I was chatting with someone the other day about being a professional coach, and they said to me, “so basically you listen to people’s problems and give advice?”
I stopped and thought about that for a moment. The answer that I gave?
“No, actually I don’t do either of those.” Hardly the reply my acquaintance was expecting.
We were having coffee, so there was time to explain.
I wanted to share this question tonight, because it was an opportunity to both clarify the art and science of coaching and address a common misperception. Two birds with one stone.
There are so many definitions of ‘coaching’ out there. Yes, there are some out there who solve problems, give advice and act in a consultant model (which are certainly excellent models) but what is it like with a professionally certified ICF coach?
Let me tell you, because it is an interesting distinction.
I don’t ‘listen’ to my client’s problems.
In fact, the actual problem doesn’t sweep me up the way it does for a client. Though I listen with my ears, as a coach, it is not serving you if I dive right in with you to the story and resonate with it, body mind and soul. When a client is working with a problem, they are swimming in it. I like the analogy of choppy water on a lake – A client is paddling, working hard, staying afloat, solving the problem, coming up for a gasp, and then another problem arises… from the same exact lake.
It’s not easy swimming in choppy water. A client’s problem can easily take up an entire coaching hour, and it is up to the coach to respect the client’s needs and goals for a session, have them know we truly hear them, but also know when it is time to gently guide them out of the water, and have them wade onto the shore. From the shore, together a coach and client can examine the entire lake from an outside perspective.
Coaching is like finally deciding to clamber out and sit on the shore after battling the waves. I always tell potential clients that they must be able and willing to step into the mode of “a human simply being” and approach things with curiosity and an open mind. To be with themselves and be with the coaching process. Be willing to put some things into practice and be willing to stay accountable. If they stay in “human busily doing” mode with a strong desire for benchmarks, outcomes, a fixation on the goals, they are basically out there still swimming in the lake, just harder and faster. They won’t trust me enough to come sit on the shore beside me. They won’t develop trust in the relationship or go dive deep in session.
But back to the lake…
I am not listening to my client’s problem. I am listening with my ears to a client and their problem, yes but I am listening on several other levels, as well. I am watching the subtle shifts in body language, eye contact, gestures and posture. I am quite literally feeling the energetic shifts in a conversation and the associated moods and emotions. A client doesn’t have to tell me when they move into sadness or happiness in a story, the change in the air and energy of a room is palpable. I may offer this as a gentle observation to deepen awareness and context of the discussion, particularly if we are working not just on a conversation and logic level, but an emotional and intuitive level.
As I listen to a client, I am not listening to their problem. I am listening to the person behind the problem. The helpful beliefs, the harmful beliefs, the statements that shut down future possibility, the statements that open it up. The vast background of emotions, moods, experiences, and beliefs that have made this neutral event in this person’s life a problem for them that is keeping them from where they want to be.
And giving advice? Nope. Definitely not that either.
I don’t give advice in a coaching session.
After 3000 coaching sessions, I know for a fact, that the only true expert, the only content matter expert in that specific client’s life is themselves. Only they know precisely where they truly want to be, and only they truly know why their ‘right now’ is not doing it for them. I don’t have to wake up with them every day. They have to wake up with themselves every day for the rest of their lives. I think about this all of the time, because I really appreciate how profound that statement is.
It is a catalyst for ownership, responsibility and accountability in clients. Try it yourself. Write on a post-it note, “I will wake up with you tomorrow, and every morning for the rest of my life. Love, me.”
Giving advice doesn’t result in someone crossing the bridge from where they are to where they want to be. It simply gives them a brief glimpse of the other side, described by someone else. They don’t see how amazing it is.
What makes someone walk over to the other side of the bridge and truly step into their new life, finally take action and get results? Well, I can tell you it is not advice giving.
I cannot walk that bridge for them and shout out from the other side “It is amazing over here you should join me! Just start walking!” (by the way, a lot of coaches do this.)
However, I can walk alongside a client over that bridge. As we step over the cobble stones together we co-create what the other side looks like. We partner in helping the client gain perspective, awareness, clarity and choice. And when they get halfway over the bridge and slow down or perhaps move backward, we can deepen practices, accountability and move deeper to remove final blocks that have held them back all these years. When you are moving forward, you develop ways to move forward, but you also develop ways to fight the urge to move backward, to where you came from. To safety. Security. Familiarity.
This is another important piece of coaching; the call of safety, security, familiarity is strong. It is literally wired into the brain. As a client moves into new possibilities for their life and new opportunities, the brain will use its best tools to convince a client to return to where they were. Coaching is a dynamic process and this bump in the road shows up in different ways depending on the client. Recommitment to the original problem and way of thinking, with even more passion, rescheduling a session or a lot of “I don’t know”s in a session. These to me are not obstacles but opportunities. It’s an exciting indicator they are moving well along the bridge and the best work is about to happen.
I don’t give advice.
