How practising critical self-reflection makes you a better coach

Enhanced relationships, renewed passion and purpose ... here's a way of thinking that will increase your effectiveness when relating to clients.

Like porridge and bicycle ab crunches, the words 'critical self-reflection' might not grab you right out of the gate as being a positive for your life. But like the age-old breakfast staple and torturous favourite of personal trainers,  they are necessary and good for you if you want to become a better coach.

Life coaching is about understanding human behaviour. It is about equipping individuals with tools to develop self-awareness—of their thoughts, feelings, behaviours—ultimately achieving the lives they want to live (read more about what a life coach does here).

Given the nature of the profession, many life coaches themselves are on a constant journey to learn, develop and advance themselves—personally and professionally.

In particular, life coaches can benefit from learning opportunities that increase their effectiveness when relating to clients.

This can be done through critical self-reflection (CSR).

Before we dive into the juicy perks, it is important to note that CSR is not synonymous to general introspection, or reflection.

Made prominent by adult education academic Stephen Brookfield, CSR is a process we use to reflect upon the assumptions and presuppositions that inform our practice.

And what’s so critical about it? It involves reflecting upon the impacts as well as origins of these assumptions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviour.

While it comes from an academic-based learning method, it has transferable properties to life coaching. Afterall, both fields share the goal of transforming and enriching lives in adult learners.

Specifically within the coaching context, CSR provides coaches an opportunity to reflect and better understand the value of connection and presence within the coaching relationship.

Additionally, and importantly, CSR enables ethical coaching. As outlined by academic Fiona McColl, critical reflection leads to increased awareness of the tension between personal and professional integrity and ethics.

A tool used to practice CSR is the Life Coaching Critical Incident Questionnaire (LCCIQ). Adapted from Brookfield's Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ), the five questions allow the coach to systematically reflect on and raise awareness of their practice.

In a 2019 study, researchers Lynn Shaw & Michelle Glowacki-Dudka examined the experience of five certified life coaches who completed the LCCIQ after conducting their coaching sessions. They were also asked to journal on their experiences fortnightly.

By the end of the two months, five key themes from the coaches' experiences emerged:

  1. Supportive Structure & Discipline

All coaches acknowledged that completing the CSR activities led to slowing down and becoming more focused. Furthermore, CSR evolved into a habit and integral part of the coaching practice for them.

  1. Increased Self-awareness

The coaches highly valued the activities that helped them reflect deeper thoughts and emotions. Within their coaching practices, the coaches were much more aware of their listening skills, leading to increased focus on the client agenda and improved coach-coachee connections.

Interestingly, CSR also helped the coaches recognising the importance of self-care as a life coach, and its impact on their practice.

  1. Renewed Passion & Purpose

CSR allowed coaches to focus on the purpose of their coaching practice and what they considered meaningful. This helped them to select from coaching styles, populations to serve and niches to create.

  1. Tools for Professional Development

Practicing CSR reinforced and illuminated coaching principles, core skills and resources coaches used in their practices. They agreed that a tool like the LCCIQ would be beneficial as part of continuing professional development.

  1. Enhanced Relationships with Self & Others

Through the practice of CSR, the coaches found themselves more reflective about their individual lives. This involved them being transparent, accepting and honest with those around them.

The research has spoken.

Here's three tangible tips for all you life coaches out there:

First, adopt CSR practices regularly to help develop and broaden awareness of the self in your coaching relationships.

Second, focus intentionally on self-awareness of emotions, presence, attending behaviours, perceptions and assumptions during coaching sessions, to be more responsive to their client's needs.

Last but not least, if you’re wondering where to begin, you can experiment with adapting any of these tools to your practice: Empathy Maps, 5R Framework for Reflection, and of course, the LCCIQ.

And now you’re on your way to becoming a better coach!

Lysha is a psychology graduate, and an advocate for physical and mental health & wellbeing. As a researcher at The Coaching Institute, she draws upon positive and coaching psychology to push forth the evidence-based movement within the coaching industry. Lysha is an active member of Victoria's powerlifting community, a compulsive snacker and an avid pup lover.

Lysha LeeThe Coaching Institute