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Coaching is an art that must be learned mostly from experience. In the Inner Game approach, coaching can be defined as the facilitation of mobility. It is the art of creating an environment, through conversation and a way of being, that facilitates the process by which a person can move toward desired goals in a fulfilling manner. It requires one essential ingredient that cannot be taught: caring not only for external results but for the person being coached.
The Inner Game was born in the context of coaching, yet it is all about learning. The two go hand in hand. The coach facilitates learning. The role and practices of the coach were first established in the world of sports and have been proven indispensable in getting the best performance out of individuals and teams. Naturally, managers who appreciate the high levels of individual and team performance among athletes want to emulate what coaching provides.
The coach is not the problem solver. In sports, I had to learn how to teach less, so that more could be learned. The same holds true for a coach in business.
Who Owns the Problem?
One of the first exercises I give in coaching seminars for managers addresses this question. Breaking into threes, one manager would play the role of coach, one would play the client, and one would observe the dialogue. The client would be asked to think of some issue, skill, or goal he would like coaching on. The coach would receive no instructions on how to coach. The observer was given a specific variable to observe and report on.
During the first few minutes of the conversation, the person being coached-the client-would be very animated, working hard to present the relevant information about the problem to the coach. The coach would be in the listening mode. Then, at a certain point, an abrupt change in the body posture of the two people would occur. The client would lean back as if relieved of his problem and the coach would start doing the talking, usually working very hard to come up with ideas or solutions to the problem. Typically, the client would let the coach do the work with occasional interjections aimed at showing why the solution being proposed would not work.
The third person had simply been asked to notice when and if the "ownership of the problem" shifted from one person to another. In almost all cases their feedback confirmed that after a few minutes the client had succeeded in handing off the problem to the coach, who had accepted the lion's share of the burden of solving it.
Most of us learned this pattern of problem solving at a very young age. Probably our parents, eager to be "good parents' " solved some of the problems that should have been left to us to solve so that we could gain skill and confidence. We come to expect this kind of help from the coach or parent. We may get an answer, but we don't develop the skill or self-confidence to cope with similar problems in the future. In turn, we tend to try to validate ourselves as parents and coaches by solving the problems of our children or clients.
Coaching as a Conversation for Mobility
It is essential to the Inner Game of coaching that the coach try to see from the point of view of the person being coached. By learning to listen to the client non-judgmentally, the coach learns the most important elements of the craft. Learning to ask questions that help clients reveal more and more to themselves is a natural outcome of such listening. The coach's questions are geared to finding out information not for the purpose of recommending solutions, but for the purpose of helping clients think for themselves and find their own solutions. Ideally, the end result of every coaching conversation is that the client leaves feeling more capable of mobility.
Inner Game coaching can be divided into three conversations: a conversation for awareness (getting the clearest possible picture of current reality), a conversation for choice (getting the clearest possible picture of the desired future outcome), and a conversation for trust (in which the client gains greater access to internal and external resources in order to move from current reality to the de sired future). These principles, awareness, choice, and trust are the same ones that provide the foundation for learning itself as well as for focus of attention. In the course of any conversation, awareness, choice, and trust are all present, though one may be emphasized over the others.
The Conversation for Awareness-The purpose of this conversation is to help the person or team being coached (the client) increase awareness of what is-i.e., the important aspects of the current reality. The coach listens both for what stands out to the client as he views the current situation and for what is not standing out. Using questions or statements that focus the attention of the client, the coach can make current reality become more distinct and clear. It is like turning on the headlights of a vehicle and cleaning the windshield. Remember, awareness itself is curative. The primary tool is focus of attention on the critical variables.
The coach can start with a very broad question, such as "What's happening?" and then narrow the domain of observation. "What are you observing about the customer while you are presenting the benefits of your product/ service?" "Did you observe anything in particular from the expression on his face or from his body language?" "How did you know when he was receptive to what you were saying or when you were hitting some resistance?" "What is your reaction and action when you notice that resistance?" These questions must be asked in a context of non-judgment, or they will provoke defensiveness, not increase awareness.
