A new study experimented with two types of “coaching” on a group of undergraduates.
One group used the “traditional” style of coaching that focused on “find the problem and then fix it”.
Another used a more positive approach, where the coach asked the second group of students. Questions like, “If everything worked out ideally in your life, what would you be doing in 10 years”.
When the volunteer groups were run through a functional MRI to examine how their brains responded to the techniques, scientists found that different areas of their brain were lit up.
The positive style of coaching lit up areas responsible for imagining future events, seeing the big picture, feelings of empathy and safety, and motivation.
The takeaway: Coaching that reinforces positive thoughts activates a new neurology and reduces stressors.
But what if the client is just not ready?
As a life coach, you will have clients coming to you in “no” mode. They will say “I can’t” a lot. That is OK because your client is new to thinking about possibilities – their world is full of problems and this is the boundary condition of their current thinking.
By asking effective questions, being supportive and holding them accountable, you will help them from getting stuck to unstuck.
Here are five skills to develop to deliver successful coaching results to your clients.
Want to know a secret? You don’t know what you don’t know.
Think about that. You are sitting in your comfort zone, not knowing what lies beyond.
This is partly because we’re conditioned to blindly assume things. But what seems obvious is not always true. As a coach, you want to dig deeper into the map of your client’s world – once you do that, you not only explore the “what” and “when” but also the “how” and most importantly, the "why" of things.
Because the more curious you are, the more possibilities open up for your client (and in your own life too).
Not only that, you will start looking at a challenge your client is facing from different perspectives. It is natural for your client to look at new situations in a negative way – but being curious allows you to expand your horizons and conduct a session in a non-judgemental manner to facilitate change.
There is a fine difference between hearing and listening. Your brain selectively deletes unimportant information coming through. You hear a welcome message at the metro – you carefully listen to any last-minute cancellations.
In short, hearing is a physical ability while listening is a skill.
When we “get out of the way” of what is being said, we clear the space for the client so they can fill it. This empowers them, builds trust and enables them to explore what’s really on their mind.
Getting out of the way means being judgement-free, and opens up possibilities to understand your client’s map: Are their beliefs limiting them? Are they blocking success? Are they on track with their vision?
Here’s how to get out of the way and hold the space for your client:
- Maintain eye contact
- Stay still
- Nod to encourage
- Mirror and match
- Stay curious
- Listen actively (listen for patterns and meanings)
- Have zero assumptions
While you do the above, do it with empathy. Regardless of how you would do things, acknowledge that your client is doing the best they can with the resources available to them at this time.
If someone asked me “what is coaching?” the simplest possible answer I could give would be “asking the right questions.”
Questions are such an important part of coaching and sometimes it feels that’s all you’re doing as an effective coach. But there’s more to it.
Think about a time when you couldn’t connect with someone. Now recall the questions they asked. How did they make you feel?
Questions are incredibly powerful. If you ask yourself: “Why did you do that?” you’re more likely to feel closed and defensive. Most of us, when asked to justify our actions, will feel that way.
It’s like asking you to explain your identity. And you’ll do anything to defend that, right?
Same applies to your client. So instead of asking closed-ended, direct questions, create a space that will support the client – and do it with a place of exploration, genuine curiosity and wonder.
Good question starting points could be:
- I wonder if..
- I’m curious…
- Could this be an example of…
During your coaching session, your client will circle on a story, get lost, double back and get confused. This is great because now you can step up and lead by example by keeping your eye on the ball.
This means you assist them to focus on what matters and eliminate all background “noise” from the conversation. Ask questions that promote the possibility of change and focus on coaching agenda.
The flip side of this is for you to be open to explore new opportunities for new thinking, choices, behaviours and action steps that can open up through coaching.
A wise person once said your task is not to foresee the future but to enable it.
We live in uncertain times. Just pick up the newspaper and headlines will scream at you to prove this.
The human mind likes control and stability. We love the familiar, the status quo, the predictable.
But here’s the thing. “Stable” could block growth.
That applies beautifully to being a coach. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but you’re willing to go there and explore the depths with your client.
Great coaches venture into uncertainty willingly. They navigate the clients into the unknown. It’s the key to unlocking the future.
So I’m curious – how do you use these in your daily life and in coaching sessions? Do you find any of the above skills more difficult to implement than others?
We’d love to hear your personal experiences – share them with us in the comments!