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.