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.