This series from Clare Norman uncovers the mindsets preventing us from being the best coach we can be and presents more useful mindsets to move thinkers beyond known thinking to discover new thinking that energises them to change.
Part 2: Things our parents taught us that we need to discard to become a masterful coach
Our parents shaped us to become the adults we are today. But as you think about the spoken and unspoken messages that your parents imparted, what might you need to shake off to be a great coach?
Through my field research, I’ve discovered 13 mindsets that our parents taught us that we need to discard as we step into coaching.
I’ll cover three of them here.
- Old mindset: You should always try your hardest
- New mindset: This should be hard work for the thinker – not for you, the coach
While trying hard was important at school and at work, trying hard as a coach can get in the way of our partnership with the thinker. You may recall the definition that “coaching is a joint endeavour to move beyond known thinking to discover new thinking that energises the thinker to change” (Norman, 2022).
Within that joint endeavour, the coach has responsibility for holding the process that enables new thinking to happen. The thinker has responsibility for thinking for themselves and moving forward. Too often, I notice the coach taking too much responsibility on their shoulders for pushing the thinker forward.
They’re trying too hard. Perhaps they’re looking for the ‘perfect’ question, feeling the pressure to drive to a solution by the end of the session, leading where the session goes, or taking the burden of thinking that should be firmly in the thinker’s court. The harder the coach works, the less hard the thinker will think.
Nobody ever promised that being coached was an easy option. It isn’t. Coaching requires effort on the part of the thinker. It requires their full participation. It requires them to take responsibility for the demanding work of thinking, delving underneath the surface, going beyond the obvious.
How do we encourage them to do the work? First, asking contracting questions that get them to think hard about exactly what they want from this coaching session and not letting them off the hook with something woolly. I use the acronym CONTRACT to remember these contracting questions. If you’d like to learn more about these questions, they are all outlined and explained in my forthcoming book, out in September 2022.
You’re building the thinking muscles in the thinker, enabling them to think harder than they may ever have thought before. Thinking is a necessity in coaching, not a nicety. Continue to enable the thinker to think hard rather than trying hard yourself.
When you don’t know where you are in the middle of the conversation, re-contract rather than take responsibility for deciding the direction that you both take. Re-contracting might sound like:
- What do you sense now that you didn’t sense at the beginning?
- What’s explicit now that wasn’t before?
- What’s evident now that wasn’t evident when we started?
Then follow up with something like:
- With that in mind, where do we need to explore next?
This re-contracting keeps responsibility for the direction of the conversation firmly with the thinker. This is their coaching and their life so you need to give them the choice about which direction would be most useful to them.
- Old mindset: It’s rude to interrupt
- New mindset: It’s useful to interrupt if it enables the thinker to move away from known thinking towards new thinking
Does this sound familiar to you, your parents teaching you that it’s rude to interrupt others when they’re speaking? This had merit as we needed to learn that not everything centred around us and our universe.
When we become coaches, we learn to listen and pay attention to what the thinker says. This is a good habit to learn – in the main. The trouble is that we can sometimes over-listen. If a thinker is telling us things they already know – the story, the chronology, the context, the way they’ve already explained it to their friend or family – then they’re gaining nothing new from this time with us. They know it already.
Our job as coach is to get them to new thinking, not to go over old ground.
We don’t need them to fill us in on all the context if they already know the context themselves. We’re not in the business of diagnosing and supplying solutions, so we don’t need that context. These are the times when it is important to be able to interrupt: when we think that the thinker might be in the midst of telling the story. To make this possible, you need a different mindset. Instead of it being rude to interrupt, you need to believe that interrupting could be useful to enable a thinker to get to new thinking. If you can enable them to cut to the chase, to the bottom line, you could give them more time to get to new thinking.
First, ask permission, during the session contracting phase, to interrupt: ‘May I have your permission to interrupt you in service of new thinking?’
I sometimes also say, especially if I know the thinker is a storyteller: ‘Please don’t feel you need to fill me in on all the detail. Our job in coaching is to get you to new thinking rather than going over old ground.’
Once you have permission, you know that it won’t be such a jolt to them if and when you do interrupt. It also gives you more courage in the moment to make that interruption, because you have gained the thinker’s express permission.
At the point when you suspect that the thinker might be going over old ground, interrupt. You may be thinking that they seem to be almost at the end of their story, so interrupting would take longer than letting the story take its course. In my experience, though, the story always goes for longer than you think it will. There are peaks and troughs, highs and lows, and it’s more likely that they’ve reached the end of one of those cycles rather than the end of the whole story.
I suggest that you look out for signs that the thinker is in the story.
They’ll likely be:
- Talking quite fast because they’ve told the story before and don’t need to think about what they’re saying
- Looking at you rather than up, down or to the sides (which usually indicate that they’re thinking new thoughts)
You may not feel there’s a long enough pause to interrupt, so you may need to assert yourself more than you might like…remembering all the time that this is in service of their new thinking, and they’ve given you permission.
- Old mindset: Don’t be nosy
- New mindset: Do be curious on the thinker’s behalf
It just isn’t the done thing to ask about someone’s personal life or their financial situation or their religious beliefs… and the list could go on. The problem is that refraining from what we might perceive to be nosy questions can stop us in coaching from supporting the thinker to get underneath the surface of their own beliefs, values and identity.
Get curious. This is curiosity not for your sake (which would be nosy), not to fill you in on detail, but to fill the thinker in on the meaning. There’ll be things that they haven’t thought about in years that could have a bearing on what they’re tussling with now. There’ll be beliefs that have shaped the way they live, which may or may not be serving them anymore in relation to this issue or opportunity. There’ll be values that they didn’t even know they lived by… until you, the coach, ask questions that prompt their curiosity about these things.
You might ask questions such as:
- What is the belief that leads you to be that way?
- What assumptions might you be making about that?
- What is important to you about that?
- Who do you want to be in relation to this?
- How do you want to show up?
- What are you noticing?
- What is that about?
These questions aren’t about getting context or detail or data. You don’t need any of that because your role isn’t to solve the issue for the thinker. Your role is to enable the thinker to make meaning and to decipher how they want to use that meaning-making to change.
- This article is based on an extract from the upcoming publication, The Transformational Coach: Free Your Thinking and Break Through to Coaching Mastery.
- Pre-order here: https://amzn.to/3zulBch
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
- Sought out as a Master Mentor Coach by expert coaches and successful coach training companies, Clare Norman looks to continually sharpen individuals’ coaching edge and upskill mentor coaches so they deliver high-quality feedback to their coaches-in-training: www.clarenormancoachingassociates.com