A Coaching Power Tool Created by Paul-Alan Dollinger
(Executive Coach, FRANCE)
Seeking the angle/topic for my paper I decided to look at myself first and, what I needed to be aware of to be a better coach. I also gathered the main insights that were important to me and added some elements from my readings, exchange with my Gestalt therapist wife, and some podcasts from Katrina Burus.
I fully realize that what I capture here is not a method or an approach. And may seem a little all over the place. Should I enroll for the full course to become a coach this will be a point to work on: more formalization. Having said that, below is explained that an approach that I seriously consider developing further would include some elements of Gestalt. Making the client, myself and the relation we will build the main instrument of the coaching sessions.
Looking at who I am what risks do I see in engaging in coaching?
Risk #1, I have to start with procrastination…as it is an important aspect that clients can bring to a session and, also because this is a key issue for me personally.
Being a chief procrastinator… the CREATING ACTION session resonated particularly strongly.
My risk is bringing my fear of procrastination to the session; important that during the phase of ESTABLISHING THE AGREEMENT that I would make it clear to the client that an important outcome for them is to encourage action (clear for me and clear for the client). The dosing of the level of action will be the client’s responsibility.
If I think of my fear, or overreacting to my tendency to procrastinate, the risk will be for me to encourage the client to rush too quickly into action. AWARENESS needs to come first. And setting the direction or vision of where the client wants to be or go, achieve…Even if the client seems clear early on it will be good to scratch the surface and use reflective statements (not only POWERFUL QUESTIONS) or open-ended questions to help the client identify the real issue for him or herself. Oscar Trimboli has designed 5 levels of listening. He captures this in his book “Deep listening” which is close to what we discussed in the POWER LISTENING coaching skills session. In his introduction, he rightly mentions that we speak around 125 words per minute, but the brain can process 900. So, the client has chosen some words but are they the ones which matter the most? So, taking the time to listen to the client state and restate his overall goal and help him go to the bottom of what the issue is or, the goal is, will be a priority.
Case study A: “procrastination in learning a new language”.
I had a peer coaching session with a person living in another country. The topic he brought to the session was how could he become more consistent in learning this language. He was living there trying to find a job and in a relationship with a partner from that country. To keep things short, he had a basic level and wanted to be more fluent. He was clear on the personal and professional benefits he would gain. But… and it was a “big but”, he was also dismissing the learning need as “not so important”.
I must admit I struggled to get anywhere during the session. My struggling came from being drawn in two separate lines of thought:
Thought #1: I feel conflict or something behind that procrastination how can I help him get to it?
Thought #2: he is looking for ways to have continuity in learning the language how can help him act on that?
It is obvious for me now that the line of thinking #1 was the most important but as I was going to and from in between the two I didn’t help my client get anywhere. Also, preparing for the second session that has not happened yet…(I have a deadline to submit my paper…), I remembered a metaphor he used to describe the situation and I hate myself for not getting in sync with my client and exploring further along the line of thought #1.
The client used the metaphor of a tree with short roots. He would like to have a tree with deeper roots. He also stated “If there is a storm the tree can fall”; in writing this I feel the importance in my flesh of what he was saying. How could I have missed it ?!!
The client has to take the lead but if I feel it can help and that he is still blocked on the following: “this language is important and not important…”, I will offer him to come back to the metaphor. With the following line of questioning to be adapted with what he will want to share:
- If the roots (or part of the roots) are the Dutch language what is the trunk, branches, and leaves?
- You mentioned that a storm could bring the tree down? What could be that storm?
- What could make you want to nurture that tree so that the roots can be longer?
- What could be the benefit for you of keeping the roots short?
This last question comes from a discussion with my wife on procrastination. This is used in Gestalt: seeing both sides of a topic. There can be unsaid benefits to something we don’t like…
DIRECT COMMUNICATION Lab with Lorna Pool came with its humbling moment. When Lorna discussed the following: “everything that comes out of a coach’s mouth needs to be intentional. So, noticing is not sufficient”. According to me, this summarizes a key contribution expected from a coach but also, the toughest. Both because that means the coach needs to find the right line of questioning at the right moment and this seems a little daunting for a baby coach. But also, because I struggle with the compulsion to think that I see a path forward and thus I want to ask a question that would get the client closer to that path that “I” see (see below Risk #2). And that is not what is expected from a coach. I took the lab a second time with Sunita Chhibar during which Sunita gave some hints which reminded me of some of my readings on Gestalt: If the question doesn’t come when you don’t know what to ask … be authentic and tell the client exactly what you feel. Or say I need a minute to think. It is Ok to make the client aware of what you are going through.
I capture this here because this is something I managed to do with this client. I was honest about the fact that I was puzzled and not sure how to help (saying this last piece was not necessary…). And this led me to ask him to rephrase differently the issue. And him using the metaphor that I didn’t capitalize on at the moment…
Risk #2, another related risk is my tendency to focus on results over the process. This is aligned with my line of thinking #2 described above. Like my son (his father’s son on this one….) giving me the answer to a math question but not being able to formulate properly how he got to that result. Important to encourage a thinking process “in conscience”. A result is to be disconnected from the process that the client went through to reach that result. Especially if the process he went through is something important to reproduce in the future and represent a change from the past.
