Research Paper By Ada Neumann
(Spiritual Coach, UNITED STATES)
The 4 Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is a groundbreaking book in personal and spiritual development. The 4 Agreements are a framework that people live by in their daily lives, life coaches included. After diving into learning about life coaching, and the common frameworks coaches use in their practices, I noticed a very similar distinction between The 4 Agreements and the ICF Competencies. Because these similarities coincide so well with each other, it’s worth taking a look at how The 4 Agreements play a part in coaching and explore how these Agreements can become a framework for coaches.
There are two sides toThe 4 Agreements in a coaching framework; how these agreements can be applied to the coach, and how these agreements can be applied to the client. We will be taking a closer look at both sides of this framework in this paper, including how The 4 Agreements and the ICF Competencies are closely related.
Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. –John Wooden
At the beginning of Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The 4 Agreements, Ruiz touches on a very interesting subject; domestication. In the context of the book, domestication is a process all humans go through in their lifetime. This process has to do with the creation of our belief systems. Since the time we were born, we have been bombarded by other people’s beliefs about life. Our parents, friends, teachers, and society have shaped us into who we are today. We all get domesticated eventually, meaning that who we really are gets covered up and forgotten. Who we really are vanishes and gets replaced by who we think we should be according to others.
As Don Miguel Ruiz says in The 4 Agreements:
“During the process of domestication, we form an image of what perfection is to try to be good enough. We create an image of how we should be to be accepted by everybody. We especially try to please the ones who love us, like Mom and Dad, big brothers and sisters, the priests, and the teacher. Trying to be good enough for them, we create an image of perfection, but we don’t fit this image. We create this image, but this image is not real. We are never going to be perfect from this point of view. Never!” [p.17]
Domestication is the reason many life coaches are in business today. People seek out coaching to gain a better understanding of themselves. Domestication can present itself in many different forms. For someone seeking an Empowerment Coach, a common theme in that person’s life could be self-doubt. Self-doubt is caused by comparing ourselves to the unrealistic image of perfection, aka, domestication. Someone seeking a Career Coach might be compelled to find a more fulfilling job or life purpose. In general, the reason for this search for more fulfillment is because of external influences steering one in the opposite direction of who they really are; another form of domestication. In every area of coaching one can find traces of the detrimental influences of domestication. People come to coaching seeking freedom. More specifically, personal freedom to live an extraordinary life; one that aligns with who they are, not a life that was forced upon them by society. The coaching process helps aid in getting back to one’s authentic self before domestication.
BeImpeccable with Your Word
The first agreement is “be impeccable with your word”. Words have enormous power in our lives. Along with actions, words play a big role in creating our beliefs and values. The stories we tell ourselves, the way we talk about ourselves, and the things we say about others all have an impact on how we live our lives. Being impeccable with your word means that you are staying true to yourself, and living in alignment with who you really are.
Don Miguel Ruiz says in The 4 Agreements:
“The human mind is like a fertile ground where seeds are continually being planted. The seeds are opinions, ideas, and concepts. You plant a seed, a thought, and it grows. The word is like a seed, and the human mind is so fertile!”
In the context of coaching, and being a coach, words play a big role in the effectiveness of the process. Coaches strive to make a powerful connection with their clients, and a big part of this is through the use of words. Throughout the ICF Competencies, the use of language is a strong theme. Competencies 6 and 7 have a focus on the use of words, which we’ll take a closer look at.
Competency number 6 in the International Coaching Federation’s core coaching competencies, is Powerful Questioning. Asking powerful questions is at the base of great coaching. Coaches ask questions to help their clients think differently about something. Going back to what Ruiz said about the mind being fertile, asking powerful questions in coaching allows new thoughts to grow in the client’s mind. These new thoughts open up new insights and possibilities to the client. As coaches, we strive to be mindful of what questions we ask. We consider the impact and the intent behind the question. At its core, this is being impeccable with your word. By challenging a client’s thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, values, mindset, etc., we are helping the client get to know their authentic self, and decide what is serving them or not.
Competency number 7 in the ICF Core Competencies is Direct Communication. Direct communication deals with how the coach communicates in the session. The words themselves are just as important as how they are being said. A tone of voice can change the meaning of a sentence or word. In addition to asking powerful questions to help evoke new awareness in the client, coaches also are impeccable with their word through the intent and tone they use when speaking.
