Coaching is a “conversation with a purpose.” That purpose being a client-determined topic and desired outcome about their topic. The process of engaging in a coaching conversation supports a client to clarify their thoughts and feelings, with the intent to gain awareness that will in turn support the client to have clarity about how to move forward more confidently with decisions and actions.
There are two distinct skill sets I perceive a Professional Coach engages with throughout every coaching session:
- One skill set is being Present to what is occurring, evidenced by listening and responding with customized questions, comments or observations.
- The second skill set is working with Process, evidenced by how the coach moves through the structure of a coaching session.
Both Presence and Process are required in a coaching conversation. Generally, the more easeful a coach flows between Presence and Process, the higher the level of coaching skill being demonstrated.
What is Presence?
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines Presence for Core Competency #5 as;
“Is fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded and confident.”
This definition recognizes the importance of coach ability to be in the present, and stay in-the-moment.
Lack of Presence can be evidenced in a number of ways, such as by coach interrupting or speaking over client, which can indicate coach is thinking ahead, and not being fully present in this moment.
The Presence of a Professional Coach is further described through another ICF Core Competency, #6, Listens Actively. The definition being;
“[Coach] focuses on what the client is and is not saying to fully understand what is being communicated in the context of the client systems and to support client self-expression.”
Without the coach being “in Presence” and in-this-moment with the client, coach ability to listen and hear client at multiple levels is diminished. This is because coach is listening more to their own thoughts, feelings, beliefs. Or perhaps even wanting to teach, tell, or lead the client to a coach idea or opinion.
Listening from being “in-Presence” means hearing the client expression of emotions, changes in energy through vocal or physical shifts. Then there’s the unique ways a client might express themselves, whether that’s through metaphor (a very common self-expression approach), or through emotional, conceptual or behavioral words.
One client might say they are “stuck” with how to lead their team, because how they want to lead is not how their superior thinks they should lead their team. So what to do; trust one’s own instincts and risk being negatively impacted by their superior? Or ignore their beliefs of how their team would be best served, and acquiesce to the style their superior wants them to emulate?
Hence the client says to you in the coaching session they feel “stuck.” By being curious about and exploring the “stuckness” this client feels, coach demonstrates honoring this client by “entering the client world.”
Some example questions might be:
- If stuck were a metaphor, what are you stuck “in?”
- How does “stuck” feel?
- What would help you to explore “stuck?”
- If you weren’t “stuck” what would you be instead?
- What would support you to go from “stuck” to [whatever client said they’d be experiencing instead].
Coach might also offer some observations; I offer a few here for example purposes:
- When you say you are “stuck” I noticed your face changed, there was tension in your cheeks, and what seemed like an emotion present on your face. What are you aware of when I share that?
- As you were speaking about feeling stuck, I got an image of being in mud. What image speaks to you though?
Being Present means being in-the-moment with wherever the client is. From this place, a Professional Coach can ask questions, offer comments or observations that support client exploration.
What is Process?
All that I’ve written above about Presence is in the context of what the client wants to explore, in this session. Each session is more impactful when linked to the client overall objectives for working with a coach. This is where Process comes in.
The ICF describes the coaching process through the Definition and eleven sub-points of Core Competency #3: Establishes and Maintains Agreements. The ICF definition of this competency is;
“Partners with the client and relevant stakeholders to create clear agreements about the coaching relationship, process, plans and goals. Establishes agreements for the overall coaching engagement as well as those for each coaching session.”
The concept of “Partnering” is a process concept that is not only embedded in the ICF Definition of Coaching, but also appears in the definition of three of the eight Core Competencies (#3. Establishes and Maintains Agreements, #4. Cultivates Trust and Safety, #8. Facilitates Client Growth). As well as appearing another 10 times in sub-points two of those Core Competencies.
I’ve further defined Partnering in The Upgraded Target Approach in two categories;
- Process Partnering
- Partnering as a Mindset of “keeping the client in the spotlight.”
As Professional Coaches, we are always aware this is the client coaching session, for them to explore what they want to, in service of an outcome they desire. With the intent the client gains awareness and clarity in order to move forward more confidently with decisions and actions.
We actively seek client input, including on what, where or how to explore next in the session. This includes partnering for clarifying the coaching session agreement, as well as partnering throughout the session whenever there may be choice points of directions to go in.
Here are examples of Process questions:
- What would you like to explore in this session that would be of value to you?
- How would you like to explore xxx?
- What’s most important for you to go deeper into now? For example, you mentioned being “stuck” which could be explored as a metaphor, as how you’re feeling, or perhaps something else?
As session progresses other Process questions include:
- We’ve been exploring your topic of how to lead your team your way, when your superior wants you to lead a team their way with the desire to have a plan for how to converse with your superior. What progress have you made so far in this session?
- What more do you want or need to explore in order to have the clarity you want?
- What are you now aware of that you weren’t when we began this session?
- What are you learning about yourself in this conversation?
- We have about [15 minutes] left in this session. Is there more for you to explore? Or are you ready to consider your learning, and how to move that forward into action? Where do you want to go?
- As we’re moving toward the close, what would you like to say to complete the session for you?
Presence and Process when Recording Coaching Sessions for Performance Evaluations
Coaches I mentor for their ACC, PCC or MCC credential applications, often say they lose their Presence because they are aware of Process. Or are less Present because they are aware of recording the coaching session.
This is the journey every Professional Coach takes who humbly engages in a desire to upgrade their professional coaching abilities. The examination of ones coaching skills requires recording coaching sessions because just talking about the core competencies is training. Engaging in conversation with a Qualified Mentor Coach about their actual coaching, is mentoring.
It takes practice, practice and sometimes more practice, to keep recording until the coach really “gets” that no recording ever needs to be shared with anyone. If the coach wants to delete the session, they can. If they want to listen to it for their own learning, they can. If they want to share with a mentor coach to engage in upgrading their Presence and use of Process in a coaching session, they can. All choices are available to the coach.
The journey is a mindset shift (including being non-judgmental about self) to where the coach really gets that recording themself coaching has zero consequences to themself. And only upside, because the coach gets to choose what to do with that recording, including deleting it.
I chose this photo to represent this article as it has the feeling of duality, yet integration. The right side, uncolored “face” is a complete face. As is the left side as you can imagine the whole face. And the whole image forms one “face.” Both sides exist independently, yet “intersect” to enhance the whole. As is the case with the integration of Presence and Process.
Written by Carly Anderson, MCC
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