CoachingExcellence

January 1, 2017
Dear Coach,

Welcome to my Blog. Here you'll find essays I've written about coaching. Some of the questions I'm exploring are (1) What makes coaching work? (2) What helps coaches do their work well? (3) How do coaches continue to be masters of their profession? and (4) What the heck are those ICF coaching competencies, anyway?

My passion is helping coaches to be their best, so they can bring the best of coaching to their clients.

There's something here for all coaches, at all levels of experience. I’ll bet you'll learn something new, find a new perspective to consider, or just encounter a new way to say what you already know from experience. It’s all good, and (probably) good for you, too! .
You're welcome to browse - I'm sure you'll find something that resonates with your experience. You can also search on Categories and Tags for specific topics.

If you find something that you enjoy, please share with your colleagues and friends, and copy the link so you can find it again. Leave a comment if you’d like. You just might spur a new essay about something I’ve learned from you!

It's my privilege to offer my thoughts on coaching.. Enjoy your reading!

Sue McLeod, PCC
Essays and information about the skills and competencies of coaching.

What to do with those chatty clients

Most coaches I talk with are stymied by what I’ll call “chatty clients”. These are the clients who give long answers with lots of detail, dominate the conversation, don’t breath between sentences, ramble all over the place, and don’t stay focused on the topic at hand. If you let them, they will talk for the whole coaching session.

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Be provocative. Break the pattern. 

 

I first ran into this type of client when I was still in my coach training.

Like many of you, I had to submit recordings for evaluation and feedback. We were graded on a scale of 1 to 10 (low to high) based on our demonstration of coaching skills and use of the tools we were taught.

I was mortified to receive a score of “1” on my first recording! And, to be fair, my evaluator was being generous. You see, I had submitted a 30-minute recording in which the client did all of the talking. Yes, really!  OK, maybe I said “Hello” and “Same time next week?” but other than that the client talked, non-stop, for the whole session.

I knew I was struggling with this client. I couldn’t t get a word in edge-wise, wasn’t sure how to interrupt, when to interrupt, or what to do if I did interrupt. I felt completely helpless and didn’t know how to change this dynamic. 

Is that how it is for you?

To capture that helpless feeling, I’ve created a variant on my favorite coaching acronym (WAIT - Why Am I Talking) for coaches who listen too much - WAIL (Why Am I Listening)

With more experience and the gift of listening to other coaches doing their work, I’ve noticed some patterns. While it would be fun to consider how we can change the client to be less verbose, I’m more interested in the coach. What is the coach doing that allows or encourages the client to speak in excess? What could the coach do differently to create balance in the conversation between coach and client?

If you have a chatty client, record a coaching session and listen. Listen carefully to what you say.  Here are a few things I hear that encourage chatty clients to chat even more:

1. Ambiguous questions: While I love a question that is not only open but wide open (like What are you noticing? or What’s important to you today?), these types of questions are also ambiguous.  If you ask me what I’m noticing, I can share all kinds of things that I’m noticing - my thoughts about… well, just about anything, my emotions, my physical body, what I see you doing, the temperature of the room, the fact that the story I just told reminded me of another thing that is frustrating, etc. If I’m a chatty client, I could start down one of these paths and it could be awhile before you can get me to focus again.  

Try this instead: Ask more pointed and specific questions that create boundaries around what you are asking the client to talk about. For example “What are you noticing about the emotions you feel right now?” or  “Given the goals you have for the coaching, what challenge are you facing this week that you’d like to focus on?” or  “Would you like to start the session by sharing your successes for 5 minutes before we start coaching?”  Yes, these are more directive than the wide open questions. But, my guess is, the chatty client could use a little direction!

2. Restating what you hear the client say: Restating and reframing are great coaching tools. The client hears themselves in a new way when their coach repeats their words. However, I’ve noticed that chatty clients use these as a jumping off point to continue talking. After the coach interrupts and say “What I heard you say is….” the client immediately responds with “That’s right and…” continues the story.

Try this instead: Resist the urge to repeat what the client just said. I know, I know… it’s the easiest and safest way to interrupt a client who is talking a lot. I get that. But if it’s just encouraging them to talk more, why continue using that coaching move?  Ask a question or make an observation instead. Here’s the challenge though. Your question or observation has to take them out of the story. An information gathering question won’t do it. An observation about the story won’t do it. You have to shift their thinking to something else, and that might require you to be a little provocative.  “I hear you’re frustrated with your coworker and that’s causing you to act like a jerk. How does is it for you to be that frustrated?” or “I’ve been listening for a few minutes now and I’m completely lost in your story. What is it you really want me to know about this?”

I know these types of moves are hard to make, especially if you and your client have an established pattern of 'client gets to talk while coach gets to listen'. So first, listen to your coaching to see what is happening. If your hear ambiguous questions or restating that invites the client to talk more, take a risk and try something new.

