What I learnt about ‘coaching’ & myself as a ‘coach’, as I aspired to be one
Why I wanted to get into coaching:
- It has been there in my mind for at least 7-8 years now, that I must learn coaching and be a coach without knowing what coaching actually means and who actually a coach is. Probably I felt that being a coach can make me help others which has been a fantasy (story) right from my childhood, again without knowing the reason for it. You can call it a ‘calling’ or an inner voice that was always there inside me.
- As I got myself interested in coaching what I learnt was that I need to have some story that proves to me I am worth being a coach which is why I did all the necessary education (specifically post-graduation), corporate job, etc. In fact, on one such occasion when I shared this with a professor that this is why I was appearing for a business school entrance interview, my views were not really appreciated. However, I think it was just another story I was telling myself that I need to be ready to be able to coach others. As Ram mentioned in our group connect with him, I was also probably looking to have some anecdotal experiences for myself so that it will be handy in the future as I enter the coaching field to help others develop further.
- Having said that, this year I just jumped into coaching, thinking that I am ready or probably more ready to take this inward journey (one more version of the story I was telling myself). My purpose was multifold
My purpose was multifold:
- See coach training as a leadership development opportunity to which I am self-nominating myself
- Learn critical skills for future like listening deeply, curiously connecting with others, exploring deeply & ability to challenge through questioning, support others develop and reach their aspirations by realizing their innate potential
- Put the skills to practice and master them by offering it to those in need
- Lastly, offer coaching as a meaningful service to the communities in which I am living
What I learnt about coaching:
Initially, I thought I have studied a lot about human behavior through subjects like psychology, sociology, anthropology, and organizational behavior, hence I come with a lot of existing knowledge. Additionally, I have rich experiences both at work and in life in general so all I need is to go through a training program and be certified to coach others. After all, I have facilitated a lot of coaching conversations at my workplace and I know everything that happens around the coaching (as in behind the scenes). With these stories playing in my mind, I was very excited to start my coach training program in the early part of this year (2020). As I was preparing to start the training and checking what all I should be doing to make the most of it, my coach trainer (Anita) asked me to do just one thing: open to unlearning and staying curious.
Only when I started practicing did I realize what it meant. (while I was involved in coaching conversations earlier as a part of my work, I never was a coachee or of course not a coach at all but just as a facilitator of coaching conversations between coaches and coachees)
What I learnt, later on, I would like to summarize borrowing the words from the book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by the Italian Physicist and Writer Carlo Rovelli, “When we say that human behavior is unpredictable, we are right, because it is too complex to be predicted, especially by ourselves. Our intense sensation of internal liberty comes from the fact that the ideas and images which we have of ourselves are much cruder and sketchier than the detailed complexity of what is happening within us. We are the source of amazement in our own eyes.
We have a hundred billion neurons in our brains, as many as there are stars in a galaxy, with an even more astronomical number of links and potential combinations through which they can interact. We are not conscious of all of this. ‘We’ are the process formed by this entire intricacy, not just by the little of it which we are conscious.
The ‘I’ who decides is that same ‘I’ which is formed from reflections upon itself; through self-representations in the world; When we have the feeling that ‘it is I’ who decides we couldn’t be more correct. Who else?
I am, my body and what happens in my brain and heart, with their immense, inextricable complexity.”
I learnt that each of us keeps telling different stories at different points of time, throughout our life. How we say those stories (to ourselves or to others) and what aspects of it we pay attention to is what is going to make a huge difference. In my 27 hours of practice so far as a coach, I could see the power of coaching coming into play to dig these stories out, help the clients see them in action & sometimes in silence and experience them in a unique way so as to leverage them for their growth and happiness.
Continuing my meditations on this topic, I would like to take the help of Mr. Carlo Rovelli once again “The images which we construct of the universe may live inside us, in conceptual space; but they also describe more or less well the real world to which we belong. We follow leads in order to better describe the world. Scrutinizing and deducting from the details of reality in order to pursue something which we can’t see directly but can follow the traces of. In the awareness that we can always be wrong, and therefore ready at any moment to change direction if a new track appears; but knowing also that if we are good enough, we will get it right and will find what we are seeking. The confusion between these two human activities – inventing stories and following traces in order to find something – is the origin of incomprehension and distrust of science.”
I am convinced that Coaching is extremely powerful not just for any reason but because of the way we are as human beings.
Sir Richard Feynman famously said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” I realized coaching is the best and the safest process that creates the right environment to identify those moments when we are fooling ourselves and to acknowledge, accept, and appreciate it to potentially benefit from such reflections.
As John Dewey, the American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer said, “We don’t learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience” and as per the self-made billionaire Ray Dalio “Pain + Reflection = Progress”.
What I learnt about myself as a coach:
If I can compare the coach in me to a meteorologist who does weather forecasting, I was only measuring the temperature earlier. What I missed was that the weather forecasting includes various other aspects like humidity, wind speeds, clouds, precipitation, atmospheric pressure, visibility, analyse many layers of atmosphere not just one and many more.
In many of my conversations with others, I was listening only to what is being said by them (read it as temperature measured). I was not gauging the tone of the voice, intensity, emotions, underlying feelings, facial expressions, body posture, choice of words, the language and more. Even if I was sensing them, I was not taking a note of them, I was not getting them validated by the clients.
