In the not so distant past, those in charge were the ones that knew the most and that is what provided them with their sense of authority and power. With the rise of the ‘information-everywhere’ world it is impossible for a single person to have all the answers anymore. This situation is one of the true contributing factors to the rise of the coach who in most situations can assist the decision-maker to make better decisions by asking enabling questions.
At its most basic, coaching is about connecting with people, enabling them to use their skills and knowledge and ultimately helping them reach their goals. It does mean however that the coach needs to always remember to challenge and not to answer the key questions but to ensure that they encourage their clients to do so. This makes the coaching the lovely undefined but valuable discipline that it is but also means that all coaches have to remain responsible with their clients to ensure that they don’t break the ‘code’.
Being responsible covers a wide range of interactions and behaviour but I think can be distilled into three key areas.
Asking the Right Questions
We all have a set of standard questions that we fall back on when we coach and we are not sure quite what need to be done. That is fine to some extent especially in the initial stages where the “where would you like to start?” question is common but very quickly, and in order for value to be created, the questions have to be designed to address the issues at hand and that the outcome of the session finds the client holding some sort of solution to them.
Most question process design will move questions structure from an initial information gathering which is sometimes called ‘pure inquiry’ as their purpose is to generate fundamental data. The next set of questions are often called ‘diagnostic inquiry’ as they use the results of the first set to get the client to focus on the specific issues which may be driven by emotions, reactions and frustrations and also to get them to uncover solutions. The last stage is often called ‘challenge inquiry’ which is where the questions challenge elements of the client’s assumptions to assist them see other sides to the story.
Evidence shows that the more quality responses acquired from the pure enquiry stage enhances the ability to create better and more effective challenge questions in the later stages.
Listening with Integrity
We can all tell the difference between hearing and listening and it’s true to say that the least experienced of our clients can detect whether you are doing one or the other simply and quickly. Listening is not just a motor function, it is a whole-body process that exists between coach and client that results in the client feeling that they are being cared for and focused on.
Responsible listening in a coaching context requires that you capture as much about what the client is saying as about how they are saying it – eye contact, posture, vocal quality, use of hands and so on. This intensity of focus, uninterrupted by expected or unexpected distractions, makes it clear that you have a strong sense of interest and engagement with them especially when coaching over the phone when the other physical factors are unavailable. Responsibility doesn’t just end there as it is important for you to be recording what your client is saying in a sensitive and appropriate way.
Empathise with Authenticity
The use of empathy is a key part of your toolkit as a coach, understanding your client’s position but also attempting to understand their emotions, in order to establish and maintain the interpersonal connection that makes coaching possible.
Being empathetic responsibly means honestly and authentically responding to elements of vulnerability, lack of courage, unworthiness and shame that your client may exhibit. Empathy is often seen as the ‘antidote’ to these feelings and experiences, helping your client defuse their embarrassment and stimulate creative thinking about potential solutions.
True empathy does not mean comparing your client’s problems to your own, being illogically positive about the situation and especially not jumping to solutions without completing the cycle and not recognising what your client is feeling in the moment. It also doesn’t mean letting your client ‘get away with it’, meaning that your responsibility is to ensure that you identify with the ‘problem’ but also create a workable matching ‘solution’.
You already know that as the coach you don’t need to know everything to be responsible. What is important to being responsible, however, is bringing together asking the right questions, listening with integrity and authentic in order to help your client move forward with confidence and purpose.