Be provocative. Break the pattern. I have confidence that you’ll know what to do; I’ll be curious to hear how your client reacts.

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Creating Silence

 

What stops you in your tracks?

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The scene in the photo above literally stopped my in my tracks. I was hustling from Georgetown's building on Mass Ave. to meet a friend for dinner and passed this opening between the buildings. Stunned by the glowing purple sunset, I stopped and (of course!) had to capture it with my camera. There's nothing like a gorgeous sunset to take my breath away and create a pause in my thinking and my purpose.

Powerful questioning in a coaching conversation can do the same. They can be magical. When your questions are working, they seem simple and effortless. It's not just the words we use. It's the pace and timing, and the intention behind the words. It's not just one question, either. It's a group of questions that respond to the client, build on a theme, or shift their perspective in a new direction.

And, sometimes, it's what we don't say or don't do that creates what our client needs - silence.

I was reminded of this the last time I was in DC, staying with friends and teaching coaching.

I was playing “What’s That?” with the precious two-year old son of my friends. I had turned the tables on him. Instead of being on the receiving end of his incessant questions, I was questioning him. He quickly answered when I pointed to his socks, pants, shirt, hair, and nose, but was stumped when I touched his forehead. He paused, looked around, and there was an unusual silence. I resisted the temptation to tell him the answer or move on to his arms and fingers.

After a what seemed like an endless pause, he started to speak… “ffff…”. Another pause, then “fffooorrr…”.

More quiet and glances around the room. Suddenly he looked back at me and said “fore….head!” with a big smile.  I was delighted! And grateful I had allowed the silence for him to think and create a new connection between his forehead and its name.

The next day I was with a group of students, observing their coaching. One coach had the good fortune to ask a question that the client didn’t answer right away. To her credit, the coach endured the silence and waited. In our debrief discussion, the coach admitted that she was mortified, thinking that the client didn’t understand the question. The client countered that the question was a tough one. She needed the time to think.  It was the perfect opportunity to remind the students that clients will tell you, pretty quickly, if they don’t understand your question.

The questions that invoke silence have taken them to a place where there isn’t an easy answer.

When you have the good fortune to create that silence, take a deep breath, stay connected to your client, and wait. What’s happening in the silence is more valuable than anything you can say

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Creating Silence


The scene in the photo above literally stopped my in my tracks. I was hustling from Georgetown's building on Mass Ave. to meet a friend for dinner and passed this opening between the buildings. Stunned by the glowing purple sunset, I stopped and (of course!) had to capture it with my camera. There's nothing like a gorgeous sunset to take my breath away and create a pause in my thinking and my purpose.

Powerful questioning in a coaching conversation can do the same. They can be magical. When your questions are working, they seem simple and effortless. It's not just the words we use. It's the pace and timing, and the intention behind the words. It's not just one question, either. It's a group of questions that respond to the client, build on a theme, or shift their perspective in a new direction.

And, sometimes, it's what we don't say or don't do that creates what our client needs - silence.

I was reminded of this the last time I was in DC, staying with friends and teaching coaching.

I was playing “What’s That?” with the precious two-year old son of my friends. I had turned the tables on him. Instead of being on the receiving end of his incessant questions, I was questioning him. He quickly answered when I pointed to his socks, pants, shirt, hair, and nose, but was stumped when I touched his forehead. He paused, looked around, and there was an unusual silence. I resisted the temptation to tell him the answer or move on to his arms and fingers.

After a what seemed like an endless pause, he started to speak… “ffff…”. Another pause, then “fffooorrr…”.

More quiet and glances around the room. Suddenly he looked back at me and said “fore….head!” with a big smile.  I was delighted! And grateful I had allowed the silence for him to think and create a new connection between his forehead and its name.

The next day I was with a group of students, observing their coaching. One coach had the good fortune to ask a question that the client didn’t answer right away. To her credit, the coach endured the silence and waited. In our debrief discussion, the coach admitted that she was mortified, thinking that the client didn’t understand the question. The client countered that the question was a tough one. She needed the time to think.  It was the perfect opportunity to remind the students that clients will tell you, pretty quickly, if they don’t understand your question.

The questions that invoke silence have taken them to a place where there isn’t an easy answer.

When you have the good fortune to create that silence, take a deep breath, stay connected to your client, and wait. What’s happening in the silence is more valuable than anything you can say.

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Swimming Upstream - From Giving Advice To Asking Powerful Questions

 Swimming Upstream - From Giving Advice to  Asking Powerful Questions

 

Alewives are fish who spawn in fresh water and live their lives in the ocean (like salmon and other anadromous fish).  Each year they make the journey from the ocean, up rivers and streams to their spawning grounds. Fish ladders, like the one in the photo, provide a pathway around man-made obstacles like dams and roads. It is amazing to watch these small fish swim up this ladder and fight against the strong current of the rushing water.