Awareness questions do not require answers to be effective. The clients express their awareness as it is. The degree of awareness indicates whether more attention should be paid to that variable or not. As a result of this conversation, both the client and the coach become more aware of the awareness of the client. The seed of each question is usually embedded in the previous response. In the process, the client automatically becomes more conscious about how to direct attention in the next experience. As in all coaching conversations, the point is simply that both client and coach become more conscious and more mobile.
Some open-ended questions for the early stages of the conversation for awareness are listed below:
¸ What's happening?
¸ What stands out?
¸ What do you notice when you look at x?
¸ How do you feel about this situation?
¸ What do you understand about x? What don't you understand?
¸ How would you frame the underlying problem?
¸ How would you define the task?
¸ What are the critical variables in this situation?
¸ How do they relate to one another?
¸ What are the anticipated consequences of x?
¸ What standards and time frame have you accepted in this task?
¸ What has been working? Not working?
The Conversation for Choice-The primary purpose of this conversation is to remind the clients that they are mobile-that they have the capability of choice and can move in the direction of their desired ends. If the conversation for awareness starts with the basic question "What's happening?," then the conversation for choice asks the fundamental question "What do you want?" Awareness is about the present; choice is about the desired future state.
The coach is committed to helping the client find his true commitment. Sometimes this means believing in a level of accomplishment that is well beyond what the client currently exhibits. Part of the art of coaching is to be able to sense the underlying commitment of the client's Self 2 and not to buy into Self 1's limited concepts of what is possible. However, it is not just a matter of indiscriminately setting the bar ever higher. One can set the bar so high that it becomes an interference to Self 2 rather than a recognition of its true abilities.
The coach asks questions that help the client get as clear as possible a picture of what he wants to do. Questions are asked that require the client to step back and consider the purpose behind his desired goal and not just the goal itself. In this conversation the client generates and compares, considers consequences, and makes commitments. It is also a time for looking at conflicting desires that might have to be resolved before true mobility is obtained.
The following are some of the common opening questions I use in the conversation for choice:
¸ What do you really want?
¸ What do you want to achieve?
¸ What are the benefits of x?
¸ What would be the costs of not pursuing x?
¸ What would it look like in y weeks, months, years, from now?
¸ What don't you like about those ends?
¸ What would be a fulfilling means of getting there?
¸ What changes would you like to make?
¸ What do you feel most strongly about in this situation?
¸ Who or what are you doing this for?
¸ How does this fit in with your current priorities?
¸ Do you have any conflicts about this course of action?
¸ What would success in this endeavor mean to you?
¸ What alternative possibilities can you consider?
And one of my most-used questions to myself or a client:
- Why would you want to do that?
I find the conversation for choice is most useful in separating the Self 2 desires of the client from the various Self I "agendas of the others in us." This enables clients to make choices to move in sync with their own purposes and therefore have a chance of achieving true mobility. The word commitment is often defined by clients as obligation-a commitment to others that is not connected to their commitment to themselves. True mobility can be achieved only when a person's commitment to others is in fact connected to and derived from his primary commitment to himself. This is especially difficult for people working in a corporate environment. But when the client can find this kind of alignment of purpose, there is a harmony of motivation that can provide the fuel and clarity to overcome great obstacles in the pursuit of great challenge.
Conversation for Trust-Perhaps the most important outcome of any coaching conversation is that the client ends up feeling respected, valuable, and capable of moving forward. It is a basic trust in oneself and one's potential that gives a person the belief that he can attain mobility. The client feels resourceful, i.e., able to access both the inner and outer resources necessary to reach the goal. The coach does not undermine the confidence of the client by inappropriately being the answer giver, the problem solver, or the judge.
Continuing with the image of a car to represent mobility, awareness is like the headlights that enable vision, choice is the steering wheel, and desire is the fuel. The client, as the driver, has all the inner resources of a human being-including the ability to learn and trust, the key to accessing those resources.
Since trust in oneself is a natural attribute of all children, the job of the coach is to help the client unlearn the doubts, fears, and limiting assumptions that inevitably accumulate over time. Trust is perhaps the most delicate of the coaching conversations, and the most critical to the Inner Game. This is the conversation where self-interference is minimized and recognition and confidence in one's capabilities is enhanced.