Coaching takes place when one person uses their expertise to assist another person to improve their performance, learn something of value and, or make changes in their thinking and behaviour that translate into a better quality of life, work, sport or interest. The term “coaching” can be used to refer to subject matter expertise, as in swimming coach or maths coach. It can also be used to mean someone who works with individuals and small groups to assist them become more able, resilient, and in tune with their lives.
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In the world of personal change, there is a continuum, with psychotherapy and psychology at the most serious end, some dealing with severe mental health issues as well as less debilitating situations. These people normally have graduate or post-graduate training in their fields and rely mostly on research and evidence based skills for their therapeutic intervention tools.
In the middle is a range of therapists and coaches working with moderate to lighter issues, some of whom work to enhance functional situations as well as solving problems. Their training can range from a blend of informal non-accredited programs leading to membership of private, non-accredited professional style bodies, up to rigorous, post-graduate qualifications. Life coaches operate at the least debilitating end of the range of clients and may only have three or four weeks training or a Certificate IV qualification.
If you consider consider consulting a coach to help you solve a problem or create a future outcome, there is a wide range of offerings available. Currently, coaching is similar to the Wild West: It is unregulated, freely available, priced from a few dollars per session to thousands. Each coach has a different idea of what questions and problems are appropriate for coaching.
The questions you might have for a prospective coach are of course subjective, but the level of qualification they hold, as opposed to non-accredited training, is likely to indicate the potential quality of their work. It is also important to discover if they intend to put you through a specific program, regardless of what you present, or if they expect to tailor what they are doing to fit your responses as the session or set of sessions progresses.
You might be interested in how long a coach has been in practice and if they get good results with their clients, but do not rely on client testimonials. Many clients prefer a confidential service and giving a testimonial might not be in their interest, so an absence of testimonials cannot be equated with incompetence. Equally, a flood of testimonials does not mean you have found someone who does lasting, high quality work. You may be able to ask your prospective coach if you can talk to a client to get a reference. That is different from testimonials and can often be arranged.
The form of coaching we teach at Inspiritive in the Graduate Certificate in NLP and apply in our private practice uses patterns of thinking, communication and behaviour to offer change to clients. We attend to clients’ current patterns of thinking, communication and behaviour and work with them to provide more functional options for them to create what they want. In our opinion, coaching does not offer advice. It guides clients to learn different ideas and new perspectives so they can access the internal and external resources they need to make their own choices and decisions according to their own values.
To give an idea of how process based coaching functions, here are some frames to consider.
When a new client comes for coaching, there is information we need and there is information that many clients imagine we want, but which, for us, simply offers more detail than is useful. If a client has consulted a coach, psychologist or therapist before, or read about therapy sessions, they may assume we want to know the entire background history that led them to their present situation. Some people hold the view that the telling of their story is beneficial to them and some want to make sure we know everything possible so that we can work with them.
This is not the case with process coaching. It saves time and creates a direction to explain how we can be most useful to a client right at the start of the first session. We can tell a new client that the most effective way to work with them is for us to ask specific questions and for them to respond to those questions. Some of the questions may seem unusual and we may not ask the questions the client might expect. This is because we are working with how the client responds to their situation, not the situation itself.
We are here to identify clients’ outcomes and change limiting patterns of thinking so that the client can learn what they need to achieve their outcomes. This is different from talking about problematic events in depth. We use the clients’ own language and thinking patterns to teach them generative skills. This enables them to become independent, self directed people who make satisfying choices and create their own lives. To do this, we need the freedom to ask unusual questions that lead clients to think differently about their situation, often without their having to tell us what that situation is.
Coaches do not have the legal privilege of confidentiality that psychologists enjoy and even psychologists are required to report admissions of illegal activity by their clients. Our approach can offer an effective substitute for privacy. Process coaching can be entirely confidential, because we do not need to know where, when or with whom specifically, an event took place. Nor do we need to know what the event was, just the client’s internal response to it. For example, a client may say; “I have a situation at work with a senior person. It recurs roughly every week. When the senior person uses a particular voice tone or has a particular expression on their face, I feel as if I were six years old and about to be reprimanded and I don’t like it”.
A description like this tells us everything we need to begin the session and nothing to identify the kind of work, the workplace or the senior person. It provides a wonderful opening statement for change to unfold as we ask additional questions. Most new clients are not that succinct naturally, but with clear instruction and assurance that this is the quality of information we want, they discover that we can work fast and effectively and without exposing them to unpleasant memories.
