Everybody’s saying it’s time to go on-line, to keep in touch by WhatsApp and text. Which is great for those who are comfortable on-line, like to write and have the tech knowledge and bandwidth.
Here’s another option : How about using our mobiles for their initial design ….talking to each other?
When I started my coaching career, based in London, before Skype and Zoom became the norm, one of my first big contracts was with Lancaster Business School. I was working with entrepreneurs who were based in the North of England.
Even though I’d spent much of my youth chatting to friends for hours on end about the important things in life such as who was dating whom and what to wear for the next party, I was slightly daunted by the prospect of having structured, in-depth and support-based conversations with people on the phone. Although much of my coach training in the 90’s was via teleconference, I wondered how I would cope if I couldn’t see them. Surely I’d miss something vital to the client's progress - a twitch, a smile or raised eyebrow.
‘More than half the effect is placebo: As a coach you can just hum along’. Well yes, and the other half is important too - the client’s attitude, the coach’s method, the context, for example.
At this year's Wales Coaching conference, Eric de Haan spoke about what we know about what makes an impact in coaching. He was presenting headlines from the quantitative research that finds patterns in data - usually after the coaching sessions. It’s the sort of research that sees the coaching work as a lab experiment, ideally comparing clients with control groups of non-clients.
Most of what we can say about coaching research is derived from the more extensive research on therapy.
By asking ‘who is successful here and why?’, in her TED talk, Angela Lee Duckworth identifies ‘Grit’ as one of the key predictors of success. She defines Grit as ‘Passion and perseverance for long term goals. Having stamina and sticking with your future, day in day out. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint’.
Of course, setting goals is one thing, sticking with them is another - so energise your journey by make it more enjoyable and your goals more achievable. One way of doing this is by noticing successes along the way - how far you’ve come. Identify what’s working and what you contributed, ask yourself : ‘On a scale of 1-10, where am I now, and what’s got me so high?’. And ‘What’s the next step that will take me forward?’ . If you're running a marathon there’s so much more to pay attention to than the finish line.
Successful coaching depends on the words we use with our clients – the words in our questions or comments, the words our clients find themselves saying in the sessions.
I wonder sometimes if we are living in such a problem-saturated environment, that we can’t always find words for the problem-free opposites.
If we are talking to a client who describes themself as ‘depressed' or ‘anxious', we know that ‘depressed' or ‘anxious' is what they don’t want, but it’s far from clear that they are seeking ‘ecstasy’ or ‘at total peace with the world’ as their goal. I might guess they are aiming for something a bit more day-to-day OK. Perhaps a touch more dynamic than 'not depressed’ or even - a fateful word that brings its own troubles about judgement - 'normal’. 'Functioning well' may be better, but still seems dully inadequate.
Part of our work as coaches is to expand our clients’ world, in part by expanding their vocabulary. Our conversation co-constructs their sense of preferable possibilities and – given the vocabulary challenge - it may be quite a struggle for both parties. Generating worthwhile descriptions of the preferred alternative to the unwanted current situation can be painstaking and slow. But the struggle is OK: as long as the client sticks with the conversation, then they still want to work with you.
People are fluent in ‘problem'. And not so fluent in ‘instead’. Our questions in the Solutions Focus repertoire are mostly in the language of ‘instead’, and we are encouraging clients to answer as best they can - during this whole process of building up their ‘instead’ vocabulary. They might say, 'I’ve never thought of it like that before’. If you were to give up before that point, you’ve mislaid your belief in that client and their capacity to change. And it’s our professional duty to stick with this faith in the client’s competence to describe and thus start to inhabit a more positive world.
I was recently coaching a senior exec who was having difficulty making a decision. After a recent promotion he was struggling to manage a large team and was trying to decide whether he should get help to do the job better or leave the company to find a more specialist job elsewhere.
It struck me that we tend to think about decisions in a binary way: stay or go, keep or discard. And while this can work with relatively simple decisions, eg shall I eat an apple or orange, wear the blue or black top today, with more complex and weighty decisions it adds a rigidity that leads to stuckness and indecision.
Why limit ourselves to a forced choice when there are often far more possibilities out there?
My client was putting immense pressure on himself to make the decision quickly ‘so that I can move forward’ . This was producing the opposite effect and creating so much pressure to do something that he’d come to a complete standstill. He’d made his 'pros and cons' list, he’d talked himself round in circles, he’d berated himself for lacking clarity about what to do next; and now the decision was completely overwhelming and affecting his work even more.
It was clear that he needed another way to approach this. How about seeing a decision more as a journey to a destination than a forced choice? Like a good pot of tea, decisions often need time to brew .
Sometimes it’s not the decision itself that’s tricky, it’s the knots the person has tied themselves in due to the pressure of the situation, or the lack of confidence to do ’the right thing’. So rather than focus on the content of the decision, let’s pay attention to the process.
I asked my client to consider how confident he was on a scale of 0-10 that he’d make the right decision. 8 was the answer. 'How come it’s an 8 (and not a 0)?', I asked. He explained that he’d made good decisions about his career before, and that whatever he decided he knew he’d make the best of the outcome. Curious, I asked him about these other good career decisions and how he’d done that. What did he know about making good decisions about his career? Before long, he came up with a list of actions to move this forward - contact a head-hunter, have a chat with his boss, get mentoring/training on team management, explore other suitable roles in-house. There was lots to do while the decision brewed - actions that would provide more information, make progress and generate possibilities.
So next time you’ve got an important decision to make, give yourself more choice and allow things to emerge by asking yourself what you know about making good decisions, what’s worked before and what can you be getting on with whilst it’s brewing. You never know, you might even have time for a nice cup of tea.