkward eye contact as well as a captive audience. My eldest daughters often choose their doorknob moment to be the moment that they are about to fall asleep. Similarly to a coaching session, I as the coach/mum have to make a decision to decide whether we need to extend the conversation or ask the other person if we can come back to it another day. I have to say that I normally extend unless there is a risk for/to the other person. This is because the act of voicing the issue is often enough for them to reflect and take action. Whenever you choose to do it, it’s crucial that this moment should be one-on-one and uninterrupted.

Make it all about them

This isn’t the moment to offer advice, or to assume what they are thinking/talking about e.g. “it seems to be that you are saying/feeling this…” – this is their moment to think without interruption and to feel really heard – almost impossible in the world we live in (especially if you are a parent!!). It’s not just about getting people to open up and talk, but it’s about allowing people the space to become conscious of the stuff they don’t necessarily want to open up about.

Emotion is good

I was helping someone prepare for an interview the other day and she asked how she should answer the question ‘how do you deal with angry customers’ my answer was that most people just need to feel heard – they might need to rant – remember they aren’t ranting at you, you are just holding the space. This is true also for crying. My advice would be to always have a pack of tissues ready. I will never forget bursting into tears in my supervisor’s office whilst at university and he only had a piece of paper for me to wipe my tears ha!

You don’t have to fix the person, hug them or anything, you only have to be there.

This was the moment in the Mental Health First Aid course that was most helpful for me, all we have to do is be there in order to help someone else. No other skills required.


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