A coaching session is conducted within the frame of a well formed outcome. The well formed outcome is a set markers that define and elaborate an outcome to the point of taking action if it works out, or changing it to something else that does a similar job if it fails the tests. In coaching, the coach’s outcome is to assist each client to get the best quality outcome in terms of the client’s values and choice.
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The stages of a Well Formed Outcome
- Establish what the client wants; this is an outcome
- Establish the evidence they would see, hear, feel that proves to them that the outcome has been achieved
- Establish what they want the outcome for, or what they want the outcome to do or provide for them; this is the intention for having the outcome
- Establish that the outcome is physically possible to achieve
- Identify the resources, internal and external, required for obtaining the outcome
- Identify the costs and benefits associated with obtaining the outcome
- Identify the consequences of having and keeping the outcome
- Identify the appropriate time frame for achieving the outcome
In terms of a coaching session, a client is presumed to have a problem, a question or an outcome that they want to pursue with the assistance of a coach. Either way, there is a difference between their present state or situation and their desired state, or outcome.
The coach’s function is to assist the client to identify and clarify their own outcome and identify what has been preventing the client from having their outcome. Then the coach will lead the client to make changes that are consistent with the client’s values and the client meeting their outcome and intention, or having a result they find more generative and that supersedes their original outcome. With process coaching, the coach’s function is to facilitate the client’s process and the client’s choices at all times. Advice is not offered and is not part of the coach’s responsibility. This is important to remember, especially if a client seeks advice.
The beginning of a session is for introductions, describing the flow and the process and determining the present state and outcome. This sets the stage for discovering what has prevented the client from having their outcome and how to approach proposed changes. The coach will ask specific questions to gather enough sensory specific information to identify the present or problem state without going into it in detail and to develop an outcome that fits the client’s needs and wishes. The skill is in identifying the non-verbal, sensory specific elements in the client’s experience that have been making it difficult for the client to pursue their outcome successfully.
With this approach, it is rare to take a complete NLP process and use it from beginning to end. The use of process questions and directed information gathering enables a coach to keep pace with the client’s process and direct their attention while accommodating and guiding the client’s own patterns. The coach directs the process by attending to non-verbal shifts and language patterns in the client’s responses, while the client applies the coach’s questions to the content of their situation without having to say anything identifiable.
Most of the change work takes place by way of information gathering. Clients become aware of subtle signals in their experience and beliefs that have been deeply presupposed that have been directing their attention and behaviour away from their outcome. As they learn how their own process has been functioning and bring additional resources into their attention, their experience changes. In addition, there is the option of using all or parts of formal interventions in combination to facilitate clients’ changes.
This form of coaching is applicable to resolving problematic situations and generative outcomes. It works equally well with long standing and recently manifesting issues in personal, sporting, business and workplace matters and relationships. All interventions are tailored to the client, their values and their preferences and are aligned with each client’s life and working contexts to preserve and enhance their ongoing experience.
All change work is done with the client, for the client and towards furthering the client’s outcomes. Clients are made aware that a coach cannot change them directly. It is the client who makes their changes, with guidance from the coach. Also, neither coaches nor clients nor parents nor bosses can force the other people in their lives to change. It is a fact of life that we cannot change another person. Leverage involves inducements and pressure, but even then, the subject of the inducement or sanction has to find it meaningful to them, or they will not comply. In coaching, we are dealing with freely chosen change in service to an equally freely chosen outcome.
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Where a client’s problem is apparently created by someone else, the client may start the session with certainty that someone else needs to change. However, interactions and relationships are systemic. This means that when a client changes their own state so they become comfortable and able when they are with a problematic person, the client’s presentation is different. Therefore the other person is bound to respond differently and sometimes it appears as if that person has changed. The base line outcome for a client who feels disadvantaged or unsafe when they are with a problematic person, is for the client to become naturally competent, comfortable and able in themselves, with a sense of choice; plus whatever additional outcomes and intentions they may have for themselves in those contexts. This is possible, however unlikely it may appear initially, provided the client is willing to trust that the coach is competent.
Process coaching is made safe for clients by the frames that govern it. The absence of identifiable history and disclosure protects clients’ privacy. The absence of advice protects clients’ right to choose and decide for themselves and the coaching process is pure process. Questions and instructions are given to enable clients to attend to their own situations differently from their normal ways of thinking, to help them identify and apply resources and ideas that they would not have found by themselves. Every coach appreciates a client who is willing to learn to do something different in the privacy of their own mind. When a client is willing to explore their own process with a well trained coach, the results can be impressive.