A Coaching Power Tool created by Lizette DuBay
(Health, Wellness and Fitness Coach, UNITED STATES)
The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out. Proverbs 20:51
When listening to someone’s story, are you more likely to listen for the aspects that impact you or the storyteller? Have you ever attached some great meaning to one aspect of a story you heard or read only to find out from the author’s perspective how different his or her intentions really were?
It is natural for us to try to relate to someone else’s story by finding similarities with our own. It is often in this way individuals find commonality and a basis for conversation and more intimate relationship. This can be very useful when developing a new friendship or interaction.
But as coaches, our first focus must be on what the client is trying to communicate through his or her story. What can we find out about him or her and not ourselves in hearing their weavings? While it is useful to look for some common ground on which to build conversation, caution is to be exercised so as to keep an appropriate boundary.
Already much of our coaching training has involved the art of active listening–of setting aside our own judgments and bias, opinions and previous experience, to identify the deeper meaning of the stories told by our clients. How does it relate to the client and her experience? Not those of the coach. What are her judgments and underlying beliefs? What does this say about her and how much more can be drawn out of these “deep waters”?
When a coach hears the stories of his clients and relates them to himself, the focus immediately becomes the coach. He can no longer listen for the deeper answers for the client, but instead projects his own experiences, opinions and solutions on his clients. He goes from supportive partner to counselor, giving advice, correction and opinion.
Authors Karen Spear and Terry Bacon in their book Adaptive Coaching:The Art and Practice of Client-Centered Approach to Performance Improvement, recognize the distinction between clients who seek more direction or advice-coaching vs. those who prefer a “non-directive” approach. The majority of clients prefer the latter. However coaches, like most people, naturally lean toward a directive approach, especially in their area of expertise or experience. Spears and Bacon quote this statistic:
Fifty-six percent of clients report that the coaching they receive is often not
focused on the right things and does not help them learn exactly what they
should do differently to be more effective.2
Even for the minority that prefers a directive approach by their coach, there is a nuanced dance between art and science that must be practiced. The coach must be cognitive of the place where their solicited expertise and advice ends and support of the client’s purview begins—discovery and development of the choice of action. Expertise and advice are based on the “what” or the background that allows the client to make an informed choice. After the “what” is presented, the coach must make a conscious decision to take off the advice hat give the client the space to explore the “how,” “why,” “when,” and “where” of his own resolution. It is at this point the coach chooses tools that allow her to enter a supporting role: perhaps active listening, reflecting, releasing judgment, curiosity, powerful questions—instead of digging into a personal toolbox of self-reflection and self-correction. A powerful realization for a coach is she is not there to correct the client but to support the client as she seeks her own resolution.