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What Learning about My Coachees’ Narratives Taught Me about My Own – Part 2

September 20, 2018

What are you sure you know about coaching? I thought I knew a lot about coaching after 15 years and over 5,000 hours of experience. And in the past year or so, I’ve realized that a lot of what I thought I knew, my assumptions, were horse S#$%.

In my last blog post, I shared Part 1 of a reflection assignment due as part of the WBECS Narrative Coach (NC) Program with Dr. David Drake. In this Part 2, I share how what I thought I knew about coaching has been turned on its head by my experience with Narrative Coaching.

Five Assumptions about Coaching That Have Shifted For Me

All of my coach training prior to the NC Program has been in a largely co-active approach to coaching, firmly grounded in ICF core competencies. And while Narrative Coaching certainly doesn’t throw the ICF competencies out the window, it takes a very different approach to coaching than what I’ve learned in the past.

What I’ve learned about coaching that I’ve had to unlearn (or assumptions I no longer make) include:

  • Coaching starts with a contract/agreement. Early on in my coach training, I learned that the first thing to do as a coach is figure out the contract or what it is the coachee wants. The problem is, in my experience anyway, the coachee almost never knows what they truly want until it’s uncovered by the coaching. And when I’ve focused early in the relationship or early in the coaching session on getting to what the coachee wants, I’ve ended up chasing a red-herring, spending time at the surface and/or on the wrong thing.  I’ve learned that what the coachee says they want is only one aspect (and maybe a small one) of their larger, deeper desire, which is only ultimately discovered through the work.

Even in the Advanced Coaching Program I took, we spent a great deal of time and energy around securing the coaching session agreement by checking the boxes of Topic, Desired Outcome, Meaningful Underlying Issue and Success Measure. And I bought into that at the time, and to an extent, I still do. Only now it feels more like an artificial structure placed on an organic process. (More on that below).

  • Coachees will do what they say if we’ve designed the actions right. Maybe your coachees are different, but mine almost never do what they say they are going to do after the session. While this didn’t take me long to figure out, I assumed I was doing something wrong. I wasn’t designing the action specifically enough or ensuring the client had enough support or addressing enough of their obstacles or holding them accountable enough or making the actions S.M.A.R.T. enough. Well, I now believe I was doing something wrong, I was just wrong about what it was.  😊

Now, instead of designing actions for the coachee to take after the session, we do it in the coaching session (as much as possible). (If you read Part 1, you know that this is a cornerstone of Narrative Coaching). Early on in my coaching, I did a lot of role play with coachees, but it was discouraged by my mentor coaches (not clear now why), so I stopped. Now, I’m doing a lot more acting out, role play, experimentation during my coaching sessions so that my coachees can repeat/replay outside the session what they are experiencing and learning inside the session. (Here’s an example of something I tried recently.)


  • The coach provides the structure and the process. The coachee provides the content. To an extent, I still believe this – and now I see it differently. I used to feel responsible for figuring out the most robust and efficient series of questions that would bring the coachees the insights, clarity and resolution they were seeking, based upon what they said they wanted. Now, that feels to me like an artificial construct placed on a natural process.

These days, I see coaching as the facilitation of an innately organic process. I believe that our coachees are all almost always, consciously or unconsciously, working to resolve what they bring to coaching (that’s what brings them to coaching). And my role isn’t to lead them down the path of questions that will ultimately get them to their answer.  My role is to be present with them, see them, explore with them where they find themselves and then remain alert for the indications of where, why and how they are wanting to move from where they are to a new state of being.

  • Better questions make for better coaching. While I believe this is true to an extent, I’m no longer so focused on how to figure out the right, best questions. Because when I focus on figuring out the questions, I’m in my head and not with my coachee. I’m not present. I now believe that it is greater presence that makes for better coaching. The more present, the more in the moment, I can be with my coachee, the more I can attend to, encourage and facilitate the coachee’s own organic progress.
  • Coaching is a dance with the coachee…. and the coach leads. No one ever told me this. It’s just what I “learned,” especially in my early years, through coach training osmosis. In recent years, I’ve observed that the traditional co-active approach to coaching is placing greater emphasis on partnering with the coachee. That feels like a welcome and significant shift from what I first “learned.”

That said, my understanding from those coach trainings has been that even though we want to partner with the coachee (just like in a dance), the coach is still supposed to lead. And the way the coach leads is through their questions. And where the coach leads is where the coachee says they want to go. But if the coachee doesn’t truly know where they want to go…… where are we leading them?

In my prior coach trainings, as if to emphasize the importance of partnering with the coachee, the coach trainers would recommend frequently checking in with the coachee to determine if the coaching is on track and/or where they want the coaching to go. That made sense to me at the time.

But here’s the deal: In my experience, not only do my coachees not consciously know what they want, they are often resistant to directly confronting the challenge ahead of them. And if I ask them where they want to go, they will often avoid exactly where their organic process is taking them.   

So what’s the answer?  If we are not leading and we are not partnering, what the heck are we doing?

For that, you’ll have to wait for Part 3 (and hopefully in the next week, I’ll figure it out).  🙂

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– Alison
Alison Whitmire
President | Learning in Action

 

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P.P.S. Are there more blank spaces on your coaching calendar than you’d like? Join Chip Carter, Senior Advisor at the Institute of Coaching, and Alison Whitmire, president of Learning in Action, for September’s interactive webinar of discussion and Q&A around your coaching capacity and how you can fill your calendar in a number of ways, including coaching for organizations who need you!  Register here – FREE.    

 

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Posted in: Coaching|Emotional Intelligence

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