Part 2 – Distinctions on coaching session structure for ICF credential success

To read part 1 of this article, go here

Managing Session Progress

Once you’ve established the coaching session agreement and invited the client to choose where to start exploring, you use your coaching skills to the best of your level of mastery. You ask questions customized by your listening. You incorporate client-specific language, including for customizing observations and comments. You might offer intuitions for the client to consider.

Now for the check-in. There are at least two times the structural skill of a check-in should be used in every coaching session; around half to two thirds into the session, and near the end of the session.

Aim for around half to two-thirds into the coaching session, depending on what is unfolding in your coaching. The check-in is one of the most powerful structural skills we have available to us, and yet we don’t want to check-in when the client is in the middle of unpacking some insight or emerging awareness or is deeply connected to some emotion. As always, stay connected with where your client is at (Connection is a key characteristic of MCC skill level. Refer to my Ten Characteristics of MCC Skill Level product).

It will serve the client for us to check that the coaching session direction is moving the client closer toward their desired session outcome (and isn’t just a ‘fantastic’ conversation). For example: “Let me check-in with you to ensure our conversation is on the right track for you. How is this conversation supporting you to gain the clarity you were seeking about your meeting tomorrow?”

Then be silent and listen for the client response. Often the client will naturally pause and reflect on where they started the session and where they are now.

Another way to use this structural skill of the check-in, is if the coach notices the client has shifted the direction of the coaching to a different topic. A check-in question might be, “You said at the beginning of our session you wanted to prepare for the meeting tomorrow. How is what you’re now talking about related to that?”

Perhaps the client says it is. Or perhaps they say it isn’t, in which case they might naturally choose which direction they want to go now. Or if not, the coach can ask something like, “Where do you want to explore now?” The coach follows that agenda (unless you sense the client is avoiding something, then use the coaching skill of observation, and checking in with the client…a topic for another blog article 😊

Check-in near the end of the session

This is strongly recommended in each coaching session. You want to give the client the opportunity to compare where they started versus where they are now, for example, “We’re nearing the end of our session. How prepared do you feel for your meeting, versus where you were at the beginning of our session?”

Allow some time in the coaching session so the client can talk about where they are now versus where they started the session. This gives the client an opportunity to integrate what has unfolded for them. So don’t short change them by asking this 1 minute before finishing the session.

Creating Awareness

By checking in during the session, the client may naturally begin to talk about emerging awareness (insights, ahas). The same may occur when checking in nearer the end of the session. This is really the ‘platinum’ in a coaching session; your client gains clarity (awareness), then has a better idea of what they need to do, or not do.

Besides the structure of a check-in, the coach has available to them two other structural skills for creating awareness;

  • Inquire into learning
  • Inquire into how that learning might be expanded to other areas of their work/life.

By asking the client something like, “What are you learning about yourself today?” The client has an opportunity to consider what they are learning. Again, you can change and customize the language (which is especially important for MCC/Mastery skill level), such as, “What insights have you gained about your relationship with uncertainty?” Or, “What have you become aware of that can help you be better prepared and confident for the meeting?”

Expanded Learning is one of the Ten Characteristics of MCC Skill level that I write about. For example, “Where else are you feeling uncertain in your life and can apply your learning from today?

Designing Actions

Again, for those who have listened to The Target Approach, you’ll recall that inquiring into client awareness might naturally lead the client to thinking about actions. Even, “I need some time to think about this” is an action!

Anytime during the session that the client has some awareness emerge, might be a time to follow up with a version of, “So what do you want to do with that insight, if anything?”

Nearer the end of the session, a structural skill is to inquire into actions. This means you ask the client, not tell the client what actions you heard. A question such as, “What actions are you going to take?” Especially for MCC/mastery skill level, listen for “Who” actions, because the client might gravitate to the What. Example: “You mentioned feeling uncertain about your new manager’s approach. What might you draw on for support if you feel uncertain?”

In Closing…..

As you can see, there are many structural components to a coaching session and are important to include as you’re recording coaching sessions to send with your credential application for MCC, PCC or ACC. The principles are the same; it’s the level of customizing that goes up as you move from ACC to PCC to MCC skill level.

Most importantly, these structural skills can make a coaching session powerful and even more of a WOW for your client. I know my greatest joy is when a client says they got what they wanted from our coaching session, and then so much more!


Are you preparing for your first or next ICF Credential?

Do you want to “Sharpen the Saw” as a Coaching Professional?

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