What happens in coaching sessions?

We have been delighted this year to have received more requests for coaching than ever before. We’re delighted because we love doing it. It’s one thing working with 12 people on a workshop, but the difference we can see in someone, working 1:1 over six months, is incredibly rewarding.

The question we often get asked, particularly by those who are organising the coaching, but have never actually had a coach themselves, is what actually happens? What conversations are happening and how are we adding value as coaches? Of course we cannot go into detail with them about their company’s coaching clients, but we can share some overall trends and useful insights about where we see the greatest change occur for people.

Having coached MDs, Marketing, Finance and Operations Directors, CTOs, PR professionals and not-for-profit leaders, we are often asked how on earth we add value to such a diverse range of people. The simple answer is that all of these people have the same challenges. They need to get some clear thinking space, consider how to translate ideas into solid goals and strategy and how to handle difficult conversations.

The greatest change occurs when people realise one or more of the following:

“I haven’t really asked myself what the problem is or what outcome I want.”

“I am limiting myself through fear.”

“I’m not saying what I’m thinking.”

This is the theme that underlies issues as broad as strategic planning and setting a new direction for the business all the way down to having a difficult conversation with one person. In our article on difficult conversations, we share our top tips for those less comfortable meetings, which is the number one topic that comes up in our coaching sessions. But here we focus on the broader themes and how you can benefit from these two insights for yourself and with your own coaching and mentoring clients.

Think of something that you want to achieve, or that you’ve been working to achieve for some time and it’s just not going as well as you would like. From performance managing one individual to changing the culture of an organisation of thousands, it doesn’t matter what it is – take some time now to think about what it is you want to achieve.

Now consider these questions:

What is the outcome you want? Work it through, past the initial project or conversation and to a longer-term outcome, what is it? Why is that important to you?

Imagine yourself in that outcome, you have achieved it. What will be happening? How is life / business / the team better?

What could be holding you back from getting there? What are you afraid of?

What do you need to say and to whom (as usually to achieve something we need to involve others)? What would you say if you were really honest and just said what you thought?

What is holding you back from saying that?

These questions can help you identify the true outcome you want, or indeed challenge yourself: maybe the outcome you thought you wanted is really not that important and you can start considering something else. The questions help you identify fears that are stopping you from acting. And when you acknowledge those fears, you can challenge them. What’s the worst that can happen? Would that really be so bad? What would you do if that worst situation did happen?

Realising that you would carry on, overcome challenges and survive can be very empowering. Finally these questions can help you realise that you have simply avoided having the straightforward conversation that could unblock progress. What if you had a go at just saying it?

This is a common flow of conversation in coaching sessions, because unclear goals, fear and not saying what we’re thinking are often are greatest challenges.