Coaching Skill: The Difference between Solving the Problem vs Developing the Person

What if there were no experts?

This is an article from my mentor Coach I thought worth sharing. Gary

On a recent training call with coaches, we got on to the topic of the word coaching. They didn’t like it, and that prompted some good discussion. If we weren’t called coaches, what else could we be called? A few alternatives came up, including apprentice.

Yes, we can see how a coaching client is like an apprentice, seeking to gain some insights from the previous experience of the coach – particularly when the coach has dealt with similar work challenges or lifestyle situations as the client is facing now.

But where the conversation really took a fascinating turn was when we looked at the coach as an apprentice, and what would happen if we did. Instead of an expert-apprentice dynamic, what if there were two apprentices? What if the coach and client are in apprenticeship together?

Part of what the student coaches didn’t like about the term coach was that it implies, “I’m the expert; I’m the wise one.” If we’re all in apprenticeship, on the other hand, we’re all in continual learning, continual honing of our skills and strengths. “I don’t have the answer, but here’s what works for me.”

As coaches we are always learning from our clients; that’s the curiosity piece that is so essential to the relationship. If we’re all in apprenticeship, it opens up permission and opportunity for this to happen even more.

When it’s just two apprentices in the room and no expert, there is a sense of freedom that can unlock all sorts of new ideas and possibilities. A mutual sharing occurs, and a combined wisdom emerges. None of us have the answer, and yet the answer shows up.

A 2014 series of experiments at Harvard Business School looked at how getting into a “beginner’s mind” helps break what is called “the curse of knowledge.” They asked one group of expert guitarists to flip their guitar around so they’d be strumming with their left hand and forming chords with their right hand. The other group played normally.

Then both groups were asked to comment on videos of beginner guitar players who were struggling. The expert guitarists who played backward and were forced to learn a new way to play were more encouraging to beginner guitarists and gave specific and actionable advice. Those who’d played their guitar normally had less empathy for the beginners and tended to point out their errors or flaws instead of helping them get better.

That’s a good reminder for when we as coaches are tempted to slip into the advice-giving mode. We’re much more empathetic and useful when we can see ourselves as novices. Coaching as apprenticeship levels the power in the relationship and I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of that power dynamic.

The apprentice is not starting from scratch, and neither are our coaching clients. Each party – coach and client, apprentice and expert, brings important learning. As an apprentice, I’m not trying to solve a problem or convey expert advice; I’m trying to stimulate you and be a catalyst to get your thinking going. This is the difference between solving the problem and developing the person. I don’t know the answers but I’m curious about what you already know.

In coaching as apprenticeship, it’s like we are trying to flip the guitar around and look at how learning happens, not just bestow an expert answer. It’s about turning clients into beginners, and we as coaches being willing to go there with them and be beginners as well.

All the best to you,

Val Hastings

Coaching Skill: OLC Essence Directed Communication

Coaching Skill: OLC Essence Directed Communication

Last week in supervision coaching with Phillip Cohen and Ann Fogolin, I found myself at a coaching impregnable wall with no way to stimulate movement or reflection in the coachee.  The client Edward, being played by Phillip, went on and on about the details of his situation but I was not able to bring about Focus on any actions or reflection.  Rather than the client being stuck, I was.  What resulted was I became very directive and “qugestive” in the session. Just to finish this story, Philip – I mean Edward – let me off the hook by taking one of my “helpful suggestions” which I knew was not good coaching technique.

What I learned was, in all the client’s chatter about the situation, it may have been a screen to avoid deliberate action/reflection for reasons unknown. Suggested by Ann, the co-mentor was that challenging assumptions with direct communication may have been helpful to open up a path (toward the “who”) that could lead to “shift” and action.

Ann and Philip suggested that when coaching we often observe avoidance in the client for one reason or another, but don’t know why. They further suggested that the client may “count on us as coaches to challenge them” to get thru the “fog” to essence or action.  Pondering this thought it brought up the question, “how do I challenge the coachee without appearing to be judgmental, pushee or opinionated?”  The answer came in the word “partnership,” in that when the challenge is crafted and delivered, it is in the form of a neutral question or observation.  As has been stated concerning checking out assumptions, a direct challenge can be lodged without the projection of an opinionated answer.  What was especially helpful of my mentors was the permission they gave to be more “edgee” and peer thru the haziness of the smoke and address possible underlying motive and or apprehensive feelings.

So, what principles are involved, I’m glad you ask…

  • Internalize (assume) the expectation of challenge
  • Proceed from a position of “partnership”
  • Suspend expectation/projection of the answers
  • Loosely hold the observation of reality
  • Fire the challenge (arrow) from a neutral bow

In Essence Directed Communication it is important to peer through the haze of chatter, observe the possible cause as opposed to symptoms, and deliver a targeted focused question communicated directly at the “essence. ”

Happy coaching my friends – Gary

Written: 20 Jan 2018 by Gary Patterson

Coaching Skill: Neutral Assumption Challenge

This article is an overview of a new OLC Skill…

OLC Coaching Skills

Neutral Assumption Challenge

In the coaching arena assumptions are always present and are a natural aspect of the client’s belief system. While natural and organic they are not always helpful in moving clients forward but can serve to stifle progress and limit possibilities. The skill of Neutrally Challenging Assumptions is imperative if the coach is to get at “essence” to deal with the “who” which is the best avenue to “shift.” So, there might be three movements to deal with assumptions:

1. Notice the assumption
2. Ponder its message or belief
3. Challenge its reality

In our title, we have used three words; Neutral, Assumption and Challenge. They denote different aspects of this coaching skill.

Being neutral or neutrality points to the idea that one’s attitude is important in the challenge. To approach something from a neutral position implies that conclusions have been reserved. To be neutral is to observe the assumption without necessarily attaching the meaning behind the “Why” of its truthfulness. That leaves the door open for the coachee to provide the content of the assumptions with the basis of its perceived truth. Staying neutral avoids judgmental thoughts and facilitates a respectful partnership in the consideration of the assumptions. In that way, awareness is created while preserving the autonomy and trust of the coachee.

An assumption is a belief that in most cases is derived from experience, observation or messages from the past. They can come to make up a default, so to speak, in that the assumption is embedded in the coachees’ belief system so deep until it functions without critical thought or internal contemporary evaluation. In many cases, they just run in the background on autopilot but drive thoughts or decisions. These default beliefs scan sabotage movement and hinder shifts for fresh awareness and dream accomplishment.

Challenge is the coaching technique to address default assumptions to illuminate them with the hope to test their validity. Assumptions tend to limit movement or possibilities in that they constrain truth. By challenging assumptions, new truths might be discovered and old forms left behind, the caterpillar truly becomes the butterfly. As in the case of all challenges, they are to be used in the form of proper technique, with the motive to stimulate movement with awareness.

An example might look something like this. My mentor coach challenged my assumption; “The reason I started OLC as a secular business is that I concluded the church would not pay for my services.” His question to me was, “how did you come to the conclusion the church would not pay for your services?” That question caused me to stop and evaluate my assumptions and to test its reality – afresh. What I did not detect in his question was a “right or wrong” or “true or false” evaluation, but rather a neutral inquiry of its reality. My conclusions as to its “truth” or “non-truth” was up to me, but at least I evaluated it and could apply its awareness to the issue being pondered.

Coaches: Challenge assumptions with the posture of neutrality… Happy Coaching my friends…

Written: 14 Jan 2018 by Gary Patterson