This was clearly explained during the CREATING TRUST session by Lucy Romao Vandepol: “acknowledge the process vs. the content” and acknowledge along the following lines: “You have put a lot of thought … “. Avoid the following “This is a great thought…”. Saying this validates the thought but also stops the thinking process of the client.
Risk #3, is my fear of being judged (or being wrong) which can impact the line of questioning. I liked the key reminder that Katerina Kanelidou stated: ACTIVE LISTENING is not about being right or wrong but sharing something we have noticed. I love that statement. It is liberating by its simplicity and straightforwardness. In particular for a newcomer to coaching. Hence also the importance of freeing up one’s brain ahead of a session and following the golden rule of listening…being fully there at the moment (here and now as they say in Gestalt) with the client and for his goal.
Risk #4, the reverse… me being the one to be judgmental. I was listening to a coaching podcast in which Marcia Reynolds was being interviewed (podcast #122: Coach the person, not the situation “Excellent Executive Coaching hosted by Katrina Burrus). What resonated in that podcast was the following: “Judgment is an emotion” or I would say also contains a good portion of emotion as judgment is activated when we hear/see something contrary to our own beliefs or values. And likely the more it is about our values and the more the emotional component is activated.
If we are lucky enough to be able to be connected to our emotions, then we can hear the signal and better manage this risk. The body signal will let me know that I should be careful and that it is urgent to come back in the present and set aside this thought which goes against CREATING TRUST and safety for the client.
This was also nicely stated by Lucy Romao Vandepol during the CREATING TRUST session: “In coaching, trust starts with open-non-judgmental-mind…”
Risk #5, reinventing the wheel every time… Yes, sometimes I think my life is exhausting. Like written French which is tough as I have dyslexia. So, at now 54, I am still correcting my spelling on words I have used a thousand times….and grammar is worse…so this impression of restarting from scratch starts there. And this extends to projects where I don’t use a formal method. I have learned to work from my arborescent thinking and keep the strength of the creativity and diversity of thinking and bring structure using tools like mind-mapping. The risk I see in coaching is too many thoughts and options for the line of questioning can emerge at the same time. I need to be able to reduce the noise of this and get to the essence of what is important at the moment for the client.
One possibility to explore to help reduce the clutter is to go beyond the words. So, what applies to me listening to my body signals applies also to what I “hear” from the client. A French video by Yves Joly spoke about the 3 “Vs”: Verbal, Vocal (or para-verbal), and Visual. Verbal being the stated words, vocal how the words are said (tone…) and Visual what attitude, gestures.
This is something I would like to explore more, as it is something, I believe I intuitively do. I used to notice, but more and more I go beyond noticing. I apply this in my personal but also my professional life. I have the opportunity presented to be finishing a job without knowing what my next assignment will be. And I have used some of the free time to coach my team members who want. It is starting as I am writing this paper.
Case study B: “Vocal and non-verbal as beacons of insights”
I had such sessions with a team member. In this particular session, the topic was about applying for another job in the company and how to go about it. During her opening statement in the second session, she stated among other things that her boss who is “benevolent” so giving advice but not “orders” (I am her n+2) had told her not to contact directly the manager recruiting but to go through the HR process and see if she will be selected to interview with the other manager. We were on Zoom, still, I noticed she was slowing down during that part. She a lively person. So later in the session, I took her back to that point and what I noticed. I asked what could be the reason for the change of pace…This got her thinking and she said she would like to contact the manager directly…we concluded the session with her committing to look at both options’ pros and cons and deciding for herself. So, in this situation the pace (the “Vocal”) alerted me and helped me focus on something was my colleague needed help.
On another topic and thinking about that session, I can relate to Thomas J Leonard quoted by Marcia Reynolds on the insecurity of the new coaches to go and start coaching…” just go and love them (the clients)” (podcast #122: Coach the person, not the situation “Excellent Executive Coaching hosted by Katrina Burrus). I was able during those two sessions to be there for my colleague. And this is probably one of my strengths is that I have an “a priori” positive opinion of others. This has not always help me in my career… As some like to play games to climb the ladder faster. But I think in coaching it can be helpful to have this positive attitude and balance the “judgmental” risk mentioned above.
Risk #6: being wordy and sophisticated. This a comment I have received during a past 360 and also in my first peer coaching session :). Part of it is because I see always different dimensions and options and I try to capture them in the discussion. I am learning to manage this. If I know the topic and the audience one way is to prepare the meeting/questions ahead and to do my selection on my ideas which are the most relevant or will have the most impact. I use as mentioned mind-mapping if the topic is complex and breaks it into smaller pieces. The issue I see in a coaching setting is the fact that preparation is not always possible and I am not sure that using mind-mapping during a session would be practical and acceptable. As mentioned above I took the DIRECT COMMUNICATION lab twice. No secrets there … and I had to capture it somewhere in this paper…” practice, practice practice” … was mentioned by both Sunita and Lorna as the cornerstone on improving the quality of the questioning including its “conciseness”. My first peer coaching partner was well advanced in his training and was enlightening in showing how to keep the line of questioning sharp and staying on the ball as long as it needed to for instance pinpoint the objective for the session. Thank you, Donnie!
