Friday, February 26, 2010

The Fine Art of Noticing

One of the most effective ways to manage the complexity of life these days is to learn and practice the 'art of noticing.'

Hey, that sounds simple. What's the big deal?

Well, 'noticing' is the fine art of taking in all the stimuli, sounds, words, actions, ambience ... you know, all that stuff that makes up our close-in universe.

What??? How can I do that? If I took in all that occurs around me I'd get nothing done, not to mention I'd be unable to "manage the complexity of life."

As a coach it's now time to ask me a powerful question: What do you mean?

'Noticing' requires some skill in order to make it work. That skill is to pay attention to only that which counts.

Feel better yet?

Let say I am walking down the street in New York City. To what will I pay attention due to the extreme sensory overload that is evident and constant? Well, when practicing the fine art of 'noticing' it's critical to not get involved with 99.99% of what comes at me (see list above). By 'not involved' I mean to refrain from opining, interpreting, changing, ignoring, etc. anything that doesn't matter. As I walk down the street in NYC, I choose to notice anyone who catches my attention (for any reason). I refrain from interpreting or thinking about that person; I just notice. What I notice quickly passes from my "viewfinder" as I move along unless there's a reason to get engaged in more than noticing ... i.e. thinking about and interpreting what I see ....

In coaching we cannot spend time having opinions and interpretations (through our own mental model of what should or can be) without becoming uninvolved with our client. When I do credentialing exams or mentor coaches I "hear" this all the time: a coach busy figuring out "the next best question" or having an opinion about the client or client's idea or wondering about something important to the coach. I can pick this up with no problem.

The 'art of noticing' is integral to the art (skill) of 'listening for' ... an active way to listen. If I take in what's around me as I listen to another person (i.e. be distracted), I will miss the essence and likely anything else the other person wants to communicate in that moment. If I develop the capacity to 'notice' (as I describe it here), I will spare myself involvement with distractions of any kind.

Thus, the 'fine art of noticing' is the necessary preparation for profound listening ... the skill a coach must develop in order to master the competencies.

Try it on. Notice how you receive this blog: what opinions did you form right away? If you noticed yourself and are honest about it, you're well on your way to learning and practicing the 'fine art of noticing.'

Friday, February 19, 2010

Coaching with Metaphor and Story

We each have a plethora of stories to tell ... but to whom?

Did you know that another person can get their life out of your story? Hmmm. That seems amazing and a bit hyperbolic. Possibly so but, never discount the illustration and what another can do with it.

I'm just off the phone with a client who is in the midst of a consequential transition in his job. It's disorienting to change ... who doesn't know that. So first we talked about how it's going at his end of the picture and then we talked about a major transition I'm involved in on my end of things. The whole thing dissolved into some raucous laughter because each of us has made a big deal ... big drama ... out of it all and we saw that in each other.

So what? Well, out of all this my client saw quickly a series of small moves he could make to put him in the mindset of moving to another building ... and, incidentally... to also put his current colleagues in the mindset of adjusting to change. Guess what? The entire drama was about change (of course it was).

Here's the point. As a coach it's not my role to take on my client's life or decisions. It is my role to partner with a client in a search for what is going on. So, a story that simply occurs to me at the moment (one cannot plan for such moments, by the way), may be a way to explore. The best part is that I tell my story and my client gets what he gets out of it. It's not my role to tell him what the message is. Sometimes it doesn't work but often it does.

Metaphors are pictures, music, scenes, poems, stories ... that have nothing to do with what we think they are. They work beautifully also but mostly are visual keys and clues ... movies, sports ... these are great metaphors. For example, this week we're still in the midst of the Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada. Watch the champions and you'll see metaphors for high performance everywhere you look. Bringing a metaphor like that to a client is powerful; bringing it into your thinking is also powerful.

Here's the deal with stories and metaphors: you cannot plan them, have them ready, think about them. They are to be spontaneous, arising out of what your client just said. And, more important than anything, they are first person, lived again in the moment, and never lectures "about" the story. Remember that. It's critical you do.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Tell Me More

The open-ended question “Tell me more” is often touted as a powerful question. But is it? Let’s take a look.

Evoking a deeper conversation…
A client describes something but doesn’t quite complete the thought or is sketchy and vague. In the context and present moment of the conversation, “Tell me more” becomes a powerful question that can evoke a deeper thought, completeness and perhaps a new level of insight. The coach doesn’t ask more about the details but instead listens “for” and is more interested in what isn’t being said or how it is being said than what is being said. In this case, it is the conversation itself that invites “Tell me more.” In this context, “Tell me more” is an ideal and powerful open question that allows exploration, discovery and awareness. The coach and client remain partners in their work together. The client assumes and remains fully accountable for decisions, actions and outcomes.

