What is coaching? It seems like such a simple and common question. The answers given by most coaches however tend to leave people staring blankly and befuddled as a coach rambles at length, focused on hitting all the key words but never really saying anything of substance. I have been on both the giving end and the receiving end of that confusion. This paradigm creates missed opportunities for coaches and clients alike. There needs to be a way for people to understand coaching.
There is something about the very nature of coaching that befuddles people and I believe that this is because coaching is the type of relationship/conversation/experience that does not happen organically in western culture. Our culture is quicker to reject, avoid, and ridicule new information, behaviors, and beliefs, than it is to explore critically and form new possibilities. We are resistant to change, in both our environments and our minds – no wonder everyone feels stuck!
Part of the problem of truly explaining coaching is that it looks different for each client and each application. This isn’t because coaching is unclear and underdeveloped but rather because coaching is a process guided by beliefs and principles that can be applied to any number of different situations. Don’t think about coaching as a profession that someone does but rather as an event or experience that occurs in a confidential space between a trained coaching practitioner and a willing client that has a goal they wish to accomplish. I use the term goal here to describe an outcome for the coaching conversation that is desired by and beneficial to the client.
The event itself can be described a confidential conversation that starts with the client setting an objective or outcome for the conversation. The coach will explore with the client why this objective is important and ask questions until they believe full clarity has been reached around the objective, what is involved, what opportunity is present and what will be possible once this objective is reached. During this time and throughout the coaching experience, the coach will use well-developed, and sometimes borderline intimidating listening skills to listen for conflicting statements, self-defeating assumptions, areas lacking clarity, wavering commitment, patterns of stories/thoughts/sentences that don’t serve the client and connections that are out of the clients awareness. The coach will pose thought-provoking questions that will test if what the coach is perceiving is true and will draw them to the clients’ attention in a way that is free of judgment and attachment.
The coach will check-in with the client as stories unfold, shifts are made, and new ground is broken to see if the conversation is on track to achieve the session goal before the conversation is over and shift focus if necessary. The clients’ goals for the conversation are always front and center and serve as a north star for all of the coaches questions and statements as the coach helps the client untangle their thinking. The coach will make the client do all the work and deep thinking and will act only as a master of process, striving for increased awareness and clarity, not solving problems. When the client has reached their goal for the session and at other times, the coach will have the client summarize their conversation, what has stood out to them, what they have learned about themselves and how what they have discovered could apply to other aspects of their life, spreading the value of the conversation and more deeply entrenching shifts made during the course of coaching. Action items, an accountability plan, and commitments are drawn out by the coach and stated powerfully by the client in such a way as to launch them forward into new action following the end of the conversation.
This process is somewhat simplified and doesn’t cover everything that might happen but covers some of the things that should always happen for a true coaching event to take place. Coaches then, are masters of the process of coaching and creating the conditions that create will help the client make the biggest, clearest, most lasting, and quickest shifts possible. Likely, the coaching event is like nothing you have ever experienced between. It is WAY more than just a conversation.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes in to each successful coaching event, on the part of the coach and on the part of the client which is why coaching is a relationship, dependent on respect and trust, that usually lasts many months of a coaching package. A coaching package will string several of these coaching events together as the client moves toward their overall package goal, a transformative change that will greatly impact the clients life and will add a tremendous amount of lasting value for the client and/or the organization.
While this is far more detail than anyone plans on receiving at a networking event or passing in conversation, it is still really only the beginning of a full explanation of coaching. Hopefully you have a better idea however of how coaching works and what actually takes place. Who knows, maybe you might choose to experience it for yourself now and see what all the fuss is about. Coaching changes everything – are you ready?
In your greatness,
Cade Murphy is a champion for spreading the value of coaching beyond the boardroom.