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Coach in Training: Coaching and Presence

By: Kim Green

I feel like I’m on the other side. I have had my first coaching experience. It wasn’t one of my classmates; it was a real live person, with whom I have “contracted” for 10 weeks of coaching. Now, all of those weeks of being in class, philosophizing and worrying about what could happen, all make sense to me. It all happened. In only one week, I have had a whole new education. I have coached and now I have two coaching experiences that I need to share.

My first experience was with my good friend from college. We have had a certain rapport that I was always comfortable with. But the experience of coaching her helped me to truly understand our 30-year relationship in a new and profound way. I am so glad to embark on a new relationship: me listening and her talking and expressing things that she has never shared.

What I loved most about starting this particular coaching relationship was hearing how authentically interested she is in the work that we will do together. It became so clear to me that my opinions and thoughts about her life have silently driven the relationship to a place of stagnation. I realize how she is careful what she says to me, fearing my tornado of opinions that are constantly stirred up. And although my input and “friendly advice” about her seeming loneliness and isolation have been well meaning, it was clearly not the best way to show that I care about her or her incredibly complicated life.

I had been advised that at the end of these early sessions, to ask for feedback, so I did. I was so amazed at the feedback that my old college friend gave. “Kim, I’m so impressed! You were so different. You are such a good listener and you asked such good questions!”

Wow. That is what I’d been so worried about, staying neutral and being able to be silent, despite my own thoughts. Lesson of the day: It’s possible. If I can stay neutral (and silent) anyone can.

I think my Coaching Presence was called into being as soon as the timer started. As I followed the structure of a coaching call, the beginning, middle and end, it helped me to have a sense of where my client wants to go with our work. Listening carefully helped me to understand what she likes to talk about and most importantly, what she doesn’t. As a coach, I could see that it is my job to create awareness around those areas and still stay within the limits of safety, so that she continues to push herself, without feeling pressured by me to have a “breakthrough,” perhaps before she is ready. That’s not easy. But a breakthrough will come, I know it will. She is brilliant, creative and competent. She always has been.

Within the hour with her, I came to viscerally understand what I was doing there as she so generously spilled her life out for me to really understand where she is. On a visceral level, I understood that it wasn’t my place to fix it or explain it from my own perspective. Although she shared it with me, I trusted that she would get there on her own, if I just listened. What she needs most is my genuine curiosity to help her bring the wisdom out of her. How relieved, I felt. I got it! Or so, I thought.

The funniest thing about my success story is that it was very short-lived. Although I had that great experience on Monday evening, Tuesday afternoon was a different thing. After not having enough sleep and a false sense of confidence, I volunteered to coach in my peer group.

Lynn suggested we work on Energy Drainers. We had spent the class on the importance of de-cluttering our spaces and our minds for increased energy. Although the “client” set up the session perfectly with her issue being perfect for the energy draining conversation, I must admit that I failed her, miserably.

Now don’t get me wrong. I listened and perhaps asked a couple of decent questions. But I could feel us rolling off the track. I got overly focused on her job search and what the job would be; I forgot to coach her on the things that were cluttering her mind, in the event that she gets the job! As my peer observer said, (trying to be nice,) “Well, it was a nice chat.”

I don’t know what happened. Perhaps because I haven’t worked in a corporate environment for decades, I became interested in how it works, feeling almost smug that I work for myself. How did I get so off track? How had I forgotten that it was about energy drainers and how had I not heard her say, “I need to figure out what I will do when I go back to work.”

What a teachable moment for me.

Coaching is serious. To be an effective coach you have to focus and you have to prepare. Coaching is not just TALKING to people or even LISTENING to people. You can’t bring a cluttered mind or half listen to what your client is saying and what your client needs from you. The other thing that I learned from this experience is that as a coach, I must be fully ready to steer them to a place of tangible results that starts with them. Silence is NOT the only tool that I need. It is my solid questioning that puts the client situation into perspective and most importantly into action. The Coaching experience must be worth it, for the client, always.

The only good thing about that experience was that Lynn was not observing. Before my peers could say it, I said it first: “I give myself a resounding Fail with a capital F.” My peers were as gracious as they could be in the face of this most embarrassing coaching blunder. I’ll do better next time, knowing that there are always more classes and more to learn. Practice, practice, practice is all any of us can really do.

On Thursday, we started talking about Needs. Our conversation about needs struck me as the very crux of the matter. As Lynn lectured, it became clear to all of us that all of our lives are indeed driven by our needs. This discussion of the many types of needs is incredibly useful, as we all will listen out for the needs of our clients. And, we shouldn’t be surprised when our own needs start to surface.

What did I take away from that class? I wonder about my own needs…

I know that I have a deep need to be creative in every aspect of my life. As a professional writer, I know that I have met that need, but there is one that still niggles at me in my sleep, and in my every interaction. It is a need that I fight. Perhaps, this class will help me unearth it.

There are needs that we cover up with more doable needs, but then there are those that sit on the backburners of our minds. We all need to be able to identify our client’s needs, as the basis of what may be stopping them from getting what they want. As my clients discover their basest needs, it is my hope that I will, too. The thing about Needs is that no matter how we live our lives, trying to cover them up, they always creep up. Always, when we least expect them.

Kim Green is a writer and a student at The Institute for Life Coach Training. In this blog series, she has documented her experience as she goes through the Foundational training. To read about Kim's journey, click here.