There are millions of books (well, about 43,000) about coaching. How to be a coach, how to think like a coach, how to coach others, how to run a coaching business, how to coach yourself…but the coach is only 50% of the relationship.
Successful coaching relies just as much on the person being coached as it does on the coach. In fact, one could argue that the success of coaching is 90% down to the person being coached (the rather unpleasantly labelled “coachee”) since the coach is only the one asking the questions. It’s the coachee who actually has to make the changes.
So it’s no surprise that I’m often asked by clients how they can be a better coachee. What’s their job in this imbalanced relationship? I’ve been on both sides of the equation and I can honestly tell you I’m a terrible coachee. Because I am a coach I know all the games and tricks coachees play. And it is because I’ve played all the games and tried all the tricks myself that I can offer you the following pieces of advice —
Get clear on outcomes — Why are you working with a coach? Between the two of you (and maybe with some input from your colleagues, manager, HRBP) you need to work this out. Coaching helps you think aloud, work through ideas, see things differently, become more self-aware, make decisions and ultimately make changes. What do you want to be different? Having decided, keep that in mind. Coaching can easily become meandering and purposeless, dealing with the latest frustration or the latest fire but that’s not really what it’s for. It’s developmental. Get clear on where you need to grow and why that matters to you.
Prepare — This is your time. If you’re working with a coach it is because, at some level, you know that time to reflect is valuable. You’ve chosen to think aloud to a neutral person which is something that we rarely get access to. If the first time you think about what is going to really make a difference is when you’re dialing the number to your coach for your regular session, you’re not going to get the most from it. Either keep a journal where you write down issues and topics as they come up (having problems with a colleague…write it down and bring it up in your session, finding yourself staying late every night…write it down and bring it up in your session, wishing you could think about the long term vision for the organisation…write it down and bring it to your session) OR spend 10–20 minutes prior to the session reflecting on what’s getting in the way of you achieving your coaching objectives. Come to the session clear about what’s going to be most valuable to you.
Be honest — The coach is not a mindreader. He or she can only help you as far as you are willing to be wide open. This might be foreign for you. But this is one situation where it does you no favours to play nice, to present your best self, to avoid topics. You may cry, get angry, feel stupid, feel lost, be confused, be unclear, reveal your weaknesses, wallow (for a bit!)…all the emotions that you avoid at work and maybe elsewhere. A good coach will have seen and heard it all (and been there themselves). This is a necessary part of the process and coaching won’t work if it stays on the surface.
Talk a lot — Coachees often tell themselves off by saying they are talking too much. It is possible to talk too much — sometimes people ramble as a way of avoiding talking about what matters. But other than that, we coaches understand that you are probably talking for the first time about something you’ve never articulated before. Frankly, we’re not interested in hearing about ideas and opinions you have already got clear in your head. You don’t need our help there. You need help talking about things you’ve not thought about properly before. So we don’t mind if it takes a while for you to get there. Ideally a coach is only planning to speak for about 20% of your session, maybe less. When you talk you get clear and you give us an insight in to how we might help you. Don’t censor yourself.
Stay in touch — Probably your coach has told you that you can contact them between formal sessions. So do! Have daily contact if you like. Ask questions, send things you want your coach to look at, tell the coach how you are, share wins, share disasters, share resources, share realisations. We want you to feel like you have a coach full time and, to be honest, we’re charging you as if you’re going to be in touch, so make the most of it. We will also contact you. We will direct you to resources and check in on you and send you encouraging words and tell you how amazing you are when you’ve done something amazing. Make time to read or watch what we send. It’s all part of how we support you to grow.
Be slippery — Don’t gloss over the truth. If you’re asked how you are, answer in full. Don’t try to answer a different question than the one you’ve been asked because it made you uncomfortable so you thought you could redirect the coach to something else without her noticing. Don’t give a rehearsed answer because that’s what you always say to that question. Really think about what you actually think, feel, want, need. Basically don’t try to wriggle out of doing the work in the session. Coaching sessions should primarily focus on things you don’t usually think about or talk about and therefore it’s bound to be uncomfortable. No getting away from that if you want this to work.
Miss sessions — (or constantly re-schedule). Coaching gains momentum. Sessions are scheduled at a frequency that you and the coach think is right for you. Action steps are agreed based on when the next session is scheduled to be. Coaching is meant to go on for a specific period of time in your life — 6 months, or 9 months, or 12 months. When you miss sessions or reschedule you change the dynamic. It becomes increasingly difficult for the coach to play his role well. Not only that but it is disrespectful and can impact the relationship of trust between the two of you. Most coaches are running their own business. They calculate how many coachees they need a year to make a living. When you constantly move sessions their cashflow can be seriously affected and while it isn’t really your business to worry about your coach’s business, it is common decency to recognise that your behaviour has consequences. Not only that but when you reschedule or miss sessions the coach will become curious about why. Are you having problems balancing your priorities? Are you avoiding something? Are you ignoring your own needs and under-valuing your own development? Is this something you do to other people? Often as coaches we experience a little flavour of you. Don’t expect your coach to ignore this trend. It’s data that they’ll want to ask you about.
Expect the coach to do the work — When I first started coaching I was a Life Coach. I noticed that my early clients thought that having a coach was the solution to whatever problem they were experiencing in their lives. But having a coach is only part of the solution. What happens in the coaching session is the thinking bit. But the acting bit happens after and there, I’m afraid, it’s all you. We can support and encourage and pick you back up and brush you off. But, as I said right at the start, this is your life and you’re the one taking the risks. Don’t worry — we’re doing it in our own lives as a result of our own development journey. We’re making fools of ourselves and stepping out of our comfort zones and confronting difficult truths…or at least a good coach will be doing this. But we can’t do it for you.
For a while I was cynical about coaching. I stopped working with people one-to-one after having had a thriving practice for many years. I needed a change. And I needed to reassess what it was about coaching that worked and what it was that simply colluded with the coachee. As a result of that period of reflection (which lasted a number of years) I’ve rediscovered my passion for working with people one-to-one. There’s something vital about having time carved out for being very selfish, for getting dedicated support on challenges that are really personal to you, stepping way, way back so you can see yourself clearly. And it gives me great joy to play my part in that relationship.
And I hope that, having read this, you have a better idea of how to play your part in that relationship too. After all, the better you are at getting coached, the more you’ll get from the experience.
For more information about how to work with me one-to-one visit www.thatpeoplething.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org