Monday, August 12, 2013

Words to the Wise

Haven’t blogged lately have I?

Been active as an ICF Assessor for many exams.  Just a few words to the wise …

1.     If you say your session is 30 minutes (because you were told to say that and it’s actually a great idea to keep it at that), don’t take 45-60 minutes and ignore it like you never made that agreement.  (Bad for your score).

2.       Most coaches completely forget about or misunderstand the Accountability/Managing Progress competency.  It’s not about the coach’s willingness to have another session; it’s about the client creating these structures for success whether or not they involve the coach.  It’s also not a good idea to skip this one altogether; plays havoc with your score.

3.    All the MCC-level scores I’ve given coincidentally were for sessions that lasted no more than 30 minutes (score wasn’t given + or – for that¸ however).  It’s about asking questions that are direct and clear, keeping the session to a very clear agenda, being authentically present and connected to your client – and there’s even time to deal with underlying issues that are overwhelmingly more important than 3 actions by next Tuesday.  It’s a non-linear process and authentic partnership.

4.    If you are following a script learned long ago or recently, it’s time to become a coach and not just do coaching.  Formulaic coaching shows glaringly.   Here is my favorite formulaic phrase:
“What I hear (am hearing, heard) you say …”   Try listening to that being said over and over again in one session!  (Not good for your score.)  The word “So” is used so often I gave up worrying about it … but’s it still a habit that isn’t necessary. 

And please listen to your recording before you submit it.  Really.  It’s a very important part of your professional development.  Please treat the process professionally.

Hope my few insights will point you in the direction of success.  Good luck!!

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Great Way to Learn a Key Coaching Core Competency

Listen to interviewers on television or over the radio. 

Irrespective of the subject matter of the interview, see if you can identify what makes a great interviewer or one not so gifted.   Bearing in mind that interviewing on television or radio is not coaching, neither is it intended to be, there are important similarities to what we coaches know as Powerful Questioning.

·         Great interviewers connect with each guest, ask brief relevant questions, allow guest to speak much more than interviewer, and of course, listen to what is said and unsaid. Powerful Questions are the norm.

·         Not-So-Great interviewers tend to dress up their questions with their own opinions, research, knowledge, extra words, and egos.  Powerful Questions are rare indeed.

 Those of us who listen to many people coach (via exam recordings) bear witness to the large number of coaches who truly do not know what a Powerful Question actually is, how it is sourced, why it works, and what is sounds like.

 Examples that fit both interviewers and coaches:

“What happened?”

“Is this a topic we should talk about?”

“What do you think will happen next?”

“How did you feel about it?”

“Is there a lesson to be learned from this event?”

“What has fame brought you?”

Monday, April 29, 2013

Unpleasant Moments

I was at a conference in Europe donating some time to coach attendees when I was mercilessly chastised by a new coach for being 5 minutes late to her appointment time.  The coach went on to further anoint me with how MCC's are supposed to set an example for perfection.  What I did was spend the agreed time with her, listening the entire 30 minutes to a diatribe that was rather personal.

No further details are needed but it was rather unpleasant. 

Why do I relate this story?  Well, we coaches (regardless of credential or time in the profession) have moments when we mess up or demonstrate we are not perfect.  Those unpleasant moments show up when we least want them around.

How does a coach handle stress, a missed appointment, trouble with travel, etc. without hurting the coach-client relationship or agreements of a contract?

You no doubt have had these occasions as have I.  There are many words and actions to take (becoming centered, clearing the clearing, deep breathing, exercise, truthful postponement of the session, and so on).  What matters is that you and I know when we must ... must ... acknowledge these moments of life and deal with them effectively. 

Denial is still a river in Egypt and not too helpful when professional choices must be made.

Generally, I do not care to use words like 'must', 'should', 'ought' ... words with morality taints to them and directives (we all dislike those).  Here it's essential to step forth, recognize the situation, deal with it and move on.  I like 'essential' a bit more.

Keep Calm and Carry On.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Becoming Enmeshed in the Story

I often speak of the power of stories.  Whether 10 words or 100, story is an account (usually 1st person) that is told for the purpose of being heard.  In coaching the “purpose of being heard” is the idea contained within the story.  When a client hears a story from the coach who is not attached to any particular response from the client, the client is free to grasp from the story whatever there is to grasp. 

Stories enliven a conversation … not long stories, not stories to prove something or be directive… but stories that somehow seem appropriate in the moment and simply appear seemingly from nowhere.  There is nothing inauthentic about a story … it is always the real deal … even when a name or organization cannot be mentioned.

There is an underside to storytelling that must be discerned.