I sometimes feel that learning to be a coach is a similar journey going against much that has made us successful in other work that we do.

I was reminded of one of the struggles in my journey to become a coach, just last week.

I’m on the phone with a client, listening to her and doing my coaching thing. At the same time, I’m aware of what’s going on in my head. You would think that after 15 years of coaching my problem-solving brain would know when to take a break! But no, it’s chattering away today with brilliant solutions and insisting that I share these with my client. It’s confident that one of these will be the magic key to unlock what’s holding her back.

It’s hard some days to suppress my years of math, computer programming and consulting when finding THE answer was the objective. Hmmm… Could the Sudoku puzzles I work on everyday also be reinforcing this preference?

I’m also aware that I’ve defined my value in relationships by what information, ideas or solutions I can offer to others.  Even the cards and gifts I give have to be “just the right thing”. Moving away from problem-solving was the biggest transformation for me when I became a coach. And the chatter in my head tells me it hasn’t disappeared. It is just held at bay when I’m intentional about my role in the conversation.

I’m not alone in this. Many of my students come from problem-solving professions and struggle to understand the coach’s role. I’ve come to believe that learning to coach requires un-learning how we relate to others and redefining the value we bring to the relationship.  In order to truly step into a coaching mindset, we must shift from being the one to find that magic key and become the one creating the opportunity for the client to find that key for themselves.

I’m noticing that just writing this is bringing up some anxious thoughts: “But that’s no fun! It’s too passive, too much in the background!”; “What about all the stuff I know that would be so helpful for my client to know, too?”; “Who am I if I don’t share a few brilliant solutions for my client?” It’s interesting to listen to these thoughts and notice what’s important to my ego!

I’m curious about what you learn about yourself when you listen to your anxiety about giving advice.

I like to think that I’m good at managing my inner problem-solver while coaching. I’ve learned to hear the chatter as input to my coaching, rather than as something to say out loud. To do that I need to stay centered and connected to my client. I need to tap into my curiosity. I need to shift my listening.

It might go something like this.

My client is taking about how she’s not being consistent in the pause practice she agreed to last time.  My problem-solving brain has ideas about how she could set an alarm, pair it with an existing habit, and a few other brilliant ideas for helping her to do this.

I take a deep breath and ask “What have you been noticing?”. I use this curious, open question to buy a little time and space for me to shift my listening.

Breath again. Shift my body to an open and curious stance.

“Maybe some structure would be helpful to her”, I think, as she continues describing her struggles. I’m pulling away from my specific solutions to consider the theme of what my problem-solving brain is saying.

Breath… listen…be curious.

Now I notice something new emerging in what my client is saying.

I tune in even more and stay curious. I keep breathing and wonder what does the client know already? Where is she now in her journey?

I hear judgment about how pausing is a waste of time, it’s a good idea but it feels weird to do. She’s doing it sometimes, but not sure she can do it when it matters. Hmmm, this isn’t about alarms to remind her, it’s about something deeper.

Here’s the place to put aside my brilliant ideas, and start asking questions.

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Are You Asking Enough Questions In Your Coaching?

Coach, Are you asking enough questions?

Not that there’s a quota or anything, but I’m curious about how many questions you’re asking in your coaching. I ask, you see, because I’ve recently listened to some coaching and noticed that there were lots of statements and just a few questions.  If coaching is an inquiry approach, what’s happened to all of your questions?

What am I hearing in place of questions?  

One thing that I hear is restating what the client said, without adding much to it.  This is often introduced with “Client, what I heard you say is …” followed by the same words that the client used. Often, the client responds with “Yes, that’s right.” and then continues their story.

You might think that this is a demonstration of “active listening”, and it’s true that the definition of the ICF Active Listening competency includes restating. But this competency asks you to do more than just restate what you hear, including

  • Sharing what you hear about the client’s goals, concerns, values and beliefs, which are often not expressed directly in their word
  • Sharing the essence or “bottom lining” the client’s communication that breaks them out of their long, descriptive story

The PCC Markers go a step further and ask you to “notice and inquire about” the client’s language, emotions, behaviors, and the clues that hide in their voice such as changes in tone, inflection or pace. 

This might sound like “Client, I heard you start talking more passionately and stridently as you described that situation. What emotion are you noticing are you tell that story?” or “Client, I heard you use the words “she’s driving me crazy”. What does that that mean for you in this situation?”

If restating, word for word, what you hear the client say is taking up time and space that could be used for questioning, you might be missing out on opportunities to create new awareness that comes from inquiring about and exploring what your client is saying, not just listening to them speak.

