September 30, 2022

Coaching F***-Ups: Not mentioning the obvious

I have seen advertisements of “F***-Up Nights” in my social media. Apparently it is a mini-conference, where people get on stage to speak about their failures and what they learned from them. Recently, I attended a Coaching Open Space and one of the sessions was a “F***-Up” hour, where we exchanged what went wrong in coaching and what we learned from it. I thought this might be a great topic for blog posts. So here is the first one:

The coaching school I attended regularly invited external clients (a method that we stole — we always try to get external clients into our coach education, it makes a difference). Anyway, the client that I was asked to coach was a lovely middle aged women whose hands were bandaged with not so clean bandages which smelled like a well-known homeopathic remedy. In our coaching session, she wanted to find out why she was not getting clients for her massage practice.

I was dumbfounded:

a) I did not know how to coach a “why” question

b) I immediately had a strong hypothesis as to why she was not getting clients: I would wonder what happened to her hands before I would be massaged by her.

The way I am now reconstructing my memory (no guarantee that this is true) has me struggling with my hypothesis. I stopped being present to the client, panicked, did not really know what to ask her. I tried this that and the other thing, but the whole session did not go anywhere: the client did not find out why nor did she find a way forward and I felt miserable.

What did I learn from this?

a) A “why” question can be explored without going for “root causes” (which we know are not really helpful). I might have asked my client: “Suppose you knew why you were not getting any clients, what would be different?”. She might have answered: “I would get clients” or “I would know what to change to get clients.” And that is something that I could have worked with.

b) The hypothesis in my head was getting in the way! I have since learned to either let go of the hypothesis or if it is too sticky, offer it to the client as an observation with the invitation to explore if it seems relevant to the client: “I am noticing that your hands are bandaged — I don’t know if this has anything to do with our topic or not, but would you like to tell me about it if it is at all relevant?” This would have allowed me to let go of the hypothesis and stay present to the client and the client might have explored if it is relevant. (Thinking about it now, it might just have been that she was taking good care of her primary instrument)

If you want to discuss your f***-ups in a safe and confidential environment, book a supervision session with one of our supervisors or come to one of our free meetups and exchanges.

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