I’ve been doing more coaching work lately and I’d quite like some more. I also find it quite hard to descibe my approach and feel wary of some of the supposed coaching models I read about online.
Most of the time when I try to describe it I become self-conscious and self-critical. This morning a friend asked me to at least try to explain myself and I got in the mood for what I’d call a fire-and-forget email. That’s when I think it’s better to take a stab and put it out there and know it’s not quite right rather than just sit with writer’s block.
Having bashed this out for my mate, I thought I’d extend my neck an inch or two further and share it with you, my dear readers. Be kind.
I’d describe my approach to coaching as humanistic. In the sense that a lot of business processes aim for standardisation, there’s a tendency to expect everyone to be the same, and to be efficient. For every kind of business situation, there are books and manuals offering standard solutions … you know: seven steps for this, the four secrets of that, the three best practices for the other…
Actually, I think this ignores the most significant thing about being human which is our humanity: that we’re flesh and blood, with sometimes unpredictable feelings and secretly very few of us really feel at home in a world of standardised mission statements. Which means many of us are left strugging to fit in, and then either blaming everyone else or blaming ourselves.
So where if a coach arrives with a standard model (eg GROW) he is quite likely to increase that sense of disconnect, not make it better. I think models and techniques are of limited importance in effective coaching, and often actually get in the way.
Timothy Gallwey, author of the “Inner Game” points out that coaches who come in with solutions for clients actually tend to reinforce their client’s sense of incompetence. Richard Farson, a great writer on management, also suggests that standard training has the same effect – it actually disables the recipients confidence in their own talent and ability to work out solutions. Like Farson, I think it’s better to practice getting comfortable with ambiguity in work, rather than painting over the cracks with a standard process.
Research on what actually works in any kind of person-to-person relationship where there is some goal of personal change concludes that there is one key factor in success, and it isn’t the technique used. It’s that both participants have faith and trust in each other and share some optimism about the outcome. That creates the context in which the client can figure out for himself the best way forward. This gives him the joy of disovery and an inherent sense of ownership.
One of the reasons I offer a free chemistry session is because I think clients should shop around and find the coach they feel comfortable working with. The one who is best able to create a relationship with them.
Having knocked techniques, let me give a bit of information about some of the work that does influence me.
I trained in humanistic psychotherapy, broadly speaking an approach that argues that the relationship between practitioner and client is at the heart of change. So I’ve done a lot of experiential work, one-to-one and in groups where the empahsis is on attending to “what’s happening here”. I think that means I am more than averagely attentive to clients, pick up nuances faster and seem to create more trusting relationships. I’m also a believer in improvisation, a willingness to experiment and try new things out without getting overly attached to getting it right. I’m good at helping clients figure out new, more exciting choices open to them in what first seemed like impossible situations.
I’ve also done a lot of work facilitating groups which has been a constant re-education in the value of having faith in people to come up with ideas and to avoid the egotistical urge to “make things happen”. I think I know how to get out of people’s way whilst still letting them know that I’m interested in, and optimistic about their abilities to create something new.