I invite you to notice how many questions you’re asking, and challenge you to shift the balance to more questions and fewer declarative statements.

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Artful Interrupting

In coaching, we talk and listen. We interrupt sometimes and stay silent at other times. How do we know when we’ve got the balance right, when we’re not letting the client talk too much, not interrupting at the wrong times, and when we aren’t taking up too much airtime ourselves?

The basic elements of any conversation - listening, speaking, interrupting, and staying silent. We use them all in coaching and each one isn’t hard to do. The art is knowing when.  When to listen and then listen some more? When to interrupt and insert something into the conversation? And what should you insert, a question or observation and how short or long should that take? When to allow for complete silence when neither you nor the client is speaking?

I wish there were some simple answers to this. I wish I could say that the coach should speak 25% of the time, or that the coach should always interrupt when the client has been talking for more than a minute. But, of course, coaching conversations are complex and unpredictable. More improv than script.

I think it’s helpful to go back to the basics and reground ourselves in the purpose of the coaching conversation and the role of the coach and client.

Here’s what I’ve come up with.

The purpose of the coaching conversation is for the client to make progress on the agenda they bring to the table, by creating new awareness or learning that allows them to move beyond their current thinking, and then commit to actions that will continue to move them forward after the coaching session is complete. This is done in the context of moving them towards the larger goals they set for themselves when they agreed to a coaching relationship.

The art of coaching is to partner with your client to create what she needs to make the progress she want to make.

The role of the client is to be very self-centered, to be thinking about herself, talking about herself, remembering her past, and imagining the future. 

The role of the coach is to be present and respond to the client while create the pathways to help the client to explore beyond their current thinking. The coach is keeping the discussion on track, and following the structure of “beginning, middle and end” of the coaching conversation. The coach also weaves together the current agenda with the client’s larger goals.

There’s no formula or algorithm that can describe what this sounds like. It’s improv, remember.

But here are some ideas of when the coach should be interrupting:

When the client has gotten off track. She said she wanted to talk about her boss, now she’s talking about a colleague. Interrupt to negotiate which path she wants to be on.  This is a quick trip back to Establishing the Coaching Agreement!

When you’ve heard the story before or she’s completed a cycle of logic that has her right where she started from. This is also a good time to interrupt and engage because your job is to help her find some new ways of thinking, not allow her to retrace the old paths.

When the client takes off talking before you’ve had a chance to set the agenda. Interrupt to create the structure that makes coaching a purposeful conversation - what’s the topic? what do you want from our conversation today? what’s important about that? what do you need to work on to make progress? where shall we begin?

And here are some times when you should refrain from speaking:

When you’ve asked a question and the client doesn’t answer right away. Don’t assume they didn’t understand and jump in to correct yourself. They’ll let you know if they’re confused. Silence usually means they are thinking, that they didn’t know the answer! This is a good thing. Give them as much silent time as they need to come up with an answer.

When you think of a great idea, that comes from your own experience, that you think the client “must know” or you believe will rock their world, and your tempted to share. Keep it to yourself for a little while. Reconnect with where your client is now, because being captured by your great idea has certainly taken you away from the present and your connection to the client. Ask another question or two. If your idea still has legs, share it with the client in no more than 2 sentences. Then ask them what they think about what you shared. Was it helpful? How can they use it to move them forward?

The best way to know how well you’re navigating a coaching conversation is to listen. Yes, that means to record a coaching conversation and listen.  What should you listen for? Great question. I’ll talk about that in my next post.

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Hey Coach, Where are you taking that client?

“Questions are the currency of coaching“ and asking questions is a fundamental skill of a coach. Our coaching artistry is expressed in the questions we ask, the questions we don’t ask. It is colored by how we ask and when we ask. It is shaped by the intention we bring to our questions and how we hold the responses our questions bring forth.

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When I was learning to coach, questions seemed awkward and unnatural. Now, when I’m coaching, the questions come easily and flow out of me, coming from the connection with my client. I ask questions that I don’t know the answer to and sit calmly, waiting to hear the response. Each question causes my client to pause, ponder, and discover something new. I am tuned in to her; questions arise from within me and, somehow, each is the perfect question to ask next. The session flies by, we are in perfect sync, new insights popping up at every turn. By the end of the session, my questions have caused profound transformation and my client is delighted.

WAIT!!!!  Oops - I’ve obviously wandered off into Coach Fantasy Land. Sorry about that!

To be honest, I’ve had my moments of coaching flow that feels like what I described above. Those are the moments we live for, aren’t they? The rest of the time, I can be artful in my questions with a calm and connected presence, in spite of what’

s going on inside my head and my own emotions.  It’s like meditation. The problem-solving and leading questions are in my stream of consciousness, but I let them float by without sharing them with my client.

