Some reflections on our conversation with Bob Garvey

If you have missed the conversation, then you can listen to it here.

Publishing this piece took a lot more time from me than I have planned. Lots of things were going on for me that diverted my attention from OnCoaching. A throat inflammation that left me literally speechless in the middle of a training session for example. (It will be another story to tell you how I managed that situation 😊) Then rescheduling and re-organizing all the assignments that I had to skip… So when I sat down to write I had to realize that my initial notes regarding the session with Bob did not give me the full picture as I looked at them. I knew that we had a goon conversation but I needed to listen to it again.

There was so much content in what we have been covering, that on the second hearing I thought that we could have done two sessions out of this recording. So, you dear reader, may consider listening again as there is a chance that you have missed some wise words from Bob.

"Coaching is a way of relating – not just a set of tools in a box”

I could not agree more. But on our way to see (and experience) coaching like this, we certainly go through some phases where this way of relating is learnt. So for some of the helping professionals out there coaching – and mentoring and so on – may be something less than that, and may be a bit more than just some communication tools. When I held trainings for would-be-coaches and we defined coaching we always talked about the different conceptual layers of it. Coaching can be understood as a toolkit that we use. Then we can talk about the skills – or competencies – of the coach with which those tools are used. Then it can become a mindset, a way of relating to our partners. The coaching mindset is taught even on the first days of coach training programs, but the tools and “tricks” usually provide the confidence, the “ammunition” to experiencing being a coach, and experiences will eventually lead to the development of a well-lived coaching mindset. We have not talked about this development with Bob, but I’d be interested in his opinion.

A second thing that got me thinking was the “where are your questions coming from?” question. We coaches quite often refer to ourselves as “masters of the process” who have nothing to do with the content. “Trust the process”.. we say frequently.

However, our process-shaping questions have to reflect on the content of the conversation. They have to come from somewhere! Our previous knowledge, experience, intuition – name it – is the at least unconscious source of our curiosity. I have been trained in non-directive methods but I still think that in a number of cases this approach does not work. For example, in business coaching, or in skills coaching it is essential to offer some content, new perspectives to the coachee to work with.

So don’t hold back. Be proud of your questions!

As Bob said, the client will likely to translate whatever they hear to a question that they’d like to answer. (But you should still stay away from suggestive questions. It is cool to have a background as a coach, but it is not cool – and not effective on the long term – to create a solution instead of a coahee.)

The whole “what do you put into the relationship as a coach” question is important for me. Not just the source of my questions, but the level of my presence is related to my content as a coach. Trust depends on the content that I bring into the relationship. So how is that created if we don’t put any “content” into it? How do we create trust if we don’t share anything about ourselves? My guess is that we can not create it this way. Component theories of trust claim that honesty or integrity – speaking the truth, doing the right things – are essential elements of trust. So something must be said. When meeting with new clients we usually talk about our training and track record, this crosses out the “competency” element of trust: we show that we can do the things right. Sometimes we share a few stories about family and our “non-professional lives” and with that goodwill or with a bit of luck honesty can be crossed out as well from the list of trust building qualities. So here is my invitation for self-reflection: how do you introduce yourself, what do you share about yourself to create the initial level of trust in your coaching relationships?

Creating trust and using your (not just process related) knowledge well are crucial for the success of coaching. And I was so glad that Bob brought in the concept of contracting around these questions. A good contract, that is solid in all the dimensions that Bob has highlighted from his own research, serves as the foundation for the coaching relationship.

“Without a contract there is no accountability. Without accountability there are no clear roles. Without clear roles there is no clear coaching.”

Zoltán

It enables trust by providing safety through confidentiality and clarity regarding the “rules of engagement”. For me these rules – the professional contract – is the most important.  In my opinion a lot of things can happen in a coaching relationship (e.g. sharing of knowledge, teaching, reflecting, provocation…) that could serve the needs of the client. If we have a good contract, that lays out clearly the function of these and the process how these interventions could serve the client then why not have them?

A last thing that I wish to highlight from our conversation in this piece is the dilemmas around the outcomes. Is it a good thing to use data and measures to capture the expected coaching outcomes? If yes then what kind of data, and how can we assess if the coachee (or the stakeholders) will like these outcomes? Bob said that some people are motivated by goals and some are not. How true is that! One of my favourite tools measures the goal-orientation of clients and of yes, sometimes I do meet clients who are open to change, have the curiosity, the commitment but freak out from goals. Goals are not for everyone!  (Of course this raises a number of questions around the directionality of the coaching, on what a good contract is etc…). My experience is that goals help us in framing a conversation. Without them it is challenging to assess whether we are moving in any direction at all. Without goals we may not have the motivation to start the journey at all. Reaching the set goals however may not be necessary.

Sometime it is valuable to just have the conversation. Sometimes the meaning is all what is needed.

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