In fact, you are giving me advice on your life, where you want to be and how it is going to happen, and why you need help. I’m asking you LOTS of questions precisely so that you are in that place of giving me advice on you. I’m simply a highly invested partner on this journey of YOU believes you’ll get there and sees how that is possible (even if you don’t yet.)
The moment you step out of yourself and take that outside observer approach you’ll find yourself stopping mid-sentence and realizing what you’ve just said – then, you’ll realize the incongruency of what you just said with what your future life is supposed to be.
And then you’ll look away, perhaps sip at your coffee and I’ll thoroughly enjoy that moment, because it is a magical one. When it comes to a client having a true moment of insight, or an “ah hah moment” I know at that moment, whatever has been seen in your inner perspective cannot be unseen.
I am here as a confidential, supportive, professional partner in your journey. I’m here to have the conversations that you don’t get to have with anyone else, that dive deep inside to who you are as a human being. Unlike therapeutic or clinical approaches (healing, recovery, issue resolution) my time is spent focusing on your elevation, enhancement and growth.
Coaching is an evolutionary, forward facing process. We have all of the information in the world to get us to where we want to go, but we don’t, do we? And that is what coaching focuses on. It gets us there, and then acts as a catalyst for flashes of insight which will ensure you’ll never see anything the same way again and you won’t go back to old patterning or beliefs.
On a personal note, I think that at this time in our lives, we are all in deep need of deeper conversation, deeper connection and more engagement with who we really are. In the 2018 world of humans doing, we all desperately want to be recognized and engaged with as humans being. We are deep. We are growing, and evolving and going through massive shifts. We want someone to bear witness, to support, and be a partner in this process. We should have someone who can be that. It is tragic to experience this rich evolution in this lifetime and not share it with anyone, collaborate with anyone or use our experiences in turn to serve others.
Maternity leave for me has been the CRAZIEST personal growth, evolution, awakening. Truly on body, mind, intellect, soul, spirit, love – on all of those levels I was cracked wide open, rebuilt and vastly different (in a good way.) Early parenthood is an accelerated growth incubator and it is a gift in that ALL of the above is revealed to you. It is a wild ride, and I engaged with a coach during it, because I wanted to make sure I was clear on my dreams, the life I wanted for my fam, and wanted to let a few self limiting beliefs go. I also worked with a psychologist to heal some old wounds, and endeavoured to undertake a variety of “great maternity leave projects” to keep my focus forward facing and fun!
Amidst the surface level day-to-day life of humans doing, we are all hopping online to have deep conversations, listen to podcasts, read books and learn. Have you noticed the explosion in podcasts, following shortly on the explosion of blogs? We are all humans being – yet we do it silently, and alone.
In my gratitude practices (5 minute journal format) I often note down the internet – I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity to write and share and express my own deep internal worlds. Motherhood can be lonely, I have a 3 hour window where all of my three kids are happy and awake (9-12) and then they turn into pumpkins and it’s go home for nap time. Did I mention I work full time? So there’s very little time (and sacred space) to dive deep into these conversations. I don’t think it’s our fault that we mothers are left scraping the surface of connection with surface level conversations. We don’t have the time and space to go there, yet. But, when in just a few years, that place will open up again we will have SO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT.
But in the meantime, I think it’s really, really important to talk now, endeavor to grow, enjoy the journey and have a partner in the process.
For a long time, I didn’t want to because of my own limiting beliefs and reference points, which I worked through and overcame with a coach. I can feel my old mind saying “Carina, this is a really long post and it’s way too personal” but my new mind says, you have a choice in whether to believe that or not, and you no longer do. You know the way to move forward is to share your deepest thoughts and insights and help people understand the profession.
I am here writing precisely because I decided to collaborate with a coach to dive into my deeper internal worlds and clarify where I wanted to go. I am eternally thankful for the rapid evolution and elevation it set me on.
I hope you enjoyed this deeper dive into the coaching profession. I write these from a totally authentic viewpoint of someone who was unsure what it was, went through being coached, and then became an Associate Certified Coach with the International Coach Federation.
I enjoy writing these because I enjoy sharing human stories and help people understand we are all connected and growing together.
To become a coach isn’t to figure it all out instantly, in fact, most coaches are on their own *fun* ( because it’s what they love to do) evolutionary paths. Every day they work through the same thing their clients do. Gaining some tools and insights, reframing, shifting their perceptions, priming their state, practicing awareness and choice. Even the greats like Tony Robbins or Oprah Winfrey do this. Every day.
If you are interested in gaining the tools, shifting your axis and a partner to work with the big shifts and evolution in your life, you are most welcome to shoot me a message.
And do leave a comment if this lands with you – or even better if you have an additional insight to offer that this sparked for you! Reading articles and engaging with others in the comments, let me tell you, has been (and still is) a fundamental part of my own growth path. My mission is to now serve others in their own growth.