Coaching seems to be something that more and more people are wanting in on. For those who are immersed in the coaching world, the benefits of it will be clear, but for those on the outside, you might be forgiven for wondering what all the hype is about. In this article, we explore what coaching is and why it is increasingly popular with individuals and firms.
What is coaching?
Coaching is a partnership between a coach and a coachee(s). The coach is someone who has been trained to listen and who is equipped with a knowledge of psychology, and tools and techniques to help empower their clients. Coaches do not come armed with solutions. Coaches are thinking partners who help individuals (or teams) with transition and change. They help with transformation and empowerment.
Coaching is very similar in many ways to therapy. Many of the interventions have the same roots. However, therapy is used to focus on unpicking and exploring the past. Coaching is more forward-looking. Therapy is the most appropriate choice for individuals with psychological distress, or with mental illness. Coaching tends to be the go-to when individuals are looking for growth. Like therapists though, many coaches are human-centred and integrative. What does that mean? They believe that the individuals they work with have the capacity to find their own solutions. It also means that they draw on the techniques that they think will work best for the individual, rather than being wedded to any one solution.
What is the problem with coaching?
You might be wondering why we want to explore the problems of coaching at this juncture. The truth is the problem is not coaching, rather it is the lack of regulation that surrounds it. Coaches can call themselves coaches without any qualifications. Some might have done a short course. Others might have read a book. However, this will only give them some insight into one approach and will not offer the level of reflection needed for an individual to be a good coach.
The problem with this lack of regulation is that it means that people can be on the receiving end of what they think is coaching, when in reality what they are experiencing is at best consulting. You can often tell whether someone is a coach by the way they provide their services. If they are doing lots of the telling, or suggesting options, they are likely not coaching.
In order to introduce standards to the industry, there are bodies that provide accreditation and who certify that coaches not only meet the criteria for certification but also commit to ongoing CPD and supervision. These bodies include the EMCC, the ICF, and the AC. They have been working hard to professionalise coaching.
Active listening and self-awareness
At the heart of all coaching is active listening and self-awareness. These are two things that all of our accredited coaches have in spades.
Coaches are trained to listen to what is said and what is unsaid. They are able to explore what is going on at a conscious level, as well as tap into what is happening under the service. Truly experienced coaches will also be able to work with the sensations and thoughts that they have which are mirroring yours. The majority of people have never experienced being truly and totally heard. A lot of the power of coaching comes from being able to create that space for the coachee.
Self-awareness is key in coaching. It is the ultimate goal of coaching. However, the coach themselves needs to be self-aware, which is why it is so important that they themselves have a reflective practice. You shouldn’t be able to ascertain what the coach's individual preferences are, they should be able to flex and adapt their style to what works best for you. Their questions should be clear from their biases and assumptions.
Coaching tools and techniques
There are many tools and techniques that coaches use. Just some of the things that we use here at Client Talk are:
ACT or Acceptance & Commitment Therapy
This type of coaching is based on Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. It is a type of mindful therapy which enables you to accept situations and negative feelings as a typical part of life. It involves mindfulness, a focus on values, and positive psychology. It generates psychological flexibility.
CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
This is based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and provides a way to cope with limiting beliefs and explore negative thought patterns. CBT is different from ACT in that the focus is reframing rather than accepting.
Constellations work well alongside systemic coaching, and the two are often found together. Constellations help individuals find their place in the system, or discover the forces that are at play in the system. We also use them to explore well-being and work/life balance.
This is an intervention that focuses on the here and now. There are very specific techniques that fall within this – the most common intervention is the empty chair which is useful when the coachee has issues with another. Gestalt emphasises that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Gestalt involves individuals carrying out behavioural experiments which can increase their ways of being.
This is the first technique many coaches learn and it is a proven method of generating options for change. However, if this is the only tool in your coach's toolbox, you are likely to find that you both become stuck and fail to derive the deeper benefits of coaching. GROW has its place, but it really becomes useful when combined with other techniques.
LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®
This isn’t strictly speaking a coaching tool, rather it is a facilitated communication tool. However, there is a lot of overlap between systemic coaching and constellation work, and where a coach is facilitating, it can lead to real shifts in the landscape and deep understanding.
This is also originally a therapeutic intervention. It is something that can be used to enhance an individual’s motivation to change.
All of the methods we have shared will involve some type of questioning. It is through questions that coaches will enable you to explore your situation. You may have heard about AI starting to be used in coaching. It is here that it is being used to replace human coaches. For coaches who only use this method, this is scary, however, as you will see, this is just one technique among many that coaches use.
This is where the coach looks beyond the individual or team that they are coaching to the wider system. This can be used in individual coaching but is more commonly used in team coaching.
There is a lot of overlap with ACT, but values-based coaching involves exploring what values are important to the coachee (be they an individual or a team) and then using those values as a compass for the way forward.
1:1. Coaching vs. Group and Team Coaching
Coaching started as a one-to-one endeavour; a coach working with a coachee to deliver results. Executive coaching has grown expediently as an industry, the focus here being the coaching of high-level professionals. The reason executive coaching works is that those at a high level need to think about their concerns and challenges from their own unique perspective. They need to be empowered to come up with their own solutions.
We believe that what is true of executives, or partners in professional services firms, is true of all individuals and coaching shouldn’t be the sole preserve of those in power. The biggest difference that we see when we coach different levels, is that those at the top often lack real thinking partners and challenges because of their position in the firm. This means that coaches might be the first individuals to do that in some time.
Group coaching is where a coach will work with multiple individual coachees on a common theme. The clients are the individuals, rather than the unit which they together make up. This is something that we often use as a tool for learning when we create learning journeys for firms.
Team coaching goes beyond group coaching, it is focused on coaching the team and the client is the team. Team coaching enhances the learning and performance of the collective unit. It enables it to work with conflict and identify its goals. It can be used to help teams perform better. You might see a team coach brought in to create a high-performing team, or to help a team leverage diversity within it. You might also think about team coaching where the internal politics or silos are causing friction in the firm.
Why is everyone getting in on it?
Quite simply because it works. Hopefully, this article will show you that coaching covers a range of tools and techniques and that it can be applied in a myriad of ways. The reason we are coaching-powered here at Client Talk is that we believe that the individual, team, or firm has access to what it needs to grow. Coaching empowers and transforms, but it keeps the person at the centre of everything and we believe in Carl Rogers' view that every human strives for and has the capacity to fulfil their own potential.
How can you make sure that your coach is right for you?
All coaches should offer a chemistry call. This is an opportunity for you to find out whether the coach is someone you can work with. You might find the coach challenging. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Sometimes it is the people who challenge us that provide the deepest learning. They should though be someone who you feel safe with because you will need to be open and honest in your conversations with them.
To avoid the pitfalls of hiring a coach who promises the earth but who isn’t professional, here are some of the questions you can ask:
What body are you accredited with?
How regularly do you attend supervision and can you share your latest supervision certificate?
What tools and techniques do you use?
What is your approach to coaching?