When a coaching session is off track

As you are coaching a client, a feeling slowly creeps up: You don’t know where the session is heading. Confused as you are, you first continue listening. Maybe, in the next moments it will become apparent where the client is heading. But alas, no real insight into what is currently happening is emerging. If you don’t have a lot of experience with these kinds of coaching sessions, you’ll probably start feeling lost and slightly panicky.

So what to do? Here are a few ideas:

Calm down: The horse knows

There is an old story that I think goes back to the groundbreaking US American psychiatrist Milton Erickson: A man encountered a horse somewhere in the field which had apparently run away. He decided to help out and got on the horse to find its owner. When a few minutes later horse and helper trotted into the farm of the horse’s owner, the owner exclaimed in surprise: “But how did you know where to go?” Our rider replied: “I didn’t know, the horse knew!”. So depending on how much time you have, you can let the client find their own way as long as it seems like they are making progress.

Are we on track?

There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you currently don’t know where the conversation is going or even what it is about. It’s also not necessary, really, to understand everything that the client is saying. As mentioned before, what is important is that the client is making progress. You can always ask the client whether they feel that the coaching session is on track.

Partner with the client

I have encountered two different scenarios of situations where I feel I don’t know what’s going on. One is that the client is thinking out loud and benefiting a lot from it, the other is that the client is repeating conversations to me that they have had multiple times either in their heads or with their friends and they are continuing moving in circles. Sometimes it’s difficult to know which it is at the moment. And again, we can partner with our clients by asking them how they would like us to respond when we are not sure whether what is happening in the coaching session is useful to the client. Our friend Svea tells a story of asking a coaching client what to do and receiving the answer: “By all means, interrupt me – I would be going around in circles forever if you don’t.” If the client is a “verbal processor”, just lean back and ask every once in a while what is emerging for the client.

What are your moves when you don’t know what is going on? Why not come and share in one of our free coaching meetups and exchanges?

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