Core Competencies: Coaching Presence and Direct Communication
By Marion Franklin, MS, MCC and Kirsten Allen, PCC
Masterful coaches have to be willing to let go of any possible outcomes. As a coach, you listen to a lot of stories while thoughts, ideas, and sometimes judgments run through your mind. It’s what you do with those thoughts that can make all the difference in effective coaching. Telling it ‘like it is’ is a wonderful concept, but in truth, unless you say what you mean in a way that can be heard by the client, you will likely cause damage in the relationship.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF DIRECT COMMUNICATION?
To immediately allow the client to see their situation as it actually is. It is an opportunity to share your thoughts, intuition, perspectives, and feedback without judgment, attachment, or criticism.
WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST FEARS IN USING TRULY DIRECT COMMUNICATION?
- You will hurt the client’s feelings
- You will offend them
- You will lose them as a client
- You will get a bad reputation
- You could be wrong
- You believe that the client doesn’t really want to hear the truth
WHAT EXACTLY IS A METAPHOR OR PAINTED PICTURE?
One easy way to share directly is to use a metaphor or create a visual image that paints a picture. The key is that the words come from your observation NOT from your personal viewpoint. When you objectively observe how information is coming across, there is no right or wrong or potential for attaching to the result. Masterful coaches let go of expectations.
Example: Your client is upset because she has become the sole friend and resource for one of her girlfriends. She feels pressured as though she is directly responsible for her friend’s happiness/unhappiness.
METAPHOR/PICTURE: “It sounds as though your friend has created a set-up where she is in a pool with many swimmers close by but insists that only the lifeguard at the other end of the pool can save her…. And you are the lifeguard! How does that come across when you hear that?”
Notice the coach ‘offering’ a description of what seems to be happening that may or may not be the case. If not, the client will disagree and describe what is true and then you have helpful information to proceed. Also, in this example, it is easy to get trapped into asking questions about the friend instead of staying focused on the client.
WHAT ARE SOME GOOD QUESTIONS TO ASK AFTER A DIRECT OBSERVATIONAL STATEMENT?
- How does that come across?
- What is it like for you to hear that?
- What comes to your mind when hearing that?
- What is true about that?
TRUTHS ABOUT DIRECT COMMUNICATION
- Far more space and silence are needed than is naturally comfortable, and it is important to allow the client ample space to respond to the direct communication.
- It can move your client forward faster, more efficiently and effectively.
- Softening the message will dilute the impact; instead soften the words but keep the message. Instead of “I hear a discrepancy.” (might create defensiveness) “Something is occurring to me that is not adding up.” Then follow that up with the direct message.
- Sharing observations as they arise vs. holding back is crucial.
- Initially defining the words can be a useful tool in preparing the latter part of the message. E.g., “It sounds as though you are feeling helpless and have no choices – like a victim.”
- Painting a picture or creating a metaphor can be more effective than simply words.
- Without conscientious languaging, your directness can backfire.
- Your job is to help your client get to THEIR truth – not yours.
- If you think you know, you’re in trouble….; neutrality is critical to avoid judgment and/or your agenda.
*CAUTION/ CAVEAT WHEN COMMUNICATING DIRECTLY
Thoughtful languaging is a vital skill necessary to deliver direct communication that has a significant impact in moving your client forward. If you simply blurt out what you are thinking, it may be offensive. It is important to learn how to soften your words but retain the direct message. Observations are part of direct communication, not judgments and opinions. You are not ‘talking to’ clients; you are ‘talking with’ them.
DISTINCTION: TELLING VS. OBSERVING
Telling (or accusing) the client of what you are surmising comes from a judgmental place. Example: “In other words, you were betrayed.” Sharing possible blind spots are observations that come from a neutral place and are offered as a possibility (may or may not be true). Example: “Sounds as though” or ‘It comes across as though’ you feel betrayed by your friend. What is true about that?” Note that typically the observation is followed with a question to ascertain the client’s truth.
MISTAKES COACHES MAKE WITH DIRECT COMMUNICATION
- Wanting to be ‘nice’ and ‘dancing around’ softens and dilutes the impact of the message; instead soften the words and keep the message intact
- Hesitating and waiting to share directly (what you are really thinking) taints the conversation with judgment
- Telling or accusing the client of feeling or thinking a particular way
- Taking it personally when the client doesn’t agree with your observation
- Thinking you know how the client feels and interpreting information without confirming
- Not exploring enough and jumping to conclusions
- Not getting permission to share could threaten rapport with the client and/or may create defensiveness
- Not stopping when your client doesn’t want to discuss a topic even though you think it is relevant
- Trying to understand the problem rather than your client
- Not getting into your client’s shoes – where they are coming from
DIRECT COMMUNICATION is the most efficient and effective way to get to the heart of the matter.
Marion Franklin, MCC - LifeCoachingGroup