I teach “the theory of the approach with no theory” every year at a solution focused institute every year and as a part of that workshop, I usually give a coaching demo. This year, the participants were very surprised at my “freestyle” approach to coaching (their words). That got me thinking on “structure” and “free flow” of a coaching conversation.
Why a structure is helpful for a coaching conversation
A coaching conversation centers the client and his or her experience. The coach is fully present, yet decentered. It is the coach’s job to keep what the client wants from the session in mind and to help the client find a way to think about moving forward as easily as possible. Structuring the conversation makes this a lot easier.
What you need to do to find a helpful structure in coaching
Here are a few things to keep in mind when coaching:
- Invite the client to set a coaching agreement: knowing what the client wants from the session allows both client and coach to steer the conversation. Knowing what you want instead of what you do not want is usually already very beneficial
- Think about the content of what the client is saying: is this related to what the client initially wanted or not? If it does not seem related, ask the client how what you are discussing presently is related to the coaching topic — if it is not related, ask whether the client wants to continue with the new topic (then you need to set a new coaching agreement) or whether it might be more beneficial to return to the original topic.
- Be aware of the direction of the conversation: is the client speaking about what they want or are they talking about why they cannot achieve things, what makes it difficult etc. Use your questions and mainly ask the client about what they want or what they already know. When your questions are inviting the client to change the direction of the conversation, you can partner with the client to ask whether this is where they would like to go.
- Come back to the coaching agreement at the end of the session – what has emerged for the client? what would they like to take forward? what would they like to experiment with?
Why a structure can hinder a coaching conversation
You see that there are really only 4 things to keep in mind – however, in many coaching approaches, people are first taught a more elaborate structure of the conversation. Beginning coaches try to follow that structure and sometimes they feel like that they are not good coaches if the structure is not matched perfectly. Since client’s don’t know that structure, coaches are starting to struggle in the conversation: “But this didn’t go as it was supposed to!”. Spoiler alert: Coaching conversations rarely go as “planned”. My advice would be to start with a structure and then experiment with being present to the conversation at hand, going back to the structure in partnership with your client until you can improvise within the framework.
If you want to experiment with coaching freestyle, come to one of our free meetup and exchanges: