What is Coaching?

The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as ‘partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.’

Coaching is the second largest growing industry across the world.  This growth is happening, I believe in part, because across the globe many people no longer need to concentrate on meeting basic needs.  They are now able to concentrate on higher order objectives such as maximising their personal and professional potential.  Today’s climate is one of increased self-awareness and coaching is working because individuals are ready and available for it.

Person-Centred Approach

Coaching is rooted in the person-centred approach to psychology, developed by Carl Rogers in the 1950’s.  Rogers stated

‘ It is that the individual has within himself or herself vast resources for self-understanding, for altering his or her self-concept, attitudes and self-directed behaviour – and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided” [1]

These principles apply equally to coaching as they do to the person-centred psychology/therapy which Rogers developed.

These ‘facilitative psychological attitudes’ referred to by Rogers are therefore pre-requisites for successful coaching.  These are: unconditional positive regard (i.e. no judgement), empathy, and authenticity or genuineness of the coach.

Let’s look at these pre-requisites in more detail:

Unconditional positive regard  –   Supporting a person to explore their inner challenges cannot happen if the client is feeling judged.  If the latter happens the client would likely close down, or become defensive, impeding the open enquiry that is the basis for coaching.

Empathy – is closely related.  When the client feels empathy, acceptance and care from the coach, they are more able to address the situation at hand.

Authenticity –or genuineness.  When the coach is able to be naturally themselves as a person, rather than behaving as some kind of ‘expert’,  it helps the client, to also be themselves, and to be more open to the coaching process .

Additionally, it helps the client to recognise that only they, the client, are the ‘expert’ on their topic, and that the coach is not there as an ‘expert’ or to provide ‘answers’.   This leads the client to take self-responsibility, which is another key factor for effective coaching. The client is in charge of the content and knows what is best for them. 

The coach supports this process by their very presence, by making good observations and accurate listening, and by offering timely feedback and well-framed questions. This assists the client to deepen their enquiry and to bring forth new awareness from their unconscious, out of which solutions to their situation can emerge.

With this awareness the client gains clarity about their situation. A client may have a goal in a particular area of their life, but without reflection it may be vague or poorly defined.  As such the goal would be hard to achieve. The awareness and clarity enable the client to make new choices so that they can move forwards.  The clearer a client is with their objectives, the better able they can identify what they actually want and, how to get there.  

The coaching process also helps the client to ‘get out of their own way’. With the help of the coach, the client can see their own experience with more distance, and with a more objective perspective.  The client is no longer ‘in’ their situation but they are observing it, from here it is easier to decide what to do. Thus, the coach becomes a ‘mirror’, or a ‘third eye’ to support this objectivity. This step is hard to do for oneself, but the coach can help the client to step out of a reactive state of mind and to become pro-active.

Coaching helps the client to drill down and identify what they really want. Coaching helps the client to chunk down goals, to break things down into steps that are small enough to achieve.  It also support the client to chunk up awareness so that they can see the bigger picture – and this is often hard to do on one’s own.

Coaching works because it is present and future oriented and it supports the client to step into their desired future outcome. The human brain is hard-wired to see more negative than positive because our ancestors lived in hostile environments and they needed to avoid hungry predators more than they needed to approach reward, for survival reasons. The result of this, millennia later, is that as humans, we tend to see more negative than positive. However due to the neuroplasticity of the brain, the negativity bias can be overcome by consciously focusing on the positive.   This is another essential component to make coaching effective.  

Finally, coaching works because it requires accountability. A coaching conversation usually results in identifying desired actions to be taken. The accountability helps to ensure that the desired actions actually take place, and to follow on the things they have identified. Change is not a natural process, and many people find it difficult.  The accountability helps the client to follow through on the actions that they have identified and overcome the difficulty.

In summary:  for coaching to work effectively it requires that the coach demonstrates qualities of unconditional positive regard, empathy, and authenticity. The coach needs to use accurate observation and listening, in order to give useful feedback and ask appropriate questions. This process helps the client to focus on the positive, which can bring new awareness, and result in more clarity and choice. The process brings objectivity on the situation and accountability on moving forwards.

[1] Rogers, Carl R. (1980). Way of Being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.  (p.115-117).    Quoted on https://www.simplypsychology.org/client-centred-therapy.html

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