June 7, 2024

Is coaching just a bunch of talk?

When coaching students listen to masterful coaching sessions, they are sometimes surprised that the session sounds very much like a natural conversation: there is laughter, natural pauses and general fluidity of the conversation. Steve de Shazer, one of the founders of Solution Focused Brief Therapy said: “Therapy is nothing but a bunch of talk” and I think the same is true for coaching. It is two people talking together.

So, what are the differences between a chit-chat with your friend and a (masterful) coaching session?

Coaching is paid and the client expects an outcome

The client pays money for the coaching session and wants something in return. Of course, the outcome of a coaching session cannot be predicted nor guaranteed, but the client does want to move forward with a topic in some way during or after a session. When you are chatting to a friend, there is no outcome except the social glue it provides, feeling connected, being amused, having a good time.

In coaching the client is centered

The client is the center of the conversation, and the coach makes comments or asks questions about the client. The coach does not expect that the client will be interested in their stories. In conversations with a friend, normally both friends share experiences equally and the speaker and the listener switch regularly.

The coach is a professional

A masterful coach is a professional conversationalist. While masterful coaches do not have a “strategy” or “standard procedure” for the coaching session, they are very skilled at working with the emergence of the conversation. They keep the client centered and can discern at any moment which turn of the conversation they might invite the client to take.

Coaching is about a safe space to move forward

A friend will commiserate with you. If someone hurt your feelings, your friend will take your side. A coach will also create a safe space for the client to express what they are feeling, but they will invite the client to move forward beyond the hurt feelings toward growth or learning (tactfully, of course).

When you are learning to coach, your coaching conversations may feel clunky and unnatural at first. You are practicing good questions and you are unlearning many things that you are doing in everyday conversations, for example sharing own experiences or advice. So, I understand that seeing a masterful coaching conversation flow naturally can be a surprise. I think that our natural ability to have good conversations with friends is something that we might build on when we are becoming coaches rather than presume that in coaching, we are doing something completely different. Why don’t you experiment with just having a conversation with a practice client and only keep in mind these few things: center the client, be curious and interested in the outcome the client desires and in what the client is already able to do that points toward that. Don’t change anything else and see what happens (maybe be brave and record yourself). Let us know what happened and come to our free meetups and exchanges to share!

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