Our coaching practices reflect whatever assumptions we hold about the process, the relationship, our role, the client’s, and the wider workplace context. Which are useful assumptions are for you to determine. Use this extract from my Coaching Practices guidebook to shed light on and clarify yours. It’s important that you remain aware of them and moderate those that need change.
These are the basic beliefs and assumptions I’ve distilled and refined from my 25 years as professional workplace coach.
1 The broad intention of these activities is to provide helpful support in the form of guided self-development. Responsibility for identifying and taking the opportunities they present for growth, lie with the person being coached – the client. Clients may not want that responsibility or may actively resist it but it’s useful to regard it as resting with them anyway. They are solely responsible for generating all the causes of the effects they wish to experience in their lives.
2 There is no one best way or formula to achieve the goals of these activities, but constructive approaches (those which serve to improve; are helpful, practical, positive, productive) share a number of characteristics of which “systematic” or methodical is a vital one.
3 Whatever issues the client brings, there is no one response, best way or formula to address them, although constructive approaches almost always involve the coach’s skillful listening.
4 Each individual and each session is unique. Expect the unexpected and the need for flexibility. You will encounter unpredictability, variability, diversity and difference in the person, the nature and content of the issues, in the process the client uses to present them, and in the processes (within your own, generic guidelines) you may need to follow in response.
5 Sometimes, solutions to problems take a very long time to surface.
6 Some problems have no solutions; they are simply part of the human situation. They can be resisted, or embraced and lived with but they will persist in some form. We live in a world that is not perfectible:
“ . . . A world that always presents us with a sense of something undone, something missing, something hurting, something irritating . . . If it’s not your lover, it’s your children; if it’s not your children, it’s your job; if it’s not your job, it’s growing old; if it’s not growing old, it’s getting sick . . . and the only consolation is embracing it.” [Leonard Cohen]
8 Much of the time, all that we need do with a challenge we face in our lives is learn the generic skills of being able to sit with the pain and discomfort of not knowing, long enough to learn whatever lessons it has for us, rather than choosing to freak out, spin out or lash out, and to miss the point of it. This notion contains three useful ideas:
- Equanimity, the ability to sit calmly in the midst of a storm rather than trying to avoid it, can help us take a level-headed approach to difficulties.
- Every challenge we encounter in life contains the seeds of useful, timely and necessary learning: if we were not ready for the opportunity we would not experience it.
- If we develop generic tools to be filed under “What to do when I don’t know what to do”, we can apply them to help contain any personal dilemma or challenge, reducing stress and fight or flight impulses.
9 We all have all we need to be happy and we have or can learn what is necessary to deal with whatever issues we encounter. Deciding that we are not ready to deal with something is one of the tools we have at our disposal, although we can be assured that if we choose not to learn the lesson at the time it is presented, the issue will re-surface again in the same or a different form, at some other time.
10 The coaching task is not to help rescue people or make anyone we support feel better. How clients respond to challenges and how they feel about themselves in relation to them, are choices they themselves make.
11 Although we can influence the quality of what is offered within a coaching session, whether or not a client enjoys or finds it useful are also matters largely outside of our control. For a wide range of reasons, clients may not find our support useful. Try not to make one of the criteria of your success in this role, determination that they will or will always find it useful.
12 Often all that is required to deal with problems is an opportunity to become more objective about and considered in thinking about them, through talking ideas into place.
13 However, few people have routine and ready access to others capable of constructive listening within a methodical problem solving process. (Your role requires that you possess at least the basics of these practices.) Coaching clients usually experience deep listening as much more helpful (eventually) than commonplace approaches involving advice-giving, distracting, humouring, quick-fixes and “You think that’s bad . . . wait till you hear my problem . . .”. Bear in mind though, that initially at least they may expect and actually prefer those approaches because they’re more familiar with them.
14 The presenting problem is seldom the real problem. Sometimes the client will know this and at other times they may be surprised to find that is the case.
15 We all have personality quirks, conditioned beliefs, thought and behaviour response patterns that we at times unawarely project or displace on to external events which we then call problems, believing that the problem and its solution lie “out there” rather than “in here”. Being aware of our own tendencies to projection and displacement  contributes to the health of the client relationship. Beware of trying to “fix” yourself by “fixing” the client.
16 All believing and knowing is partial, conditioned and perspectival. No-one has a monopoly on the truth, including this thought.
17 While we should not withhold information the client needs, there are risks associated with advice-giving in the sense of “suggesting a particular decision or course of action”. Giving advice can effectively block the expression of feeling or clarity about a problem’s underlying causes. For reasons the advice-giver may be unaware of, the advice may be inappropriate, incomplete or irrelevant. It may encourage irresponsibility, rather than self-responsibility. If the advice fails, the client may lose confidence in or blame the process.
18 There is much to learn from those who seek our support. Nurture the relationship – it is important.
 Projection involves attributing one’s own attitudes, feelings, suppositions or desires to others, sometimes as a naive or unconscious defense against anxiety or guilt. Projection: A psychological defence mechanism in which there is an unconscious shift of emotions, affect, or desires from the original object to a more acceptable or immediate substitute.
© Tom Watkins 2010-2014. All rights reserved