II. Practice

Creating the conditions for deeper personal development and connection

Create the container

The coach’s first task is to create a strong enough container for the work. Developmental coaching, be that in the individual or group/workshop context, requires a holding environment that provides the protection, support, and psychological safety, as well as pressure and friction, to be able to engage in challenging inner work and relational contact. Creating the optimal experiential and environmental conditions that make for growth and development is an underestimated yet fundamentally important aspect of the coach’s role. In terms of outcomes, it ranks as one of the most important critical success factors. So, what needs to be attended to here?

The holding space

The venue must be suitable for the nature of the work. For individual coaching, this requires boundaries that provide safety, comfort, and confidentiality. Sometimes coaches don’t pay enough attention to this and agree to coach executives in public arenas such as hotel reception areas or coffee shops, surrounded by people within sight and earshot. This inevitably puts limitations on what will and won’t be addressed. If the client has some very difficult feelings around an issue, they are far more likely to bracket and contain rather than explore and express them - the holding space is not secure enough for in-depth work.

For team coaching workshops and other developmental group learning, the main conference room needs to be large enough, bright, and airy, with sufficient privacy. The seating arrangement should be informal, not boardroom style, there needs to be enough breakout rooms for small-group sessions, and sufficient time needs to be allocated. Time management in developmentally focused work is often a challenge, and it’s common for less experienced coaches to underestimate the time required for self-exploration processes.

There also needs to be agreement around the use of technology during individual and team coaching sessions. The general rule is that laptops, mobile phones, and digital devices are switched off and put away (except during break times) in order that people can give their full attention to the process. The exceptions to this are when an emergency or on-call scenario means that someone has to remain available. Also, there are an increasing number of people who use their mobile devices to make notes to capture their thinking during sessions.

Hold the space

Experienced practitioners expect to encounter anxiety in the client system at any point, but especially at the outset of new work. Helping people settle, and not being disturbed by the anxiety that can build in the client system, is part of the job.

When the work is underway we should remember that a significant part of the coach’s role is to hold the space. This is most evident when there is a greater intensity and depth to the work and individuals begin to look to the coach for reassurance that all is well - or, at least, that it will be in time, if not right now. That reassurance comes from your presence, and the timing and skill of your interventions. The unspoken questions often on the minds of clients include ‘Does this coach know what they’re doing?’ ‘Do they know where we’re going?’ ‘Do they have the skill and experience for this?’

Staying grounded, steady, focusing in the moment, and providing an attentive presence without rushing to premature action is often what’s most required in testing moments, but we should not underestimate the challenge of that.

Build trust and create psychological safety

So, starting from the positive and building from there is not simply a tactical matter - it’s fundamental to the process of facilitating growth and change.

Simon (2009) makes the point that it is foundational to Gestalt theory that people grow and develop to the extent that they are open to new learning, and that requires a sense of trust and safety. He notes that whilst coaches may have expertise, experience, and knowledge that can be helpful to the client, a pre-condition for genuine learning is that the client be available, interested in, and engaged in the partnership for learning. He adds that the emphasis on trust is particularly important in organisational settings where evaluation of success or failure is an ongoing part of the client’s everyday experience.

Whilst in principle there is a shared responsibility for establishing trust, in practice the onus lies more with the coach. With some clients this can take a long time, particularly if they have had negative experiences of professional helpers in the past or, more significantly, if their personal background contains experiences with primary caregivers that have left an enduring issue around trust. On the other hand, trust and connection can sometimes build surprisingly quickly and the client may be ready to get down to work.

For the client, trust enables them to feel safe enough to say whatever they need to say and to reflect on mistakes, failures, and regrets - to engage with the process of looking into themselves. For the coach, trust has several dimensions, but two are especially important. The first is to do with integrity, and the second, competence. Whether you are an external or internal coach, there will be times when you possess extremely sensitive and delicate information about individuals in an organisation. Sooner or later, for example, you will discover that someone is about to lose their job before they know it themselves.

You may become privy to plans for major restructures, mergers, and acquisitions. One careless, indiscreet comment can completely undermine trust and potentially wreck the coaching relationship.

Competence issues arise when clients experience coaches as questionable in their approach judgement, or behaviour. Despite the fact that most coaches understand that their role is to facilitate rather than tell, some coaches can be prone to advice-giving and playing expert. The client who seems to be looking for answers may initially appreciate these pearls of wisdom. More experienced clients, who understand that coaching is essentially a facilitative, non-directive process, will be left wondering whether their coach really understands the true nature of the role.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >