March 22, 2024

Centering the coaching client

You will not find many coaching approaches that do not say that they “center” the client. They center the client’s agenda, the content of the conversation, the client’s body language etc. What is unclear is what “centering” means in each of the uses of this word. In the following, I would like to describe my view of “centering the client”.

I would like to use a somewhat phenomenological approach and talk about the coach’s experiences of a conversation that centers the client.

My experience when I center the client is that the client is the “center” of my attention. Of course, I will also have other thoughts running through my mind, but I will be able to let go of them pass and redirect my attention to the client. Those of you who practice mindfulness will see similarities and indeed, meditation of all forms is a good way of practicing recognizing when our thoughts wander and gently pulling them back.

The attention I offer my client will be one of “unconditional positive regard” to borrow a term from person centered therapy and acceptance of their accounts of their experience. I won’t judge if what the client says is “true” or not, nor will I relativize (or worse, invalidate) any of their experiences: it is what it is.

Starting from the acceptance of the client’s recounted experience, I can invite them to pay attention to things that might be useful and may have been overlooked. For example, if a client says: “I am always such a perfectionist!”, I can ask: “always?” without the intention of discounting the client’s experience but with the intention of inviting them to pay attention to more than they are currently paying attention to. Insoo Kim Berg called this: “A tap on the shoulder”. I will completely accept if the client replies: “Yes, always”.

When I am centering the client, I am also not paying attention to my own thoughts about how the conversation should run. I will attempt to co-create the conversation with the client. When thoughts of “am I a good coach?” or “am I delivering enough value” creep in, I will notice them, try to let them go and maybe use them to connect with the client about what it is that they are perceiving as useful in the conversation.

If you have a conversation that is centered on the client, it also frees you to be you, ironically. Since the client has had ample experience of being the focus of attention, of being validated and not judged, they will feel free to let you know what they think and it is clear to them that your opinion, as a coach, is not privileged in any way. That way you can even give advice when it is desired because it is clear that “your advice” is just that and not more or less true than what the client is thinking.

I am also not thinking about any theories I might have about the client: no developmental stages of the client, no developmental stages of their themes, no ego states, no numbers of the enneagram, no parallel processes, transference, countertransference etc. I know that many coaches love learning about these models. They are curious and love to provide value. The thought is, the more you know, the more value you can provide. Recent research shows that the more mature coaches become, the more they leave their models and focus on the individual needs of the client. These models may be seen as a Wittgensteinian ladder: Once you have climbed it, you can throw it away? I started my life as a coach with Solution Focus, so I have not often used models about the client as in Solution Focus, we try to have as little assumptions about the client as possible. I am not sure if we need models about the client as ladder, at all, but this is a topic for further research.

If you want to talk about these and other musings about models, come join us for our free meetup and exchange!

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