Two human beings sit facing one another for the first time. One is called a coach and the other, a client. The client is unhappy, dissatisfied with his present life; feels stuck, blocked; experiences pain in his life. The coach is faced with the task of assisting the client to change in a way which will allow him to grow, have more choices, more satisfaction, and less pain in his life. What is the first task of the coach?
Does the coach size him up to see if there is any chemistry between them? Does the coach listen intently for clues of commonality or no commonality? Or is the coach so busy worrying about convincing this client that he came to the right place? Who is more anxious – the client or the coach? More likely, both. The client is nervous because he knows he is expected to talk honesty about what is going on in his life and this could be the first time he is openly discussing it. The coach is nervous because he wants to develop a relationship with this person and hopes to build a rapport, a connection.
My readings on this have directed me to believe that coaches can have chemistry with each and every client if they put their mind to it. It is best not to be concerned about the type of person your client is or if the client will like you or try too hard to build a rapport – but instead, direct your attention on him, his life, work experience and what he wants from a coach. This will help you develop a good chemical relationship.
Understand that it is not about YOU and how you feel. For instance, if you are a religious person who has been married to the same person for 34 years and love and respect your marriage – how will you feel towards a client who is on their 6th marriage? Would you have disdain towards that person feeling they have no respect for the institution? Anytime we are concerned about someone else’s reality, we are not presently in our own reality (Katie, 2012). This means we are not mindful and judgment can easily set in. I read on the forum a quote by Maya Angelou that – people will forget what you say, forget what you did but never forget how you made them feel. Reach out to the client as though it is only the two of you in the world. Listen mindfully and your client will stick with you whether you are purple with six arms or just a regular person. What we want is for the client to feel comfortable. Therefore, we need to come to the session with no baggage. Relax and chemistry will follow
What does having chemistry mean?
Developing chemistry is real for many coaches who are actually professionals. For example, if you study NLP – you will learn how to mirror your client so that if your client talks slow and with a different beat than you as the coach – you talk slow and work at talking with the same rhythm. I once had a peer client in a laser session that was literally wound up and her mind was racing…talking real fast as she went from thought to thought. I worked at following her and began trying to keep up with her thoughts and determine which one I should focus on. By the time we had 3 minutes left – I was able to find the thread and began pulling on it to the point where the client began reframing how she was looking at her whole situation. The instructor – missed the whole thing by concentrating on the fact that I was talking to fast and not giving her time to think.
I simply said – she was racing so I was racing. The point the instructor was making, was that even though she was talking fast – I could have slowed down and allowed her to think about what she was saying. Because there is really no right or wrong answer in any of these laser sessions – I understand the instructor’s point and understood also that I mirror instantly with clients because I was trained to do so many years ago when – John Grindler and Richard Bandler first starting hitting the lecture circuit on Neurolinguistic Programming. Could the 15 minutes have been managed differently? Absolutely. But I chose to go with the client only because if I were in her shoes – it would frustrate me to have all that space and silence to try and slow down and think. There are experts who could have slowed her down in seconds, perhaps my instructor could have done so – but I am not a professional just yet and it is all a learning process.
Focusing on nothing but the client and what the client wants from coaching is key in developing chemistry. My niche is Loss and Grief. One of my paid clients had lost her baby in March of 2013. The baby unfortunately was born too soon and didn’t survive. The nurse cleaned the still-born baby and asked the Mother if she wanted to hold it. While holding it – the Mother took several pictures on her cell phone. In one of our sessions – she started looking at the pictures and said that looking at these pictures do not bother her like they do some people. And as she is scrolling down – she showed me one of them – which I did not wish to see but glanced at the photo – then she showed me another and I glanced again.
This was something that was extremely uncomfortable for me – but I understood that during the grieving period – you want to share all you got of the loved one with anyone who will listen. So after our fourth session – she felt comfortable taking out the photo of her baby. She has shown be other photos – such as the urn the baby’s ashes were in – the chair she crafted for the baby and now for the urn to sit in. I looked at the pictures and marveled over them with her. But this time around, I glanced…making no comments and let her continue to talk about the photo. I nodded as she spoke…trying to be as accommodating as possible though it was difficult. However, I knew she needed to show me the photo – I got that. And of course my heart bleeds for her.
Having chemistry with your client means to understand the system in which the client lives and works. Get to know everything you can about your client and what exactly they want to change and how do they want to grow. It is suggested from the literature on chemistry, never try to “create” good chemistry…or we will fail. Your attitude as a coach and your ability to coach in the moment with whatever the client puts before you creates good chemistry. Forget about your list of questions, or your power tools in your tool kit or even your model – go with what the client puts before you and START! All the other stuff – the power tool, the models, the list of questions will fall into place when needed.
And finally, forget about what you might have in common with your client to help build rapport or how much the two of you may be alike – don’t even think about it. By nature – we are more alike than we are different. So relax. I had a peer coach in a laser session where we had different English language skills – English is my first language and my peer coach’s second language. She appeared to be much younger than I, had a different tone of voice and probably a different rhythm. However, it was all about me during this session – she listened intently and asked me to take a second and breathe because she could hear my frustration and the lump in my throat. She asks me to do that 2 times during the sessions and when she heard the lump.
When it was over and the Instructor asked me how the session went and I tried to explain how comforting it was and how she asked me a powerful question that made me realize something I had never thought of before and I began to cry – right there in class and told the Instructor I could not talk anymore. My point is that this peer client in a matter of minutes – got to me in a way that I began to reframe and grow – just by the one small session. It was powerful and the important thing out of this story is that not once was she trying to sell herself or create good chemistry which is what sometimes happens even in a 15 minute laser session. She just went for it….and the chemistry followed because she was a professional in her own right.
Having chemistry has little to do with natural instinct and ability. Having chemistry means working on developing a relationship with a client, letting your guards down and letting go of your inner feelings towards quirky tones of voice, irritating habits or non-committal behavior. If the client sought you out – the rest is in your hands. The client depends on you to help them change or reframe how they view situations. Because the process may be new to them – they may react different from what you would prefer. Don’t wipe them off the table. Some coaches believe that there will be clients who are like oil and water and because there is not a good mix and we should work at finding them another coach.
The purpose of this research paper and why it meant so much to me was because it was a question in my mind. What is chemistry and do we just dismiss clients because the relationship is not working. While I tried to think that there was such a thing as chemistry and that we need to transfer our clients to someone else or dissolve the relationship if it feels like oil and water – I am beginning to think from the readings that it is not as cut and dry. Work needs to be done to acquire that chemistry…it does not come natural.
Katie, Byron, The Work of Byron Katie, Byron Katie International, 2012
Hermain, Steven, M., The Relationship Between Therapist-Client Modality Similarity and Psychotherapy Outcome, Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research, 1998, Winter: 7(1) 56-64
Jutkins, Ray, 13 Platinum Ideas on Working with Your Clients, 2010