Overall, the coaching space is a place where both coach and client are being impeccable with their word. The coach is impeccable with their word while asking questions to help move the client forward, and as a result, the coach supports the client in being more impeccable with their word as well. Some of the magic in coaching happens when a coach picks up on a client not being impeccable with their word. Having someone observe when we are not being true to ourselves can be a transforming experience in our personal growth.
Don’t Take Anything Personally
In coaching, coaches are masters at not taking anything personally. In fact, this is how some growth on the client’s end is created. This agreement is quite straightforward and complements the first agreement of being impeccable with your word.
Ruiz says in The 4 Agreements:
“Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own minds; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we assume that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.”
ICF Competency number 7.2 in Direct Communication states:
“Coach shares observations, intuitions, comments, thoughts, and feelings without any attachment to them being right.”
Coaches are neutral sounding boards for their clients. In the coaching space, the coach stays separate from the client’s “story” to help them move past it. Coaches can put aside their own stories and beliefs to support their clients. This also creates a safe space for the client to fully express themselves without the fear of being judged.
ICF Competencies 3 and 4 help to create this safe space for the client.
ICF Competency number 3, Creating Trust and Intimacy, focuses on respecting the client and allowing them to fully express themselves. This is a fundamental aspect of effective coaching. When the client is allowed to be themselves, to say what they’re feeling without judgment, they are granted the opportunity to understand themselves more deeply. Most of the time in our daily lives, we hide what we’re really thinking or feeling so we don’t risk having someone take something personally. Coaches offer a judgment-free space by not taking anything the client is saying personally.
Competency number 4, Coaching Presence, also has a focus on not taking anything personally. Having a coaching presence allows the client to take the lead in the direction of the session. If the coach were to take what the client is saying personally, the conversation may take an unintended, leading direction. Not taking anything personally allows the coach to follow the client’s lead for a more impactful session.
Not taking anything personally plays a big role in coaching, mainly for the coach. When engaging in the coaching relationship, the coach must be neutral and not take anything personally.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Everyone sees and experiences the world differently. Two people may go through the same experience, and come out of it completely different. This is why it is essential to not make assumptions as a coach. Coaching is powerful because the coach seeks to understand how the client is perceiving their world. Even if the client is going through the same situation the coach has gone through, the client is going to see things differently. Taking the time to understand how the client is seeing their situation, and how the client is feeling about their situation sets up the opportunity for the client to make a change.
Don Miguel Ruiz says in The 4 Agreements:
“It is always better to ask a question than to assume because assumptions set us up for suffering.”
ICF Competencies 5 and 6 are directly related to not making assumptions.
ICF Competency number 5 is Active Listening. Active listening allows the coach to understand the client more deeply. When the coach is listening carefully to the client, the coach can pick up on assumptions the client is making. This competency also has to do with the coach’s assumptions. Active listening is about inquiring about the client’s behaviors, emotions, use of language, and understanding how the client perceives their situation. If the coach is not making assumptions, there is an opportunity for deeper understanding for both coach and client. By inquiring about the use of language, for example, the coach gives the client space to further articulate how they are viewing themselves or their situation.
ICF Competency number 6 is Powerful Questioning. As stated before, powerful questioning is a big part of great coaching. It also is a time when the coach drops their assumptions about their client’s issue, and questions the assumptions of the client.
Competency number 6.1 states:
“Coach asks powerful questions about the client; his/her way of thinking, assumptions, beliefs, values, needs, wants, etc.”
What we assume isn’t always true. When a coach inquires about an assumption the client has, the coach is helping the client see their issue from a different perspective. The coach is challenging the client.
Always Do Your Best
An Agreement almost all coaches can get behind is Always Do Your Best. This Agreement presents itself among almost all life coaches. In the coaching relationship, coaches have the highest personal regard for their clients. This means that coaches believe that their clients are resourceful and have everything it takes to make a change already within them. No matter what state both the coach and client are in during a session, coaching works best when both parties are bringing their best selves to the table.
The 4 Agreements are closely related to the ICF Competencies, and following the Agreements in coaching creates a framework for coaches. Be Impeccable With Your Word, Don’t Take Anything Personally, Don’t Make Assumptions, and Always Do Your Best.
Ruiz, Don Miguel. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book). San Rafael: Amber-Allen Publishing, 1997.