Does a coach actually work?

There are old adages in the coachosphere: “NEVER work more than your client! The client does all the work! Here works the client!” Hmm… “So what are they paying for?” you might ask.

I think that the client is paying for the work the coach does OUTSIDE the coaching conversation. It really is like the old joke: Your heating breaks and you call the specialist. He comes in, bangs the heating with a hammer and the heating resumes operations. Upon receiving a 200€ bill, you ask: “But you only banged the heating once!!!” and the specialist replies: “Banging the heating: 5€, knowing where: 195.”

When the coach is “working” during the coaching conversation a lot of attention of the coach will go to their work, what THEY are doing, rather than focusing the attention on what the client is saying, listening for what is important to the client, what they already know and where they want to go.

The work the client is paying for is what the coach has learned outside the coaching conversation. Here are some examples of what that might be:

Listening without comparison

When your client tells a story and in your head you are relating their experience to your experience, you are listening with a comparing ear. Developing the awareness that everyone has their own story, that your experience is probably very different from the experience of your client, is a crucial skill for any coach. The first step to developing this skill is noticing when you are doing it. You can also practice this skill in daily conversations — when someone is telling a story, be curious about this story without thinking about the related story that you want to be telling afterwards. Put your counterpart in the center of the conversation and only take the center stage when they are done.

Listening without judgement

Your client has a problem that you have also contended with. You think you know what the client should do. You might even notice mistakes the client has made: these are all signs of “listening with judgement”. Ok — I plead guilty. We all do that to a certain degree. Good coaches have learnt to “suspend judgement”. It is almost like if there was a big wardrobe hook in front of our offices where we can hang up our judgement and leave it for the time of the coaching conversation. As judging, sorting, making our sense of things is natural for us humans, learning to listen without it, is a skill. You can also practice it in daily conversations or even when watching TV debates. Listen to someone’s point of view without an internal response and with curiosity: what is important to that person, what do they care about?

Listening without a need to perform

This is a tough one, as we all want to deliver the best possible service to our clients. We WANT to be good coaches! But as with judgement and comparison, when the need to perform is present, we tend to focus our attention on ourselves rather than on the other person. What helped me get over my (admittedly strong) desire to be a “great” coach, was saying to myself: “I might not be the best, but I am the one who is here!”. Likening myself to a concert pianist was another helpful metaphor: During the coaching I am present to the music, the client — before and after I practice my skill and am present to my skill development.

Asking questions without a need to understand

Contrary to common lore, the coach does not need to understand anything that the client says and especially not what the client’s problem is. The main thing is that the client understands what the client says. When the coach wants to understand, again, the conversation becomes about what is going on with the coach rather than the client. The skill that the coach needs, is to be able to fish out what is important to the client, where they want to go, what is working etc. in partnership with the client. One way to practice this is to coach a fellow coach and ask them not to tell you what their problem is — only ask them what they want instead. Notice at which points you want to ask more about the problem and each time that happens ask about the goal instead.

I hope I have given you some useful tips for finding out how to discover “where to bang the heating” – a bit ironic to be writing a post with tips without really knowing if you need them or not. Not a coaching mindset, really. But as I am writing today and you are reading in your today, there is not much we can do differently.

If you want to meet with us in a joint today and have fun discussing these questions, why not join us at one of our free coaching meetups and exchanges:

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