In this article, I will close the digression I began in:
… continued in:
… talking of the last of the three principles of Manzoni’s Triad, transposing it from the context of written literature to that of coaching conversations.
As opposed to conversations, literature by itself is a “static” medium. We may say that its dynamics end when the author lays down his pen (or moves the fingers away from the keyboard). There is no direct contact between the author and the reader.
However, whereas the written information is not changing, the reader’s interpretation of it can be as dynamic as the author’s creative work. The information is not just passed on: it becomes a story, it may achieve personal meaning and most importantly, it can be put to use. After all, how much has been written because of the spark people felt while reading? Information is not just stored: it is processed, elaborated, and eventually vested by new meanings. In the end, there is a dynamics even in static writing.
The same happens with meaningful conversations such as the ones of a coaching dyad. The process differs because the conversation is in continuous development, for it is two-way communication.
The thing is, a reader will drop a book because it is boring, and similarly the coachee will drop the coaching relationship if he feels it isn’t helping. This time, the issue is not about making the conversation interesting, a problem that I covered in the previous article. It is about keeping the conversation purposeful.
People look for coaches when they are stuck with something and need help removing roadblocks through a solution-oriented framework that isn’t mentoring. They look for answers, but not pre-tailored solutions which may fit somebody else but them. Effective coaching is going to remove these road blockers without taking decisions for the coachee.
And seasoned coaches very well know the difference between leading questions and powerful ones.
The need for (real) positive thinking
Coaching dyads operate in a setting where sessions aren’t simply a problem-solving discourse: conversations are a learning moment. Of course, the mission of the coach is to help the interlocutor in his journey of self-analysis and decision-making.
When digressing on the concept of Real as Object, I made a clear statement to not influence the thinking process of the coachee except for keeping him/her on the real, positive leads.
The adjective “positive” here has meaning of “constructive, non-negative”: although not always possible, we must avoid at all costs having a coachee wallowing in ruminating thoughts and blaming others for the situation he is currently in – the company not paying enough, the manager not seeing the talent, the colleagues slacking off, etc. The meaning of the coaching conversation is lost the moment it becomes a place for pitiful behavior.
Because conversations often do not reduce to one sole session, the relationship with the coachee needs to be nurtured. The longer we spend time with the coachee, the more we get to know him/her. This occurs if there is trust between the two parties involved, and it can help the coachee loosen the formalities.
We shall not do the same.
Because our role is the one of the coach, we need to be super-partes – that is, we cannot allow our judgment and feelings to pollute our thoughts. This requires a high level of control, a good balance of mindfulness and situational awareness, and being courageous enough to share even feedback that could upset our interlocutor.
The coachee finds usefulness in coaching because of the masterful ability to unravel thoughts with the process of inquiry operated by the coach – who in turn aims to provoke a sort of enlightenment.
Since the coach tries to be self-aware and critical at any time, such exercise can eventually be inspiring for the coachee. Especially for an interlocutor who has it hard to achieve self-reflection autonomously, there are some patterns for retrospective that may become recurring over the course of the coaching relationship. Out of the sessions, other exercises, such as journaling, could provide new meaning to the coachee than the goal alone.
We could as well say that the moment in which the coachee masters self-reflection, there is no use for coaching anymore, but I would just bluntly lie. Coaches in turn look for peers who could help them earn some lost clarity. Here you see how coaching as endless learning process that shifts from a skill to a lifestyle.
Acknowledging change of needs
The purpose of a coaching conversation is usually to meet some expected goal, but such is prone to changes over time. That isn’t surprising, considering that coaching itself is transformative.
However, sometimes the coach, others the coachee may perceive this drift as an undesired factor. We begin to pursue a certain target, and maybe after one or two sessions, we are already looking at something else, totally different. Is that a disservice we are providing?
It depends, and to understand that we might focus on realigning the client’s goals to have a clear list of priorities. In order to keep sheer concentration on what matters, we should ask whether this newly founded objective does align with the original one: and if yes, how, if it is a “subtask” of certain importance; and if not, if this is more important than the previously stated goal.
Remember that as a coach, it is not your job to chain your interlocutor to specific goals and ideals; but if you feel that the coachee wanders from one thing to another over the course of multiple conversations, without a clear goal, we are failing somewhere – to keep them accountable for their actions. Which is one of the purposes of coaching.
What’s in for the coach?
If you are reading this article you sure have a keen interest in coaching. But aside from how amazing it might look from the outside, have you wondered about the “benefits” of being a coach, rather than being coached?
Performing coaching, honing coaching skills and achieving a coaching mindset give the practitioner many benefits.
In the first place, the foundational skills for coaching are useful to society and to yourself: observation, detachment, awareness, questioning can be in place when making decisions about your life, not just during a conversation.
In the second place, because you need a positive critical attitude, you will be able to resolve challenging situations with more peace of mind than when being owned solely by your emotions.
Finally, allowing ourselves to be authentic when coaching will make it effortlessly. It means not compromising ourselves in favor of some “must-do” rule we set in our head (yes, fix mindset can override us), and having clarity of why we are doing it.
Useful as purpose means that coaching is worthy when its usefulness is defined in the journey towards the coachee’s goal and his/her progressive growth.
The usefulness of coaching relies on its solution-focused approach. At the end of the journey, if the coachee did not meet the original target, he must have reached at least some clarity of mind.
With coaching, we may need to empower the client to rework his negative attitude towards the problem and others, which is useful to him for this and any future challenges.
We cannot betray the trust that our interlocutor puts on us by sympathizing with him; we must keep in the role, for the purpose of the conversation is to shed light and awareness. People do not come to coaches to complain together, but to resolve things.
When we are coaching someone who seems to jump from one lead to another, we must realign them to the real priority, which can change from the beginning of the conversation.
The primary goal of the coach is to keep the coachee accountable to act in order to achieve the goal. However, the coach is not mentoring or designing such actions unless our client explicitly asks so.
The practice, imbued with reflection, is useful for the coach to acknowledge personal growth. This in turn can be used out of the coaching room to make the world a better place.