CREATING STRUCTURE was particularly difficult for me to grasp at first. Interestingly reading through my notes on the CREATING STRUCTURE, I still feel some kind of blockage in grasping the concept. Talking to my wife I understood that my difficulty to understand was very likely because I had stumbled upon something important for me.
I am all about instincts, I don’t plan (see Risk #5 above). I was raised in an environment where I was not encouraged to ask for help. My father had not received much help himself and had started studying medicine around age 24 (6 years later than most students) and became a renowned specialist. So, I grew up hearing regularly that you could only count on yourself. Add a self-confidence issue and it is a recipe for trying to do everything myself. And it goes hand in hand with having limited trust in others and being afraid to share my contribution. In short, the “others” are a threat and not benevolent…It is only recently and this course reinforced this evolution that I realized that in most cases others are ready to help if only asked. So, the “support team” concept we discussed in the CREATING STRUCTURE session with Katerina Kanelidou resonated strongly.
Being an executive in a large biopharma company I had naturally and instinctively worked with others but with always some form of reluctance. What I have found liberating is to do it proactively, knowingly, and to enjoy it.
I have gone a little far on explaining where I come from because I believe this journey will be useful in my interaction with clients.
In building the structure when I continue on my learning/practice course to become a coach and thinking of the COACHING MODELS we reviewed with Sunita Chhibar, I will want to explore further Gestalt applied to coach (homage to my wife!). I think it fits who I am. While some sort of frame will be needed. I would likely start with something simple such as GROW. As mentioned above I do tend to reinvent the process each time I take on a project. So, I have to see how I can keep some of that while adding a little structure.
Early in my carrier, I took a two-day management course with some of my colleagues. Interestingly I remember the setting quite clearly which is not the case of other such courses I have followed. It is linked to something which has stuck with me (cannot quote who…) but it was quite simple: “there is no one management style but one management style for one team member and one situation”. This “specificity” of the person and the situation is well aligned with the coaching mantra: “it is all about the client”. Not one client is the same as another. The situation itself might be a classic (taking a new role…). But even for the situation the environment and stakeholders will make it specific. In any case, the client will always unique.
Beyond the discussions with my wife and trying to see more specifically how Gestalt can be applied to coaching, I read the following book: Mastery in Coaching: A Complete Psychological Toolkit for Advanced Coaching by Jonathan Passmore. I extracted a few quotes:
The first quote resonates well with what we have been told during the training.
A person working from a gestalt perspective may have been working with this intent for six months or 10 years, yet each encounter with a client is novel. The expertise the gestalt practitioner brings is awareness of herself and skill in using herself and the relationship with her client as the instruments of awareness. This perspective is based on the view that there is always more to learn and greater awareness to be had, and that this may afford a virtuous circle of growth, exploration and enquiry.
I like this idea “each encounter is novel…” This is the essence of what I find attractive in coaching + the fact that I would not need a whole bunch of tools and assessments (even if they tend to be more common in the corporate coaching world that I want to coach in). That I was a coach with the client and the relation we build will be the three instruments of coaching… feels appealing. Or better said by Petruska Clarkson:
The person to person relationship or ‘real’ relationship of gestalt is a meeting between human beings, both risking themselves, who nourish and are nourished by the encounter in the here and now.
Woah! Appealing, no?
Another insight. I hope I am not diverting but in parallel to my journey through the workplace coaching module, I am also going through therapy and rebuilding my relationship with my wife. In the GRATITUDE module, the following point raised by Katrina Kanelidou help me put words on something that had puzzled me for a while: “emotions wear off”.With gratitude we appreciate the value of it, so we extract more about something and last longer than the actual emotion.” This is so effective it will be present with me moving forward with also the realization that gratitude reignites emotion. A virtuous (and not virtual…) circle! Having been through that process of realization I can adjust better my “Frenchness” (see below) on this aspect and fully embrace encouraging Gratitude in Clients which would be stuck in a neutral or negative zone.
Having been raised in France (French farther, English mother) I tend to frown upon the Anglo-Saxon way of “exaggerating” (this is my French part speaking) the positive messages and reinforcement. It can seem a little artificial and borderline mechanical and thus in some way insincere. Still, in coaching, we have to use this and if we are nonjudgmental and in tune with the client, we can see the baby or big steps they are making towards their goal and acknowledge them
Voilà! for this paper. A summary of some insight on myself on the coaching practice and some good leads to follow when I continue my next steps towards becoming a certified coach…this unless I procrastinate 😉
Thank you to all the great coaches who took me on a very interesting journey, Sunita, Katerina, Lorna, Razan, José-Antonio.
Thank you to all the ICA support team for always being there to answer my many questions.
Thank you to all the other, often passionate, baby coaches, or nearly certified, for they also contributed to the value of this training.