I have over 20 years experience of training and coaching and yet I still find this question a tricky one to answer.
The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”. I think this sounds great if you’re a coach. If you’re someone who knows nothing about coaching, then it doesn’t really tell you much at all.
So, here is my attempt, not to come up with a pithy slogan that would look good on a t-shirt, but to explain what coaching is and what it isn’t. And I might not do this in a straight line so give me a bit of scope to explain this in chunks!
The lightbulb moment
Have you ever had a light bulb moment, a flash of inspiration, a great idea that came out of nowhere? Of course you have. We all have. Sometimes they’re big sometimes they’re small. You might be driving the car or having a shower when suddenly you just know that you’re going to give up your job and start your own business, or take a year off and go travelling, or have a brilliant idea what to get your friend for their birthday, or have a inspirational idea to transform your recipe for spaghetti bolognaise!
The great thing about these ideas is they come pre-loaded with energy, enthusiasm, and motivation. You just can’t wait to get it started.
Now imagine instead that you have a dilemma, a problem, something on your mind that you don’t know how to move forward on, and that flash of inspiration is nowhere to be seen. What can you do?
Now I expect you’re ahead of me here, but bear with me, because I’m going to start with what most of us do first. We talk to a friend. And have you noticed they aren’t always great at helping you solve a problem.
Human beings are excellent problem solvers, it how we create, invent, and overcome challenges every day. Which is why, 5 minutes into telling you about a problem you have been mulling over for the past day/week/month they tell you what they think you should do.
In fact, the conversation might go like this.
You “I hate my job”
Friend “You should quit. 5 years ago, I hated my job and I left and the very next day I found a fantastic new job and it all worked out perfectly.”
You “I hate my job”
Friend “You hate YOUR job, not as much as I hate my job, my job is much worse I loathe and detest my job”.
How does it feel when someone tells you what they think you should do?
How does it compare to the flash of inspiration you had on your own?
Where is the energy, the motivation?
We’re much better at solving our own problems than other people’s.
Of course, this is a generalisation and some friends are naturally incredibly good at this or might already be a coach!
This is not a new idea. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal, who died in 1662, said.
“People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come from the mind of others.”
In other words, we don’t like to be told what to do. And of course, we are the only one with all the facts, we know all the details, all the back story, all the ideas we have had and dismissed. How crazy is it to think that someone else can solve our dilemma after 5 minutes when we have been struggling with it for weeks or more?
Ok, I admit, sometimes we get advice and it’s really helpful. But that is usually just luck. Maybe the advice is genuinely something you hadn’t thought of, or maybe it was what you were thinking, and it was nice to have someone else validate it. Advice adds content into the mix but doesn’t necessarily help you get to the lightbulb moment.
Which eventually, gets me back to “what is coaching?”
Coaching is helping you to get new insight, it is a process of helping you to achieve the lightbulb moment.
How does it happen?
Firstly, by really listening. Listening to what you say and what you don’t say. Noticing your tone of voice your body language, the questions you are quick to answer and the ones you avoid.
Secondly, by asking questions. Not asking a question because the coach wants to know the answer or understand the back story but asking a question because answering it will generate new thinking for you.
So, the conversation might go like this.
You “I hate my job”.
Coach “what do you hate about it?”
Now you might be able to answer that question instantly with a list of precisely what you hate about it. But you might not have really thought about it. You might have been saying that you hate your job for ages but never taken the time to figure out why specifically. And what if you realised that it was just the hours, or the location, or one particular person who you didn’t get on with. Might this be enough to have a sudden idea of how you could change it?
Or the coach could ask “what would be your dream job?”
Surprisingly often I will find that someone can tell in precise detail why they don’t want the job they have but ask them what job they would like, and they haven’t got a clue. They’ve never even thought about it. Might that be enough to spark some new thinking? I think so.
And that, to be honest is it. I know for a fact that the more experienced and skilled I get at coaching, the more skilled I am getting at doing less. Less suggesting, less distraction, less thinking, less judgment, less talking. Which always gives me a paradoxical anxiety, because typically the sessions where someone has the biggest transformation, I often feel like I’ve hardly done anything at all.
And that’s the point. I think people come for a coaching session wanting advice, wanting answers and yet you already know that the best solutions are the ones we think of ourselves. Those are the ideas that come with all the energy and motivation.
Coaching is about partnering you to help you find the answer for yourself.
Now that definitely wouldn’t fit on a t-shirt.
Contact me to find out more.