A recent post in a LinkedIn coaching forum managed to encapsulate most of the worries new coaches must have (though it omitted one rather important thing). This was my reply:
1 You say “I am struggling with… understanding my assumptions/past experiences/knowledge”.
You could spend a while lifetime trying to do that and still not get anywhere. And how would you know you had the right understanding, anyway?
How do you know failing to understand your “assumptions/past experiences/knowledge” would “get in the way for the client’s own learning”?
If you meant it was the “assumptions/past experiences/knowledge” themselves that would get in the way of the client’s learning, how on earth do you imagine you can let go of all of that? It’s you!
It’s not only impossible, it’s unnecessary and, worst of all, it’s counterproductive. Your past experiences and knowledge are part of what the punter is paying you for! Coaching isn’t an activity which is performed on a client by an emotionless zombie robot strictly conforming to linguistic rules. You are a human being and your ability to help the client develop and nurture a growing relationship with you as a person is essential.
So, I’d not worry about any of that. In the words of the immortal Bob Newhart sketch, “we don’t go there!”.
2 “Clean language”. I know clean language is a particular fetish of NLP practitioners, but being concerned about it is misdirected emotional energy. It’s a perfect example of making it more important that a coach comply with some arbitrary rules than that they say something of actual use to the client. Of course, don’t be knowingly obtuse or incomprehensible, but draw the line well before you lose touch with reality.
3 “Being comfortable with ‘not knowing what to do next’ ”. I know what you mean and it is important not to be ill at ease with a client, but I think it might be useful to reframe this as “being comfortable relying on my intuition”. If you listen to your inner voice, you should usually find you do know what to do next. Case study. (Though, if you don’t know, you could always try asking the client what they think you should do.)
4 “Not getting bogged down in the content of the client’s story”. Again, don’t think of this as too much of a problem. What is more important is that you develop the ability to know when the client’s story is relevant and when they are using it as an excuse not to address something more important. If you’re getting bogged down, it is likely you are joining in the game of ‘let’s not talk about what the real problem is’, and this is probably a result of point 3 (although it might be signalling to you that the client’s problem is one you share and you’re ambivalent about helping them move forward).
5 The important thing that you missed is practice. New coaches never practise enough. If you use models in coaching, and you have your own business, go to lots of networking events, book one to one meetings with as many people as possible and, in the meetings, when they ask you what you do, say “perhaps I can illustrate that by showing a model I use”. You then demonstrate a model. Apart from being the single most useful thing you can do to convince someone to employ you, when you’ve done it enough times (say 30-50 times per model) you will be totally confident in using the models and in knowing when to do so and when not to.
Failing that, tell them stories. If you don’t have any stories either make them up (be very careful here) or use other people’s. There are lots on this website which you’re welcome to. Just say, “perhaps I can illustrate that by telling you a story. I know a coach who had a client who…” and off you go.
(If you are an internal coach in a large organisation, it’s even easier. Just pick on all of your colleagues and go through the same thing over a coffee.)