Making the story more interesting…
A client describes something but doesn’t quite complete the thought or is sketchy and vague. The coach asks the question: “Tell me more.” The client fills in the blanks and begins to describe the situation in greater detail. The coach becomes fascinated with the details and continues to ask more. In the coach’s mind, it’s all about clarification. Along the way the coach stops the conversation to summarize: “Let me see if I hear you correctly.” The discussion goes along on the level of a fascinating conversation. Can you feel the superficial context of this conversation? Within the coaching conversation, a considerable amount of time has gone by that has been mainly about details and whether or not the coach understands the details. In this scenario, “Tell me more” becomes a limiting question that merely asks for more and more details. The conversation remains quite nice, the client may see some actions to take, the coach feels satisfied that the client is getting value, and the deeper underlying issues remain hidden.

Shifting the conversation from client to coach…
A client describes something but doesn’t quite complete the thought or is sketchy and vague. The coach responds to the client’s words with “That’s interesting, I’ve had the same experience (or “that’s my area of expertise”). “Tell me more.” At this point, the conversation shifts to the coach as expert. The client may be anxious to resolve the issue and asks the coach “Tell me how you solved it?” A coach who hasn’t made the shift to a peer relationship with a client will become directive (i.e. tell the client what to do). Can you see that the client in this type of conversation is not likely to own the resolution, the action or the outcome? Leaving the client accountable for his/her decisions and actions is not the usual outcome of this kind of conversation. And most certainly the potential of richness in a collaborative coaching relationship is not possible.

This article was originally written for the University of Texas at Dallas' Executive Coaching Program's newsletter.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow, Listening, and Not Knowing

These past two weeks I discovered that snow makes noise. Yes, it does fall silently except when in a blizzard. Yet, the far reaching effects can be noisy ... not the kind one hears with one's ears ... just the noise consequences.

There is a reality to our dependence on electronic communication ... I ought to know since it's how I make a living. When I was a skier without a business like coaching, snow meant only "hey, let's hit the slopes!" and nothing more. This was my relationship to snow for 25 years. And I miss it.

So what do I mean?

Well, when a client cannot call, go to work, use the Internet ... when my assistant cannot do any of these things ... because the snowfall is so deep and consequential ... then snow isn't softly calling to me, it is weather I listen to with both ears and eyes fastened to The Weather Channel. Snow is now noisy and interfering with making a living. Oh yes!

In coaching we listen differently to each client and situation. Just as I have begun to listen to snow differently and to take in what it means (which is a bit more than just weather that happens) so also must I never forget to listen to each client with an open mindset and a willingness to "not know." Whatever is new must have a place to show up. Even listening to snow differently.

'Not knowing' is far from a simple state of being when one is a "know it all" who wants to help out. 'Not knowing' is a gift to a person who must figure out how to work through a situation or problem and it's the gift of the coach who is there to explore and discover with the client what that might be.

I like to think of the great explorers: Magellan, Hillary, Armstrong and so many more who took the ultimate chance, risked it all, and fortunately came back to tell us about it. These inspiring, courageous explorers might like to know that coaches also dare to explore with our clients inside the possibility of discovery always being present.

"I will study and get ready and someday my chance will come." ... Abraham Lincoln

Friday, February 5, 2010

Coaching Competencies and Family Life

Blogging slipped away from me most of January Twenty-Ten. There's a saying that I always laughed at but here I am living it: "Life interferes when you have other plans." But it's the realness of life that makes it worth living.

Of course I worked as usual through some challenging days. Coaching is a profession that demands I take care to self-manage myself. No client of mine is owed my challenges unless our relationship is at such a point it's okay to share. Every client's agenda is front and center every time. And lest we forget, being authentic is still the overarching behavior for a coach.

Once again "listening" became the most important quality I could bring to my 91 year old mother who is becoming less strong every day. I needed to bring every listening skill I possess to her bedside so I could hear what she wants for the end of her life. Sure, I could listen to her through the filters of my own feelings and wishes. But would that serve her? Of course not. She is now under home hospice care, not a decision to be taken lightly, but one she willingly made. I was there to listen, to care, to deliver her decision.

Why is this important for coaching? Or should I respect you and assume it's completely obvious. We in professional coaching who know what coaching is will get the message easily.

Let's see: My mother has an agenda that it's my job to honor. My mother and I trust each other implicitly; it was my role to create a safe space for her. I was present in my mother's house and to her wishes, flexible in what my role was and confident I could carry it out. I listened, listened and listened again until we were completely aligned on her wishes. I asked questions that had impact with no niceities to hide the reality. I, the coach, reached awareness; my mother was already there. We designed actions and created a plan. We did so as partners so my mother would not be left alone as time moved along.

Coaching is transferable to all and any relationships we find in life. So many of my scientist/engineer clients tell me how what we talk about for their work slowly and surely "gets home and into my family." It doesn't matter whether coach or client ... we can bring impact to whomever desires us to do so.