Since the coaching journey started, instead of limiting myself to measuring temperature I started going deeper because just using a thermometer is a very poor substitute of interpreting the weather and more importantly, I am gaining courage to check with the client if I am learning (about the who and what) during the conversation or not. We need to go deeper and understand:
- how the humidity is playing out in that particular temperature?
- what is the speed of the wind and in which direction it is blowing?
- while the actual temperate might be something, how does it actually feel like?
- why is the current temperature so much, what happened before, has there been rain followed by rainbow or was there a rainbow without rain?
- is the thunder you are listening the first one or the last one?
- there must be a lot of lightening and we are not able to see due to dark clouds, is that a possibility?
Just like it takes a lot of effort to gauge the weather and we may never be able to predict it rightly, it is not a simple task of listening to the clients and noting what they are saying using language. It will be going beyond that and involves below aspects (but not limited to them):
being present along with the client to observe, notice and be empathetic to the who and what
(in one scenario, I could see the client smiling throughout the session as he was aware of the issue he is detailing out but not sure why he never took action and sometime how he failed to make sure the actions he took were not successful so when I noticed this and played back to him, he said “I don’t know why it is so and hence I find it to be funny and probably that could be reason to the smile on my face”)
exploring the language, emotions, tone of voice and the pace of speech
(in a conversation with a client when she mentioned that there some frustration, a feeling of not being comfortable, I missed exploring these aspects which could have resulted in a much more meaningful and deeper coaching session for the client)
inquires client behavior and how he/she perceives the world
(in another coaching conversation, the client was viewing the world from the point of view of her past experiences not being open to new possibilities and when she realized it, she mentioned that “it feels to be stupid and silly now”)
bring in intuitions and observations to get them validated by the client himself/herself without any fear of going wrong
(in one specific coaching session of the client with whom I had the longest relationship of sessions so far, I shared an observation I noticed asking if it is true. I found the client to be extremely reluctant about every possible solution he is exploring and then I asked him if it is true and to my pleasant surprise, he did agree that there is an inner critic who stops everything he pursues. This changed the whole conversation later on)
inviting client to put the learning (gained in the session) into practice or at least think through
(in the middle of a conversation, the client mentioned that she never thought it that way and find this approach very helpful. I asked her what she would suggest if her friend was in such a situation and then if she can use this learning to her own situation. The client miraculously started appearing confident since then for the rest of the conversation.)
Thanks to the competencies (listed by ICF/EMCC & more) which are very helpful as a good compass to take this journey and figure out my inner voice to be a great coach to my clients.
As I observed myself playing the role of a coach, I made a log of some crucial instances to reflect and learn from. Along with those, some of the below queries/ concerns, learnings and areas of improvement emerged to me naturally and I continue to work on myself. I was able to improve on some of them while I will be working on them as I continue this journey.
- Do not jump into the solutioning until I am convinced that there is nothing further to explore and do not feel the burden of performance pressure to deliver the result in that session alone
- Do not give up ever and if felt like a dead-end, share with the client how I am feeling as a coach and check if there is any way out
- Seek the permission of the client when trying to do something meaningful yet not mentioned by the client. For example, challenging the client by questioning, sharing an observation or inference which client would not have explicitly stated
- It is important to have a sense of time available for a session (even though we should not feel the pressure of performance), so we can ask (if required) something like ‘how much time we have to partner in this session?’
- Not ask more than one question at a time and carefully think through which question should follow which one, keeping the primary purpose of helping the client move towards his/her goals
- Avoiding close-ended questions as much as possible (e.g.: use them when I am validating my observations/understanding/interpretations)
- Appreciate clients for the inner work they are doing, as it feels appropriate because not all the work each of us is doing every day is being appreciated by many, in fact we don’t appreciate ourselves enough. Only such small moments build forward momentum through meaningful progress
- Leverage all the tools, theories, concepts learnt to put them to practice, test, iterate, improve and make it even more meaningful to my clients everyday
- Do not say that ‘I understand your situation’ to a client as we may never be able to understand it completely hence it is good to mention that ‘I acknowledge the situation you are into, appreciate or empathize with it’
- How can I stop the chatter inside my mind? How can I be able to overcome or at least address my own fears and anxieties to be the cleanest mirror for my clients?
- What will I do if I find conflict between my belief system and that of my clients while being true to the purpose of serving them?
- Many years of conditioning that an authority figure is there to guide you is going to come out into play along with my own ego, that I was a coach will offer something (probably unsolicited advice) and I will continue to work on this every time without giving in to the years of conditioning.
Roles I must play while playing the role of a coach:
- accountability partner/friend
- deep listener
- devil’s advocate
- facilitator in an observatory to help others gaze into the sky and stars
- a mirror (different views at different points of time: front view, rear view, microscope, telescope, binoculars, magnifying lens, etc.) with the cleanest view – this involved me to keep clean and not have any spots in myself which will reflect in the way a client will use me as a mirror to help his/her context
- many other roles that I look forward to playing
Some of the many other thoughts during my journey so far as a coach:
My hope is that we will be who we say we are. All of us.
We all have the same information about the present and we all have the same ignorance about the future.
In the big picture of contemporary science there are many things we do not understand, and one of the things which we understand least about is ourselves
Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It’s helping them to learn rather than teaching them.