Coaching is a way of helping people deal with issues that are concerning them . It is also a way of developing people’s skills and abilities, and of boosting performance. It is done in a spirit of curiously and non-judgement and creates a safe supportive environment where people can be honest and open.
A coaching session will typically be a conversation between the coach and the coachee (person being coached). The usual length is an hour. The coach will probably open the conversation, asking what the coachee wants to talk about, but the aim is to get the coachee to do most of the talking and to seek out answers for themselves. The coach will cover some basic ‘rules of engagement’ called contracting including an undertaking of confidentiality and a discovery of the clients past and wants. Some people think that coaching is like sports coaching, where people are set exercises and monitored. This is incorrect. It is up to the coachee to define the problem, come up with solutions and implement them.
The coach is not just a passive audience to the coachee’s monologue, however. Coaches can point out inconsistencies in the coachee’s narratives. They can challenge assumptions and generalizations. “Do people really believe that?” “Does everybody say that?” They can prevent coachees wandering off into inconsequential chat, spotting where an issue is painful and is being avoided and gently leading coachees back to that issue. They can suggest and outline models that might help coachees formulate goals – though coaches cannot insist that coachees use them. Towards the end of the session, the coach will ask the coachee to sum up what she has learnt from the session.
Coachees are often given ‘homework’. This can take a number of forms. Keeping a journal is a common one. Books can be suggested. Coachees can be asked to practice things like making eye contact or speaking clearly in routine social encounters. It is, of course, up to the coachee to stick to these tasks. No detention for missed homework in the coaching situation!
Coaching can also take place at a group level, where a coach works with a number of people. The distinction is sometimes made between team coaching, where the aim is to clarify shared goals, and group coaching, where a disparate group of individuals end up setting their own targets.
Coaching sounds like some of the gentler forms of therapy, and in a way it is. However coaches are more problem-focused than therapists. If in a therapy session, a client has ‘got a lot out in the open’, it’s a good outcome. For coaching, something more concrete is the aim. “Great that you see this issue differently. Now what are you going to do about that?”
Coaching is certainly not like old-fashioned psychotherapy, where an expert ‘did stuff’ to a patient. The coachee is the expert in a coaching session – on his own life and what to do with it.
Coaching is also unlike therapy in the sense that it does not claim to deal with deep psychological problems. A good coach knows where to draw a line and suggest to a coachee that he takes a particular issue to a therapist.
Underlying coaching’s ‘client-centred’ approach is the fact that people are much more likely to engage with solutions that they have come up with themselves, rather than those that are forced upon them.
Some coaches work with individuals: a person with a problem can find a self-employed life coach (or a relationship coach, or some other speciality) and organize to work with her. The deal is normally that they have an introductory session; if the client finds this useful, a course of further sessions – six is a popular number – can be set up.
Other coaches work within organizations, and have their coachees referred to them by those organizations (usually by the HR function). In some workplaces, coaching is still seen as a corrective tool, used only when things have gone wrong. But in many companies, a wider views is taken. Coaching is considered to be a positive and proven approach for helping people to explore their goals and ambitions, and then achieve them.
In the organizational context, it is important that the coachee ‘buys into’ the process. He should value the process, and understand what role it has in his career development. Coaching a recalcitrant coachee who is only there ‘because her boss told her to’ can be an adventure for a coach – but it can be a waste of everyone’s time.
Coaching is usually done by qualified coaches. There are a number of qualifications around, some more robust than others. At NLP School, we are certified by the ICF, the International Coaching Federation, regarded as the leading professional body in the field, and our courses qualify coaches for points towards ICF membership.
More recently, coaching has broadened its influence, to become a management approach. This does not mean that managers have turned into coaches, but that they see their role as quite similar to that of a coach. Their job is to help the subordinate set their own challenges and criteria (in line with that of the organization, of course). Like a coach, the best managers care about the development of the people they manage. Modern managers do not need coaching qualifications, but it is very advantageous for them to have studied coaching and to have practiced its techniques. Our short courses are designed with this in mind.
Yet there is still clear water between the manager and the coach, and this is as it should be. Ultimately, even the most coaching-aware manager has the job of getting results out of people. A coach has no such agenda. He simply wants his client to create ways forward – ways of her choosing, in directions of her choosing.
Here are a few examples of questions that can be answered with the benefit of coaching:
- How can I manage my time better to achieve all I want in life?
- What should I do next in my career within the organization?
- How can I reduce the stress in my job or my life?
- How can I achieve a better balance between work life and home life?
- What skills do I need to grow and develop further?
- How can I improve my relationship with a specific colleague?
In the next blog, I shall look more specifically at NLP in coaching. What does NLP bring to the coaching ‘party’, and why do I think its contribution is so valuable?