A “coaching purpose” for interrupting the client

In the markers for the evaluation of recordings for the performance evaluation of Professional Certified Coaches of the International Coaching Federation we read:

6.6: Coach allows the client to complete speaking without interrupting unless there is a stated coaching purpose to do so.

I have covered “interrupting the client” in another blogpost and said that interrupting is not always bad — it depends on what the client was doing before the interruption. But what is a “stated coaching purpose”?

A stated coaching purpose is deliberate

I think this might be the first step to having a “stated coaching purpose”. If you don’t realize that you are interrupting and it just happens, then there is no conscious, deliberate choice to interrupt. I would recommend listening to your coaching recordings and to determine whether your interruptions “just happen” or whether they are serving a purpose that you might have had as a coach.

A stated coaching purpose is stated

“Duh”, I hear you say. Ok, ok – but I think that I am not just stating the obvious here. There is a difference between the coach just barging in and saying what the purpose of the interruption is.

Barging in:

  • Client: “and then this happened and then that, and then the other detail and then…..”
  • Coach: “So what would you like from our discussion today?”

The client might feel not heard or acknowledged (unless your relationship is such that this is no problem — in conversation it always depends!!!) if you are this direct.

Stating a purpose:

  • Client: “and then this happened and then that, and then the other detail and then…..”
  • Coach: “May I interrupt? I am noticing that you are telling me a lot of details about what happened. I’ll gladly listen some more if you’d like me to. I was just wondering if it might be more useful to shift the focus on what you would like to achieve to help the situation?”

The coach as a connected observer

It is not so easy to be aware and state a “coaching purpose” for interrupting the client. As coaches, we are co-constructing the conversation with our client and we are not “neutral” or “outside observers” or in any way analytical. In a sense, we are inside the conversation as much as we are responsible to inviting clients to think and feel in potentially useful ways. Anthropologists have coined a useful term here “participant observer”. Maybe that’s what we are as coaches as well. We have a purpose (to help the client) and yet, we are full participants in the conversation. Michael White, one of the founders of narrative practice, called this “loitering with intent”.

This stance of the connected observer or the observing conversationalist is not easy to learn. I think that in the beginning of our coaching journey, we often err on the side of the observation. We observe ourselves asking coaching questions, are worried about structuring the session and try to be influential. As we grow as coaches, we learn to re-enter into the conversation. Sadly, this sometimes leads to master coaches forgetting about the purposes (at least some demos I have seen, I was wondering what the purpose of some questions were…).

If you would like to explore these and other questions, ask about our classes or just hang around with a few fellow coaches or coaches to be, why not join one of our free meetup and exchange sessions:

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