Untangle and grow

A blog by Alison Maxwell

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Leaving it in the past - issues in coaching

I'm very clear as a coach that I am not a counsellor or therapist. I don't have permission, training or  expertise to go delving about in someone's past. However I'm equally aware that sometimes the roots of present day issues brought into coaching conversations lie in the past.

Take Peter as an example (obviously all specifics are changed!). He is way too nice for his own good - he ends up taking on too much work for others and usually puts his own needs last. He's come to coaching to work on his assertion skills. He's also very aware that this stems from his difficult childhood where pleasing his parents was his default strategy. Knowing this however doesn't help him show up differently at work. He sighs and says something along the lines of 'That is who I am...'.

This is a conundrum for a coach. To what extent is a difficult past a rationalisation for not talking responsibility in the present? Do you take the conversation into discussion of the past in an attempt to undo past wrongs? Or is the work more about acceptance and looking to the future?  To my mind the only legitimate choice is to help the coachee recognise the impact of past experience on the present and help them work out if they want different choices for the future. Do they want keep re-reading the last chapter or start writing the next?

Monday, 17 March 2014

The either/or trap

I'm sitting today with a new coaching client - a likeable man in a demanding job, but stuck in the 'either/or trap'.  On one hand he wants to move on in his career but isn't sure he's got what it takes, but on the other hand he feels a sense of duty to his team, but loathes the culture of his organisation. He's in the 'either/or trap' - stuck between two equally unpalatable choices, expending massive mental energy but not getting anywhere or making any decisions.

The 'either/or trap' is a classic dilemma that often presents itself in coaching conversations. Curiously enough the client will often show you this dilemma with their body language as well as their verbal descriptions - literally holding the two halves of their problem in their hands. This is a tip-off that the client has made the assumption that they only two choices, and the trick (if indeed it is a trick) is to help them step outside of this self-created mental limitation. This could be looking for a third way forward, or perhaps a compromise between their choices or... or...

Monday, 10 March 2014

Listening for the assumption - skills of coaching

One of the least useful pieces of advice I was given in my early career as a manager was 'Don't assume". Surely if I'd know I was assuming I wouldn't have done it! Assumptions are almost by definition outside of our awareness - they are simply the water we swim in. We develop habits of mind as well as habits of action, as a way of short cutting life's routines. After all, if we had to re-decide all our decisions everyday, including which side of the bed to get of, we really wouldn't get much done. However many of our assumptions - our habits of mind -  as well as being invisible, are simply outdated, have ceased to serve us and need revision.

On our own it is often very difficult to see what is an assumption and what is fact, so one of the more useful ways a coach can serve us is to help us see our assumptions afresh and give us the chance to do a bit of much needed rewriting.

We've all probably been taught about active or deep listening - and many of us have got very good at this. However an under-developed skill in coaching I believe is 'listening for the assumption'. I have been surprised how many times in my coaching practice the real shift often comes when we can surface and explore the nature of the assumptions that are being made by the client.