By doing this, I stay in the flow of the conversation, making choices of where to allow the client to continue on her path and when to disrupt and shake things up.

The questions that disrupt the coaching flow are leading questions. When the coach asks a leading question, there’s a change in direction, a change in what the client thinks about. You can feel the energy shift. 

Because leading questions can have a big impact on the coaching conversation, they are important to understand.

What is a Leading Question?

A leading question is one that moves the client towards a specific answer or response. Here are some variations:

    • The question includes the desired response
      • “Would having an alarm ring every hour be a helpful reminder?”
    • The question suggests the desired response
      • “What would happen if you had an alarm ring every hour to remind you to pause?”
    • The question influences/manipulates the other to give the desired response
      • “I’ve heard that setting an alarm can be really helpful and it works for me. What do you think about trying that?”
    • The question eliminates a set of possible responses
      • “I see two options. Would it be helpful to use an alarm or to pause before you walk into a room ?”

These are simple examples and my assessment is that the coach is asking these questions as a disguise for advice she wants to give. I call these “faux questions” or “advice in the form of a question”.

The leading questions you ask might be a little more nuanced or cleverly worded. I invite you to reflect. Do you know what your leading questions sound like? Are you aware of the trigger that moves you to want to lead the client?

Isn’t Every Question a Leading Question?

When you get right down to it, all questions lead the client’s thinking in a particular direction. All questions are leading, to some extent.  

“What??”, you say. “Does Sue really mean that? What about all those beautiful “what” questions? Or the list of questions provided by Co-Active Coaching that Sue recommends so highly? How can they be considered leading questions?”

OK, maybe that’s a provocative statement. But consider the following:

The wonderful, open question “What do you want?” is asking the client to focus on the future, on themselves, on their desire - rather than on the past or present, on other people or the situation, or on what they don’t want or the story they are making up about the situation. 

“What are you noticing?” suggests they focus on their noticing, rather than somewhere else. 

Think about all of your favorite coaching questions. Might they be considered “leading” in some way?

The level of disruption our questions cause is related to the timing and our intention in asking the question. When you ask a disruptive or leading (but not a “faux”) question, consider the following: For what purpose are you leading the client in that direction? Is it aligned with the objective they set for the coaching session? Is it aligned with the larger coaching intention of creating awareness that supports the client’s development?  Are you leading them where they need to go? Are you taking the next step on the path, even if steering them to the right?  If you are in the flow, the question won’t feel “leading”.

If, on the other hand, the question abruptly change the direction of the conversation or is not in the flow, it will feel disruptive and leading. For example, if the client is revealing that what’s stopping them is a fear of betrayal and appearing weak, and your next question is “What do you think your boss wants from the meeting?”, your question is disrupting the flow.

Sometimes, this disruption is just what’s needed in the conversation. Sometimes, it’s not.

What are you choosing for the client when you ask a leading question that disrupts the flow of the conversation?

 

Interested in examining your coaching questions in a supportive community of learners?  Join my Coaching Master Class starting in May!  http://suemcleodcoaching.com/master-class.html

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Coaching Moves

You know I’m a big fan of the coaching competencies. I also know that there are 12 of them and many more PCC competency markers and it’s hard to keep them all in your head when you’re in a coaching conversation.

Each moment of a coaching conversation offers us a choice of what move to make next. Here are the basic moves we can make:

  • Ask a question
  • Offer an observation
  • Offer an assessment (observation + interpretation)
  • Paraphrase for clarity
  • Stay in silence

Any of these moves, when done in service to client and what they want from the coaching conversation, keep you firmly in the coach role.

(with gratitude to my fellow Georgetown Leadership Coaching faculty members who created this list)

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Make it a Habit

Make it a habit…

My friend and coaching buddy, Heidi Bellamente, and I have been working on our habits - We’re creating new ones, breaking old ones, and appreciating the ingrained habits that keeping us alive and on track. And we’ve learned a lot along the way.

Why focus on habits and what do they have to do with coaching?

First, the “why”.

My experiment in creating a new habit was my desire to be healthier and physically stronger. The beginning was simply saying “I need to start exercising!”. Simple to say, yes, but not easy to manifest. In fact, it turned out to be pretty complex. How does that simple statement transform into a gym membership, four completed 5Ks and a 5-mile trail race, a backpack filled with the right clothes and shoes, a personal trainer, a running app on my phone, and exercise being a part of my life, everyday?

By intentionally creating a new habit, I learned my own success formula. Working with Heidi, I learned that she’s not the same as me, and has her own unique ways of creating habits.

What does this have to do with coaching?

When our clients say “I need to…”, that is just the beginning of the journey. Sustained change, for individuals and groups, is more effective when the new behaviors become a habit. And we all have a unique success formula for creating habits.

