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Slow Is Better


As many of you know, I have been training, supervising and mentoring coaches for the past decade to hone their skills towards mastery and, for some, to gain their ICF credential.

I am of the belief that with targeted practice any coach can get closer to mastery. I also am convinced that I can help coaches learn how to manage their performance anxiety (fear) to allow their talent to flow naturally whilst teaching them advanced skills to facilitate change more quickly and easily.

I have seen many bad habits get in the way of effective coaching from some of the most seasoned and best-trained coaches in our industry.

Therefore, in this blog we will explore some of the bad habits to break and follow with the new habits to create.

And, as for the name of this column, it is term of endearment used by many coaches I have mentored, supervised or taught I decided to finally try the moniker on for size and see how it fits.

Bad Habit to Break #1

Thinking that good coaching means reaching the client’s purpose for the session in an arbitrary 60 minutes.

There is no preferred destination than where you are at any given time in the conversation. Thinking so will take you off track. True in life and true in coaching. If you pay attention to the process, the destination takes care of itself.

Anyone who has studied the core competencies knows that setting a purpose and an attendant measure of success for the conversation iare integral to effectiveness. What happens though, as a dutiful coach, is that we feel compelled to get them there, wherever there may be, especially if you are recording your session for an ICF assessor to listen to.

This self-induced pressure to reach a destination in an arbitrary time slot triggers our limbic system (the emotional seat of the brain) resulting in a diminished capacity of the pre-frontal cortex, which is where we do our rational thinking and our coaching. Our prefrontal cortex gets flooded with cortisol when wondering if we will or won’t get there, making us feel uncertain about our ability. The brain hates to feel like its status has been or could be diminished and coupling that with uncertainty is more than the brain can handle. Pressuring ourselves is a recipe for a stress response, showing up in this case as unconscious, clumsy coaching.

So, the paradox is that the thing you want is the very thing you significantly diminish attainment of by the mere wanting of it. Your self-induced pressure to deliver leads to a decline in your ability to deliver.

Good Habit to Create #1

Please hear this one loud and clear as this works:

Breathe, meditate or simply close your eyes for a moment to get centered before you coach so that you can genuinely s-l-o-w yourself down enough to get present and reap the benefits of what that allows to be created.

Slowing down allows for mindfulness, getting conscious in the moment and primes you to notice nuances you otherwise would have missed. This state of presence creates the fertile ground for conscious coaching to take root. When we are present we do not have a pre-determined agenda for how far or where the conversation should go. We know it will get where it is supposed to be and there is no impulse to change that which is not in our control.

For example, just because a client states that she wants to come away with a strategy to confront her boss about not getting that promotion that may not mean that is the strategy she will want or use once she has unpacked her thinking–which has not happened yet! Maybe it will be something else that is more useful around that initial declaration. Maybe it’s about managing her feelings of rejection and inadequacy… and simultaneously learning to market her result better in the organization.

How many times have you sought something only to find out there was something else tucked right below the surface to think through first?

It is not about our ability to make the client-declared outcome manifest but rather our ability to the explore that topic towards an outcome so that what is meant to emerge does. Whether 10% or 99% of the client's session outcome is achieved, moving towards a solution is the aim, not the time that it takes or what it looks like.

By being present we allow what is to emerge. We can sense the clients’ energy better in this state and this allows us to make better decisions about the next coaching move.

Masterful coaches are not attached to the client’s self-declared goal post. They know that there is no way to predict where the session will go. Every client has a journey that is unique to him or her. A timeline cannot be attached to his or her evolution.

The moral of this story is to be present at all times with the client. A masterful coach aims for deep, not fast. A masterful coach does not assume that what the client says they want is what they really need. It’s a starting point for the journey, which is always a great thing.

Coaching is like life. Things happen in God’s time, not our time. It may be slow, fast or somewhere in-between. The dilemma for us coaches is that the client wants a specific outcome, yet you have to detach what the solution will look like. Otherwise, you are likely to miss it.

I also see many coaches forgetting that the actual “achievement” of any outcome is not our work. What is our work is to have the client set a destination for the session and for us to use that purpose and measure as a direction to start the conversation. Achieving or not achieving the client’s outcome is something we cannot control. Nor should we!

I can hear the pushback already. “Well, it is our job to facilitate insight, is it not?” Yes! But where is the timeline posted? Did I miss it? Nowhere in the centuries of human potential literature does it say it is fruitful or reasonable to have an expectation around the “how long” or the “when”. It’s always been about having an aim, making progress one-step at a time without attachment to the result. Yet, when we coach we think we need achieve the purpose outcome in an arbitrary 60-minute session. Can you see the insanity in this?

Rushing the client to action signifies that you are not present and certainly not as effective as you could be. Plain and simple. Slow down! Let things move at their own pace.

If you feel compelled internally to demonstrate that you can set a tangible action in a recorded session, then you are setting yourself up for sub-par coaching. It can take seven minutes or 70 to get to action. So, no matter which way you look at this, the most obvious truth is that this is not about the clock.

Here’s what I encourage you to think about as you practice getting comfortable with the pressure and uncertainty of achieving an outcome in a structured session.

No matter how small your outcome may be for a session, rushing towards it never correlates with attaining it. Conscious intuitive, coaching does!

I advise mentees to go s-l-o-w and reach deep. You cannot rush a miracle. Going deep is the BEST insurance that your client will gain value. So what if the session outcome was not attained! What if something valuable was learned? The point of setting a purpose for a conversation is for steerage not velocity.

Some coaching moves to practice:

  • Go slower than usual. Leave lots of open spaces early in the call when co-creating the relationship. The pace should be leisurely, warm and inviting.

  • Be authentic. Coach from your deepest sense of self. Live into your unique style. You cannot do this if you are going fast. Slow down, breathe and get present as many times as you need to in the call. It’s normal to have performance anxiety. I suggest you give yourself time for big deep breath each time your nerves kick in.

  • Clarify the purpose of the call as many times as you need to! You and the client need to be crystal clear that this declaration is what the client REALLY wants and that you fully understand it. No two brains are alike and clarifying many times is better than none or one. Don’t rush through this.

  • Reflect back the stated outcome to the client as many times as you need to. You’ve got to aim before you fire or, as Stephen Covey says, you may climb the ladder only to find you are on the wrong wall.

  • My clients often come to insight in the midst of clarifying their desired outcome. They start to see beneath what they think they wanted to what they need, what the challenge really is… not what they thought it was the first time they put words to it!

  • Think of this phase as helping them sift through the conflicting maps in their head, the thousands of words floating in their brain that represent what they are struggling with for who-knows-how-long into a sentence or two. This takes time and patience.

  • A beginner coach accepts the purpose of the conversation at face value. Huge mistake! Taking your time yields a better reward—that being, the deeper truth of what’s really going on.

Bottom Line

Good coaching can only occur when you are supremely present and knowing there is no guarantee of any result in 60 minutes.

Coach with presence, and the rest will take care of itself.

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