Imagine two identical seats in a room. One reserved for a coach full of curiousity. The other ready for a coachee full of potential. Which one would you prefer to sit in? How about trying them both out for size? Like Goldilocks, I spent last weekend viewing life from both seats as a trainee coach. This week’s blog captures my initial reflections on the view from both seats.
The view from the coachee’s seat
Even if you’re entirely at home with the idea of spending 90 minutes talking about yourself, don’t be surprised if you find yourself with mixed emotions sharing the intricacies of your life with a new coach. Yes it’s fantastic to have the undivided attention of someone that wants to help you improve your life. But it took me a long sleep and a large Christmas eggnog cappuccino to put my finger on the slightly uneasy feeling that had caught me off guard after my initial foray into coaching.
It turns out it was a curious sense of disloyalty. There wasn’t anything earth shattering in what I was telling my coach. Like me, you’ve probably told your partner or best friend the same story time and time again. Yet it challenged my sense of loyalty to find myself sharing my own confidences within a coaching setting with a stranger. I’d describe myself as a private person but my own behaviour seemed to conflict with this self-ascribed label.
It shook me at first until I reflected on what makes the coaching relationship different. This isn’t like sitting in a cafe with a new acquaintance. Your coach isn’t there to judge you. In fact the ability to “develop trust through keeping commitments and being non-judgemental with client” is a foundation capability identified by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council. Once you cast off the fear of judgment, it’s amazing how easy it is to share what’s in your head.
Neither is your coach there to collude with you about what a horror your ex-partner, boss, or mother-in-law is or was (even if they might want to!). It would be cheaper to buy your besties a round of drinks at your favourite local if you want sympathy (and platitudes). Knowing you are investing time and money in the unique skills and tools of a coach is a great motivator to make the most of your time in the coachee’s seat.
The view from the coach’s seat
It doesn’t matter what kind of seat you have. It could be a three-legged stool, a Chesterfield sofa or an ergonomic chair. The moment you sit in that seat you are there to act in the best interest of your client. You are there to help them tap into their existing potential to achieve goals they’ve chosen. This is the kind of job where it’s valuable to have a few good questions up your sleeve. Questions that aren’t leading, accusatory or insensitive in some other way. When you’re starting out, lists or frameworks of well-formed questions are helpful to understand the client’s current reality. But even in the safe environment of the training room you can see the pitfalls of over-reliance on pre-planned structures. You just never know what the client will bring to a coaching session or where your initial question could lead. If you ignore their agenda in favour of one you chose to prep for then you risk violating their best interests.
It stuck me that a coach requires the creativity and flexibility of a session musician; confident and capable enough to change dynamics, key, tempo or genre to accompany their lead singer and bring out the best in their voice. Session musicians don’t simply fall back on the preparation they’ve done in the hours or days before they head into the recording studio. They rely on their 10,000+ hours of practice. All those months and years of exploring different scales and chords. Trying them out in rehearsals and storing them in their mental filing cabinet for a rainy day.
Time to get practicing….
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