It is easy to become enmeshed (entangled) within a story as it is told.  `Enmeshed` can become rather complicated as it`s not empathy although it can be sympathy wherein coach identifies strongly with the situation.

When coach and client become enmeshed in one another`s story the following can happen:

-          Coach ceases to be a partner and instead joins on the side of the client or situation

-          Client no longer has someone to listen without attachment or agenda (destroys the coach-client relationship)

-          Story can become a directive telling client how to behave or what to do

-          Coach asks informational questions far more often than helpful

 What do you think happens when coach becomes enmeshed in client`s story or expects client to become enmeshed in coach`s story?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Giving Of Oneself Without Giving Oneself Away

Listening to one of the most lovely and technically perfect coaching conversations I’ve ever heard (and I hear a lot of them), gives me an entirely new concept of what is possible in this most wonderful of professions.

First, Coach had long ago mastered the structure of the coaching conversation.  All was natural for her with no attention whatsoever on herself.  All the competencies were there.

Coach accepted her client as whole, complete, and worthy of Coach’s trust.  The trust and intimacy was paramount and stunningly moving.  Yet, Coach never became attached to client’s story even as she brilliantly reframed it as needed.

What followed were the natural outcomes from the coaching structure: clear agenda, full trust and intimacy … then coaching presence, listening, perfect powerful questions … well, all of it.

Coach took no more than 30 minutes during which time she explored what her client wanted to do, find, experience about a part of her life.  Once again, there was no attention on what Coach wanted although Coach found it necessary to take a risk and “walk her client to the edge” where she (client) could make a decision to go forward.  Coach was brilliant, kind, caring and unyieldingly committed to her client finding a way. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Your client or my client says something that may be quite exhaustive or very brief.  As the comment ends there are responses from us that may be helpful or not.

Example from a client …”That’s what happened today with my team.  I was so upset I couldn’t even respond.  I’d like to figure out what to do now.”

Not-too-uncommon response from the Coach: “Okay. What exactly happened and how did you handle it at the time?  Have you ever experienced that in the past and if so how did you handle it?  Is this what you want us to talk about today?”

My comment on this kind of response:  It’s very common to hear a throw-away immediate response such as “okay” (meaning what, I ask?). It’s also very common for the responding coach to dig for more information (I suppose in lieu of a powerful question … just ask for more info).  What is the hurry?  Is it your desire to figure out the answer for your client?  Are you uncomfortable with the situation because of … any number of reasons?  oHoHhh Were you taught to move quickly to actions and results?

What if instead of complicating the situation for yourself and your client you took a single deep breath (requiring a brief moment of silence) and asked a powerful question or made a powerful comment such as:

                “What do you want me to know about this?”

There’s more to “this” of course, but there are some practices that I hear often with all the exams I listen to. 

First, many coaches have a standard response to everything their client says the most common being an immediate “okay.”  Now the word ‘okay’ just might ultimately imply some level of approval (what for is usually not clear).  After 30-45 minutes of `okay` the routine has become formulaic.  You don`t want that, ever. 

Do you have an automatic response of which you may not be aware? Record your conversations and either check them out yourself (I highly recommend this) and/or have your mentor coach listen and give feedback.

Second, complex questions often signal confusion for the client.  This kind of question or response likely reflects the coach`s discomfort and can easily lead to a very superficial conversation that is more coach-centered than client-centered.  Solution: never ask complex questions (i.e. those with two or more subjects that are often, but not necessarily, connected by `and, but, yet, such as` … etc.).

Taking a moment to breathe and allow your client space to complete their comment … perhaps to even continue it (without your interruption) will greatly enhance the quality of your coaching.

Question for each of us: How might you or I respond to a client without having it become formulaic?  And, by the way, ‘okay’ is perfectly okay for thoughtful use as are a whole host of possible responses that encourage trust, intimacy, curiosity, and support coaching presence.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Adults as Learners

Been reading up on adult learning.  Surely we can agree that understanding how adults learn is an important element in learning how to coach and engage our clients.  My take on all of that is from my own experience as well as from published research.  Adults bring all of our decisions, life experience, obligations, and desires into our life-long learning.  Sometimes that learning becomes formal (with classes and tuition and degrees). 

So it is with coach training.  Unless you were a child prodigy you began and completed your coach training (or any other kind of training) as an adult at some age or other (I did a lot of the 'other') over my long adult learning career.

For anyone reading this blog who is not already, or going to be, a professional coach, just substitute your desired outcome and it all applies equally.  My most important education began at age 30 and continued for a couple of decades, culminating in teaching what I had learned (ergo, it never stopped).  Always a good student, I had a different motivation: I liked learning, did my assignments, stayed interested and knew I was going somewhere.  Somehow that was different from my youthful obsession with getting the grade A for everything.