Finding the right environment to work on what you’re stuck on, get clarity on goals or make sense of challenges is essential. I’ve talked about the benefits of the right physical environment before: away from the day-to-day distractions, somewhere inspiring and raw. In this blog I explain why the space held for you by a coach provides such a conducive environment for your mind to be at its most creative.
Coaching: the fundamentals are that it’s all about active listening, being able to ask insightful and challenging questions that help you to unravel the tangle that’s in your head. In this blog I want to look at what it is that lies beyond these basics and explain why coaching is so unique and powerful.
Like all good coaches, I’m going to start with an open question: who do you turn to for support and objectivity?
Closest colleague at work, your friend who’s always been a great sounding board since you were kids, your wife or husband?
These are all great people to talk to, but by the very nature of their relationship with you, they’re always going to struggle not to bring some sort of subjective bias to the answers and prompts they provide.
Your other half with any luck loves and champions you, but naturally also protects you. At the same time they have to think of the wider implications of any action or decision you take on both themselves and the family. The chances are that the solution you pose to them is guarded too. The best friend option is similar. Your colleague at work? Not a bad option - they know the business, they know you. But are they also competing for the same promotion? The conversation you’re having with them is about a subject that has a direct impact on their work too. By default, they have an agenda, despite any selfless intent. If you’re at the top, it’s lonely up there, right? Your peers are the competition and the judges. Out of a necessity to appear unshakable you have to assume an air of calm, capability and control to reassure your teams that it’s all in hand. Who do you turn to?
There are of course exceptions to all of these slightly glib examples. But, what about the alternative?
Coaching as I see it is all about the listening, the open questions, the tools and techniques that help you to be resourceful and solve problems. But more so, it’s actually the environment they provide that really sets you up for success.
I talk a lot about the natural and deep-rooted fight or flight response that is inbuilt in us all. In an environment that has any sort of threat, our Neanderthal brains take hold and hunker us down for flight. So, whether you’re worried about upsetting your other half or fearful that exposing your challenges will invalidate your credibility, you shut down. Flight.
The coaching environment is non-threatening. Our job is to look after your best interests. There’s no agenda, no judgement and no competition. Coaching is not necessarily comfortable. We ask questions to challenge, and we do so through our lack of attachment to the subject, because we can. A colleague of mine talks about ‘getting ugly’ with his clients. And that’s a privilege of the coach. There are no questions that can’t be asked, no stones that can’t be turned. But in all cases when the coach does ask the difficult question, the one that those nearest to you daren’t, it often unveils the real elephant in the room, and that’s where progress begins. Being truthful with yourself is hard, but necessary. You might not nail the solution in the first session, in fact it’s often a messy affair where issues are surfaced and remain in disorder, but us coaches have provided the space in which you can air them as openly, fully and vulnerably as you can.
Many coaches, myself included have a wealth of valuable experience to draw on, and tapping into these resources isn’t completely against the rules of engagement. But it’s not essential. The skill in coaching lies within the questioning and an ability to ask questions that our experience is able to enhance. We ask the questions, you find the solution.
There are many coaching sceptics out there, and I was one of them. I had to experience it to understand the immense value of a completely impartial, judgement-free and non-competitive ear. Someone I could trust and build rapport with, someone with no agenda or motive. If you’ve got challenges to address and you have someone in your address book that you could call on, then don’t hold back, otherwise, have a think about coaching.