Legacy Pearls: Uncovering the Secret Stuff

Legacy coaches™ want to know the secret stuff, emotional material that contains the values to be threaded through the person’s legacy quilt. Sometimes our efforts will meet with a resounding thud at best, hostility or dogma at worst. Expect setbacks, but don’t give up.

In order to get to the “secret stuff ”—the value-laden material—we sometimes need to start in the safety of the conversational suburbs and work in toward the core of the person’s experience. Sometimes this strategy requires nothing more than our ability to remain silent and aware of the “hiccup” in their conversation—a pause, a repetition— that signals an important value has just been, or is about to be, revealed, and knowing how to respond appropriately. But sometimes, more proactive facilitation is needed. That’s when it’s important to employ one or more communication strategies that will not only spark life review and recontextualization, but enhance our ability to interpret what we hear.

Ask open-ended core questions.
Open-ended questions spark the search for organic legacy. The questions are open-ended because the answers don’t seek facts. They rely on interpretation, memory and values. Since the same questions can elicit different responses on different days, there are not right or wrong answers. In fact, as the elderly recontextualize patches of memory that are forming their legacy quilt, answers should differ. An attentive legacy coach helps them stitch together these fragments into a coherent and meaningful whole.

Here is a portfolio of core open-ended questions that can be used in the discovery of legacy. Listen for the values expressed in almost every sentence of the answers.

Who was the most significant person in your life when you were growing up?

What was the biggest obstacle your family had to overcome?

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Your greatest disappointment?

If you could change anything at any time in your life, what would it be?

Harvest responses to open-ended questions.

Listen for repeated details, people or entire stories. Ask follow-up questions.

How did his actions affect other events in your life?

How were you able to cope with such a loss?

What would you do about it if you could?

Listen for values.
When someone recounts an experience, that person is relaying actions by characters in a story. And those characters are doing certain things that are either noble or not.

“Her husband was sick for 20 years. And for 20 years she did the grocery shopping, took care of him, raised their kids.”

What are the values in that statement? Profound loyalty. Dedication. Sense of duty. Good work ethic. Statements like this one offer clues to a person’s legacy. You might ask:

How has your life reflected some of those values?

In what way have those values become part of your life?

How would you like your legacy to reflect some of these things?