I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much our coaching conversations are just that – conversations. According to Wikipedia, a conversation is a form of interactive, spontaneous communication between two or more people.
Did you see those two descriptors?
What does it mean to have an interactive, spontaneous coaching conversation? Aren’t we as coaches supposed to only reflect back what our clients are saying? Ask some powerful questions? Maybe give a direct message now and then? Well…yes….and NO!
In our own coach training courses, we do indeed spend a lot of time helping break any natural tendencies to dominate the conversation, or interject too much of their own thinking. Particularly in our early foundational classes, we attempt to get the pendulum swinging away from telling and more toward asking. But that isn’t the end of the story for coaches. Our coaching conversations are to be actual conversations. With interactive and spontaneous communication. So, what does that look like? How do we as coaches engage in these types of conversations and still maintain our coaching mindsets that the client has the answers and they are much more likely to act upon their own ideas, hopes and dreams?
I want to share a few principles for how you can share yourself – your story – in the coaching conversation without violating any of the principles you’ve learned for effectively helping others move forward.
First, remember that you are a participant in the conversation, but the conversation is not about you. So, start with a mindset that your purpose for sharing your story is for the benefit of the client – their agenda – their forward movement. Your story should never become the focus, but rather a means to create awareness for your clients.
Next, keep some perspective about how much of your story to share. Keep it brief and then quickly hand back the conversation to your client. Don’t get carried away in telling your story to the point that the focus shifts to you – and don’t tell so much of it, that the conclusion in any way points to a solution for your client.
Also, be very intentional about handing back the conversation to your client with a clear expectation that they can/will take from your story whatever is meaningful for them – not because it had meaning for you.
So….when is a good time to share your story in a coaching conversation? And what kind of stories should you tell? I have found a few really impactful times to share something of myself with my clients and tell them my story:
- As a means of connecting and building intimacy and trust – this may be some of the most valuable sharing that you can do. When you can gain your client’s trust through sharing something of yourself – particularly something vulnerable. We often assure our clients that the coaching relationship is a safe space for them to share in a confidential setting whatever is on their heart. I’ve found there’s no better way to demonstrate that than by trusting them with whatever is on my heart. When I take a risk and am really vulnerable with my clients, I find it builds trust very quickly and gives them confidence that they can do the same.
- To “normalize” something they are thinking, feeling, or doing – Sometimes our clients can be tempted to think they are the only ones to have ever done or thought or felt something and they often feel guilty or embarrassed about it. When I can share a story of how I’ve had similar thoughts or taken similar actions, it can help my clients feel less anxiety about their own story.
- To illustrate a principle – Often we can relate to our clients’ issues because of our own past experiences. This can sometimes serve us well and at other times trap us into imagining their story will turn out like our story. When we are able to relate our story to our clients in a way that illustrates a principal or provides an example, we can potentially create great new awareness for our clients as they draw parallels between the stories and determine what, if any, meaning the illustration has for them. In this area of sharing your story you want to be certain to pay attention to some of the cautions I’ve mentioned above.
If we’re going to have meaningful conversations with our coaching clients, we need to be prepared to take some risk by sharing of ourselves – our story – in that conversation. Engaging in interactive, spontaneous communication with others includes sharing about yourself, and, when done effectively, can help create intimacy, trust, and awareness that can help your clients move ahead.