So, what’s the coach’s role?

Here a hint - a couple of the PCC markers for the Designing Actions, Planning and Goal Setting, and Managing Progress and Accountability (D-P-M) competencies.

  • Coach assists the client to design what actions/thinking client will do after the session in order for the client to continue moving toward the client’s desired outcomes.

This seems simple enough on the face of it. But what if you knew that your client needed to put that action into the context of a big vision in order to be motivated?  Or, that your client gets freaked out by the big vision, and prefers to just map out a few next steps? Would your approach change if you knew that your client will do this new because you’re expecting them to, or might rebel unless it’s completely their own idea?

  • Coach invites or allows client to consider her/his path forward, including, as appropriate, support mechanisms, resources and potential barriers.

Hmm, this is a little more detailed than I would usually get. What, pray tell, needs to be considered in the “path forward”?  Think of all the things that get in the way of your good intentions. If you’re like me, it can be a long list! How will your client face and conquer what will get in their way? Again, it’s personal. Do they need to schedule it, be reminded, get the right equipment, track and measure progress, get feedback, find a community of support, expect resistance and plan a way through it, or something else?

  • Coach assists the client to design the best methods of accountability for her/himself.

Ahh yes, accountability. When I was a beginner coach, my coaching move was to ask the client if I could hold them accountable. It runs out, that wasn’t a good idea. I have trouble being accountable for my own stuff, never mind my client’s stuff, too! So, the better move is to know what kind of accountability works best for them. Do they like to keep things private, share with only trusted individuals, create a group and get hurrahs when they succeed? And what happens when they get stuck? Will they hide or boldly declare a breakdown? Who, or what, will call them back to their commitment?

So you see, there’s lots to talk about with clients after they say “I need to…”.

Oh - and here’s what it took for me to get exercise into my life:

  • Short-term, easy to accomplish goals (Run a 5K every month).
  • Accountability to my husband, my running partner and to Heidi.
  • Permission to hate exercise (which I do),
  • No permission to NOT exercise
  • The right clothes and shoes, in a backpack, ready to go, everyday
  • An expert to tell me exactly what I should do and when, so I don’t have to think about it.
  • Tracking what I do and when with an easy to use phone app.
  • Anticipating the change of seasons and proactively working out a new exercise plan

I’m curious if any of these strategies would work for you?  And what have you noticed about what works for your clients?

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What do you notice about your questions?

"Care is asking the right questions."  See what they mean in this What? How? (Whirlpool Washer/Dryer commercial).


I'm not endorsing the company, just acknowledging their clever use of Questions in this ad ;-)


What do you notice about your questions?


It’s a simple question, really. We ask the students in the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program to observe their questions and reflect on what they notice.

Hundreds of student coaches have written this paper over the years. I read through another batch just this morning, and was – again – delighted and inspired by what the students learn. 

We assign this paper because it’s important for coaches to be aware of the questions they ask, the questions they avoid, and how the context impacts their questioning.  This awareness is a foundation for moving into being thoughtful and artful in using questions in coaching conversations.

But the real learning is much deeper, varied, nuanced, and personal.  This learning often comes as a surprise. The student becomes aware that how he/she asks questions is a reflection of how he/she sees the world and his/her place in it. And the “world” is their relationships, their role in workplace power dynamics, or their own master self-assessments, fundamental fears, deep passions. Their patterns of asking questions grow out of a lifetime of past experiences, culture and family relationships, and years of professional training.

To move into coaching is to leave behind one view of the world and embody another, in which you are someone who loves questions; who is confident asking questions that feel too probing and too personal; who can draw out deeper insight and meaning with just a question. 

What are you noticing about your questions?

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How Does a Coach Listen?

Creativity and finding new paths requires listening to what is and imagining what could be...

T-Shirt seen on the streets of Bath, Maine Summer 2015

 

“Active Listening” is a familiar term. In general, it describes listening that requires effort by the listener to be attentive, use body language to communicate that attentiveness, and restate or summarize what is heard and understood.
 
This type of listening is important for coaches. But is being actively attentive enough to help our clients find new perspective and awareness, to break out of their current reality to see future possibilities? What does active listening mean for coaches?
 
The ICF defines Active Listening as “The ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client's desires, and to support client self-expression.”
 
To me, a coach listens beyond and around what the client is sharing, tuning into patterns of thought; topics skipped over or avoided; shifts in emotions, tone or energy; charged words, phrases or metaphors; incongruities between words, emotions, and body. The coach also listens to her own experience of the client, noticing her own shifts in energy, focus, and the curious questions that bubble up inside her.   Listening in this way allows us to find paths to explore that the client may not have seen on their own.
 
