Have you ever lost control of your coaching conversation before it even really started? I have. Twenty minutes into the hour I’m thinking – “Wow, how did we get…nowhere?”
Section B of the updated ICF Core Competencies – Co-Creating The Relationship – addresses the need for the coach to work with the client to establish the focus of the coaching session and maintain the focus that will serve the client.
6. Partners with the client to identify or reconfirm what they want to accomplish in the session
7. Partners with the client to define what the client believes they need to address or resolve to achieve what they want to accomplish in the session
8. Partners with the client to define or reconfirm measures of success for what the client wants to accomplish in the coaching engagement or individual session
9. Partners with the client to manage the time and focus of the session
Here is what I have observed: People’s lives are messy. And what is most urgent in their thinking when they start their conversation with you is actually not what is most important. In these times of the COVID-19 virus and extraordinary social unrest surrounding the death of George Floyd it is virtually impossible to engage in any conversation without some aspect of these issues coming up. They are urgent, top-of-mind issues that consume our thinking and can consume our conversation. And they are things that can easily hijack the coaching conversation resulting in a lot of talking but no coaching.
How can you keep from getting your coaching conversations hijacked by the urgent? Here are four things to help.
1. Acknowledge the urgent.
All of us have a swirl of thoughts going on in our heads that are made up of the personal, marital, family, social, work, neighborhood, religious and civic worlds we live in. Your client is bringing that to the conversation and, except for a few distinct personality types, most clients haven’t thought carefully about the focus of the coaching conversation before it starts. It is natural for the client to just begin unloading whatever is on the top of that pile of thoughts, worries, dreams, fears, hopes and pain.
This past year was an extraordinary year in family drama for me. Every time I met with my coach Mark, there seemed to be another major body blow that loomed over my thinking. But it wasn’t what I wanted to be coached around. Mark was masterful at being empathetic. He acknowledged what I was going through and validated my concerns. This built a deep relationship of trust. And he didn’t lose sight that he was my coach and there to serve me by helping me define the coaching focus.
2. Don’t get caught up in the urgent.
If you’re someone who is wired to be an empathetic person, it is easy for you to enter into another person’s world. But it is also easy for you to get hijacked in the conversation. Also, if your client starts out talking about something you are experiencing or struggling with as well, it is easy to be sucked into the vortex of feeling each others pain and struggle. This is when you look at the clock and realize you’re 20 minutes in and you haven’t started to coach.
Don’t ever forget – you’re a coach. You are in this conversation because someone has hired you and is paying you to be their coach. There is this thing called “Coaching Presence.” It is that delicate balance of being human and being professional. Coaching is a profession and if you are calling yourself a coach you are a professional. If I go to the doctor because I am experiencing pain I do want them to have some empathy but I mostly want their skill and training to diagnose what’s wrong and how to make it better! “Hope you get better” just doesn’t cut it at the end of the doctor’s appointment!
3. Be open to the urgent truly being the important.
One of the common mistakes I hear in coaching conversations is the coach doesn’t bring the client to clarity about what they want as the outcome of the conversation. What’s at the top of the client’s thinking really might be the most important. If you find yourself getting caught in the urgent, simply ask the client “Is this what you want the focus of our conversation to be today?”
At CAM we use the hourglass as a way to think about the flow of the coaching conversation. When it comes to defining the outcome, I want you to think of a double-loop hourglass. Your coaching has to first define the focus of the conversation. But you then have to help the client define the focus of the focus.
Focus: How do I lead my church as we start having public services again?
Focus of the focus: What do I need to do to better help my staff have confidence in leading their ministry area?
Focus: I want to have a better relationship with my kids.
Focus of the Focus: What kind of person do I need to be so we laugh more as a family?
4. Be ready with your transition statements.
Sometimes I think we coaches get the idea we need to be more clever to be a better coach. We find ourselves asking similar questions in similar ways and worry we are getting stale or lazy. The fact that you’re thinking about it and worried about it is probably the best sign that you’re not!
You don’t need to be clever, you need to be clear.
The likely reason you keep using those phrases and questions over and over is because they work. They are effective in helping your clients move forward in awareness and action. When it comes to bringing focus to the conversation, it is OK to have some transition statements at the ready.
“What’s going to be most important for you to focus on today?”
“What will be the best use of our coaching time?”
“What does success look like to you at the end of our time?”
“What is a home run for our conversation? A single? A double? A triple?”
“How will you know this investment of your time was valuable to you?”
Remember, you have control over whether your coaching conversations get hijacked or not. You’re the coach and you control the flow of the conversation. Keep these four things in mind and you will serve your client well.