As coaches, we have our #1 “Power Tool,” which is our ability to craft open-ended questions, that allow our coaching client to dig deeper into their self-knowledge for what they already know, believe or feel about something they are exploring.
However, there is another “Power Tool” we have as coaches which is the power of offering observations. We have a unique relationship perspective to our coaching client because we are able to offer a neutral, un-biased viewpoint to the client, for their consideration.
This article was published in the ICF Global blog; you can read the rest of the article here
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An observation is not a reflection
Oftentimes as a mentor coach for ICF credential preparation, I review coaching sessions where the coach is very good at reflecting back what they’ve heard the client say. An example might be that the client says, “I’m really tired of working so hard on this project, and getting no recognition for my work. My manager presents my work to senior management and I never hear, “Well done. They loved it. Only when they didn’t like something, which to be honest isn’t often.”
An “active listening” skill is letting the client know you heard them. Here’s how the skill of “reflecting” might sound with the above example, “What I hear you saying is you are tired of working on this project and not getting any recognition from your manager, or from senior management.”
There is some value in reflecting back, as oftentimes a client isn’t really aware of what they said.
When a client hears their words reflected back to them, it can help them to experience themselves from a different perspective. However, an observation is different than reflecting back. Observations have the potential to open more awareness for the client.
The ICF PCC Marker from Direct Communication, Marker #1 is, “Coach shares observations, intuitions, comments, thoughts and feelings to serve the client’s learning or forward movement.”
Credential level distinctions
For ACC skill level, reflecting back is a good skill to practice. For PCC skill level, this Direct Communication Marker invites us to take reflecting to the next level, to sharing some of our observations, intuitions, etc.
For those moving toward the MCC credential in particular this is a skill to master. We act in full partnership with our client. We are not afraid to offer something to the client. We go beyond noticing the words and instead go deeper into noticing what we’re noticing.
Offering is the key
Notice the key word I use is “offering.” When we share an observation, intuition, etc. we know it’s coming from our perspective, and may not be true for the client. This is where the PCC Marker for Direct Communication #2 is vital, because it speaks to offering observations, intuitions, etc. “without any attachment to them being right.” This could be by putting a question at the end of an observation, or conveyed through non-judgmental tone of voice.
In my earlier example, here are some observations, intuitions, comments, thoughts and feelings I could offer the client (and how to offer them without attachment):
“I’m really tired of working so hard on this project, and getting no recognition for my work. My manager presents my work to senior management and I never hear, “Well done. They loved it. Only when they didn’t like something, which to be honest isn’t often.”
Coach offering examples:
- I notice the pitch of your voice going up as you said this. I’m sensing some emotions present.
- I wonder if you are tired of anything else.
- It seems that being recognized is not only really important to you but almost essential at this point.
- I’m wondering if there is any other dynamic going on between you and your manager.
- I have an intuition and want to check if there is any truth in this for you. It seems there may be some resentment toward your manager about the way he is viewing your contribution to his work and how good he looks to senior management because of your work. Is there any truth in that assumption for you, or not?”
When we offer such observations, we are often going deeper into the “Who” elements of the client, which is more how they think, feel, process, learn, beliefs and biases they hold. And the “Who” is where change occurs, or awareness is born from.
Outside a coaching context, such comments might be delivered with judgment, and the client becomes defensive. The beauty of what we offer our clients is the gift of a non-judgmental tone, and a safe, confidential environment, that allows them to consider such input, and navigate through to what is true for them.
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