Our listening creates the space for our client to talk, reflect, and explore. It impacts the quality of our questions and observations.  It sets the direction we use to guide the coaching conversation.
What is your understanding of “Active Listening” for coaches? If you were observing a coach, how would you know the quality of their listening? How do you know if you are listening at your best?
 
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Coach, Are you an Innocent Bystander? or a Passive Enabler?

You know that feeling when you're coaching. Your client is doing what they always do. Maybe they talk a lot and never really get to the point. Maybe they "I don't know" a lot and deflect all invitations to explore new paths. And, since you've been here before, you let them do what they do, feeling powerless and "skill-less" to change the course of the conversation. 

 



You're an innocent bystander to your client.

Innocent because it's not your fault (it's the client's fault). Bystander because you're on the sidelines watching and listening, and being a little bit of a victim, too.

This term came to me in a Master Class session I was leading on Establishing the Coaching Agreement. We were discussing challenges with clients who are difficult to pin down, who can't seem to focus on what they want from the coaching, who only want to talk about what's already happened, and who never come to the coaching session with a topic in mind.

Listening to these stories led me to reflect on my own coaching. Of course, I have clients like this, too.  With reflection, I had an epiphany - I've been taking the role of "innocent bystander" with clients who don't come to the session with a clear topic, ready for coaching.

I'm now reframing.

When I pull back from the coaching conversation and blame the client, I'm not really "innocent". In fact, you could say I'm guilty. Guilty of not being a full partner, of not owning my responsibility to lead the coaching session to be a purposeful conversation.

I'm also not a bystander! My presence and actions with my client have an impact, always! By letting them ramble on, I'm enabling them to continue their default patterns of thinking, reinforcing their stories and assessments of how life is for them, and accepting the lack of focus and forward movement this is probably not working for them in other parts of their life.

From "innocent bystander" to "guilty enabler" - there's a powerful reframe! It's a wake-up call for me and I'm mindful now as I work with clients, students and colleagues to return to the core of coaching - my role is to be a partner, to support the client to "do/be what they don't want to do/be, in order to have the life they want." which mean I sometimes have to do what I don't want to do, or say what I don't want to say.

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Setting Goals: It's Complicated

In coaching, we work with our clients to set goals and find ways to have new results in their lives.  At the March ICFNE Maine Affiliate program "Beyond Goals", I got an insight into just how complex and nuanced that can be.

 
 
 
 
The ICFNE Maine Affiliate program in March was a facilitated discussion based on the book Beyond Goals: Effective Strategies for Coaching and Mentoring by by Susan David and David Clutterbuck.
 
This interactive session gave me a lot to think about, as I realized the limitations of my own preferences and practices, and how they might also limit my clients.
 
I left with more questions than answers:
 
·      Are stretch goals motivating or overwhelming?
·      Am I motivated by moving towards a positive result or avoiding a negative result?
·      Are specific and measurable goals focused and results oriented or too narrow to make a real difference?
·      Are simple and obvious goals just good common sense or a way to avoid exploring and understanding nuanced options?
·      Are goals always useful in an increasing complex world?
·      Are goals set by others more or less motivating than goals we set for ourselves?
 
In letting these questions roll around in my head for a few weeks, I realize that having more distinctions around goals and how they work for others would help me in all of the roles I play.

·      As an individual, are there options for goal setting that I should have in my tool kit, that aren’t my normal and familiar way?
·      As a leader, how can I expand my awareness and practice to use different approaches with different people and groups?
·      As a coach, how can I partner with clients so they are the best they can be at setting and achieving goals?
·      As a coach trainer and mentor, how do I teach and assess a coach’s ability to partner with their clients?
 
A big part of the awareness from this program is that my own preferences for goals creates a powerful bias in how I act and how I judge others. With that awareness comes the desire to pull together a diverse set of people to explore this with me - to get “up close and personal” with different perspectives, motivations, and practices.


These are questions that I will be bringing to my own participation in the next PCC Master Class.
 
This winter I set a goal for myself. To photograph and share the biggest snow bank I could find here in Maine.  Here's the winning entry. 
 
 
 That's my 6ft 2in tall husband standing next to our Suburban in a parking lot in Camden, ME.
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The Big Question: Am I coaching or doing something else?

We all bring more than just coaching skills to our coaching conversations
 
Sally and Joan (not their real names) joined the PCC master class for a deeper dive into their coaching skills and competencies. After the usual logistics and introductions we jumped right into a conversation about the ICF Code of Ethics. It didn’t take too long for their big question to surface.  “I’m worried that someone will find out that my‘real’ coaching isn’t really coaching. I do coaching and I add in other things, based on my expertise and knowledge about the areas the client want to work on.  Am I really coaching or is this something else?”
We created the terms “pure coaching” and “hybrid coaching” to hold the distinction.  I was struck by the level of worry these coaches had that what they called “hybrid coaching” wasn’t acceptable.  I was concerned that their worry affected their coaching. Could they be as confident and bold in serving their clients if this was in the backs of their minds?
 
 
I was sure that alleviating that worry would help these coaches be the best they could be. Since I’m committed to coaching excellence, I also wanted to understand this question better. Were they really coaching, or did something need to change for their coaching to be aligned with the coaching competencies?
 
With our distinction between “pure” and “hybrid” coaching in hand, we focused in to understand this big questions, and to find ways to address their concerns.
 
What were they doing in their coaching sessions that was concerning to them?
    
They were using their expertise to frame their questions, provide new perspectives, and explicitly share information that was new to the client.
 
How were they doing this?
    
Sometimes they asked permission - “Can I share something that might be useful?” and sometimes they assumed permission because the client had hired them for that expertise. They offered what they knew, without insisting that the client believe it or use it.
 
 
Why were they doing this?
Because it fit, in the moment, with what the client was working on. Because they believed that it would serve the client at that time.
 
 
What would you say? Is this coaching, or something else?
 
As we worked through the competencies, we came to the following conclusions:
 
When offering your expertise to the client, it’s important to maintain your focus on serving the client and the client’s agenda. This expectation is woven into all of the PCC level coaching competencies. 
 
This means that what you share should be pertinent to the topic at hand. It also means that it’s presented in a way that serves the client’s continued growth, development, and ability to become self-sustaining.  My students talked about offering another perspective, not the “answer”. Even when teaching the client something new, they hold it as “just another perspective”. Allowing the client to choose what to do with the information reinforced their trust in the client - the she is able to integrate new information and make choices that serve her best.
 
There’s  also an Ethical question that arises. Is it “ethical” - that is, aligned with the ICF Code of Ethics and Professional Practices - to coach using our expertise and knowledge in this way?
 
As we read the Code of Ethics, we saw no prohibition on bringing what we know to the coaching. In fact, we noted that we train in different domains of coaching (leadership coaching, relationship coaching, etc.) and engage our client in these specialized coaching services. Of course, our clients would expect us to have perspectives on leadership if they’ve hired us to be leadership coaches!
 
What we saw is that ICF asks us to stay true to the following tenets:
  • Honor our agreements with our clients
  • Do not misrepresent our services or qualifications
 
What is your agreement with the client? What services are they expecting you to provide? 
The agreement should clearly state that you are providing specialized coaching and clarify what that means. Clients should expect that you will bring in your expertise and know how you will use that expertise in the coaching engagement.
 
Are you qualified to provide that expertise or perspective?
Think about your qualifications for sharing your knowledge with your client, including formal training, education, research, and real-life experience. If your client wanted only that expertise, would you be a qualified candidate to provide them? If you can say “yes” to that (and others would agree), offering that experience to your clients would be appropriate.  
 
In the End…
 
After looking at this big question through the lens of the coaching competencies, the students completed the class with less worry. They could see how they were coaching and using their expertise to serve their clients. That was a success in itself!  
 
They also committed to reviewing their agreements with their clients to make sure they were representing themselves and their coaching appropriately.  And, they made a longer-term commitment to pay attention to their motivations for sharing their expertise during coaching sessions, so that they were staying aligned with serving their clients in the moment.
 
As the instructor, I was impressed by the honesty and vulnerability that these coaches brought to their work in the class. Without that, we wouldn’t have learned as much as we did, and the impact on their coaching wouldn’t have been as great.
 
What’s your Big Question about your own coaching?
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On Listening


I had come to believe that the act of being listened to was far more important than being in the documentary itself and could be transformative in people’s lives, because no one had actually ever listened to them. 
David Isay on why he moved from making documentaries to StoryCorps.
 
When I travel, I load up my IPad with podcasts from my favorite radio shows. I can listen while I knit or crochet, so it feeds my need to be doing something meaningful with my hands and my head.
 
This morning, I sat down with my crocheted scarf project and an episode of On Being that all coaches should find interesting. It’s an interview with David Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, and the topic is “The Everyday Art of Listening”.  
 

I was intrigued to find that this interviewer holds listening as a way to transform people’s lives and the conversations they have with each other.  So much of what he shared is aligned with how coaches listen and why we listen, and affirms the transformation that we bring to our client’s by the gift of our listening and by bearing witness to their stories.
 
He also shares how he finds intense listening to be challenging and hard work, and something that he can’t do all the time and with all the people in their lives.  This, too, should be familiar to coaches - it certainly is for me!
 
I encourage you to find a quiet moment to listen to this extraordinary interview.
 
http://www.onbeing.org - April 17 episode.
 

 

StoryCorps is a project that collects the stories of everyday people in audio recordings, which are stored in the Library of Congress.  http://storycorps.org
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