A Coachee's Guide to..., coaching, Self-reflection

How do you know when to end coaching?

This is a really difficult one, but just like other parts of life most coaching partnerships need to end eventually. But how do you know when that is?

Sometimes, it’s clear in the sense that the coaching was aimed at a very particular challenge or issue and the coachee has reached their goal, made progress or at least done enough new thinking to be able to move forward.

Often however, coaching that started out being about one thing, ended up being about something else, and that evolves and needs longer to think about. People who come to coaching because they have reached something of a crisis point often spend some sessions “downloading” their thoughts about their current situation before being able to look at alternatives and options. This can extend the coaching process but is very valuable. However if the thinking doesn’t at some point move on, this can be a signal that something different is needed and that this particular coaching arrangement has run its course. It’s really difficult to raise this as a coach if you know that your client doesn’t talk about the issues anywhere else, but if you are aiming to be useful to your clients, it’s a conversation that has to be had.

As a coach, I generally suggest a minimum of three sessions with clients unless there is a very specific objective for the coaching. This is because there is usually a session where we clarify what the goal is for the coaching and assess the reality of the current situation. The other two sessions are usually used for considering options in different ways and identifying strategies for next steps. Sometimes clients will book 6 sessions to either explore more deeply, or possibly consider 2 or more different challenges. I’ve been working with a couple of clients for nearly a year – but sessions are perhaps less frequent than the shorter term partnerships I’ve been involved in. Perhaps my most fulfilling way of working is when someone does perhaps 3 sessions initially and then several months later comes back for a top-up session to explore what’s happened on their issue.

There’s no set time to think about ending or changing coach but some things clients might want to consider include:

  • Am I using my coach as a general listener and are they the best person to do this?
  • Are the sessions still useful – do they leave me with different thoughts and reflections about my challenges? Or am I stuck in the same thought processes – in which case a different coach might approach things differently and lead to new insights.
  • Would a different professional be more useful e.g. a counsellor, therapist, or mentor?

Most coaches are not, contrary to what you might read in some places, trying to keep clients booking more and more sessions in order to make more income. I have no doubt that there are some coaches who do that, but for me, if the usefulness has ended, then that’s the time to end the coaching. At least for a while.

Just like other endings though, it’s important to end the coaching relationship well. This doesn’t always happen – sometimes people drift away and stop responding to emails, and sometimes it can quickly turn into months since you have heard from someone. This isn’t always a problem so long as it’s agreed that a pause is consciously happening – things come up that mean that someone isn’t in the right place to continue coaching for the time being. Generally I’ll reach out to someone a few times and then try to let them go if they don’t respond. When I do get a chance to work with the client on a proper ending, we’ll look at what’s been achieved so far and plan the next steps. I’ll make it clear how to get in touch with me in the future and I’ll usually ask the client if they want to be kept briefed on offers and updates via email. It’s absolutely fine if not, but some people do.

And then I close the file mentally and physically and wish them well.

A Coachee's Guide to..., coaching topics

A Coachee’s Guide to….. Values

Your Values represent what is important to you in life. Knowing your Values can help you understand what drives you, what you enjoy, what inspires you and what you would like more of.

values quote

I often use Values as a framework in coaching sessions where the coachee wants “something to change” or “something to be different” or feels that “something isn’t quite right”, and often when they say “I don’t know what it is exactly but…..”

Understanding your values may guide you in the choices you make, or help you understand your responses to situations. For example, if you value family you might try to spend more time with them, if you value independence you might feel overwhelmed when you don’t have your own space, or choices are made for you.

Understanding the values of those around you, can help understand the differences in the way people behave or respond.

Knowing how your personal values overlap with the values of your workplace can help motivate you and find more fulfilment at work, or find the “right” place to work for you.

It’s important to remember that some values tend to be quite stable over time, whilst others may change. For example, at the start of your career, success and finances or adventure might be your Key Values. At other times family or friends might be more important. Your Values can also be situational eg. what’s true for you at work may not be true for you at home.

So how do you identify your values?

Many coaches, particularly Life and Career Coaches use value identification exercises and lists of “example values” can be found using a straightforward google search. However, these lists can be quite intimidating and some psychologists feel that they “lead” people to fall into certain typical values.

Coaching questions that might start to identify values include “What’s important to you about this situation at this moment in time?” or “What makes this the thing that you want to work on now?” I have two more structured ways of identifying values that I use in coaching.

Firstly – the word based version – typically I would present coachees with a list of common values (some examples might be “learning”, “family”, “success”, “health”, “respect”, “curiosity”, “career”) and ask you to fairly quickly identify up to 10 words that stand out to you. Then I would ask you to identify the top three – sometimes imagining that you have to pack a case to take away with you and can only fit three in. Sometimes we might even identify the top 1, but often your top three is the most useful to work with.

The second option is one that I use with people who prefer images to words. There are two slightly different versions of this.

20200113_100534 In a one-to-one face to face session I might use a set of cards with images on and get you to select those they are particularly drawn to. Although the cards have words on the reverse, these aren’t always what you associate with the picture so I tend not to turn them over! (For example, these images to me represent calm, curiosity, independence fun, warmth and knowledge – but they probably mean something totally different to you!)

 

 

balloonFor an online coaching session, I might ask you to do a bit of pre-work  find images from the internet, magazines, photos etc that you are particularly drawn to. During the session, you would share those with me over a video call and we would work to understand what the images mean to you and what insight you get from thinking about them into their values. (For example, this image represents both “reflection” and “calm” to me, as well as “independence”.)

Once you have identified your Values – we then look at whether these give any insight into what “isn’t quite right” or “needs to be different” or helps you make choices or decisions.

My own experience is that identifying and reflecting on my Values has given me a sense of identity and an understanding of why certain parts of my previous role left me buzzing and exhilarated whilst others left me drained. Knowing my Values has also helped shape what I do now as a coach and diversity and inclusion specialist. Finally, it helps me understand my own response in some challenging situations… but that is a whole other blog post!

 

A Coachee's Guide to..., coaching

A Coachee’s Guide to…. Systemic Coaching

Sooner or later, within most of the coaching conversations I have with clients, the influence of things external to them comes up. Either this is the influence of family, friends, work, their physical environment, finances etc on the decisions and thoughts they are having, OR the potential influence of the work they are doing on themselves on others. This usually happens naturally because most people do not exist in a vacuum – even if they feel alone.

This part of coaching has a fancy name – systemic coaching. At it’s simplest, this means paying attention to, and perhaps exploring gently, the “system” around the coachee. Questions such as “Who do you have around you that would support you in what you are trying to do?”   “What or who that is important to you might also be affected by what you have learnt/decided?” A coach might ask these questions in order to allow the coachee to make sure they are prepared for any things that might sway them from their actions, or to encourage the coachee to think about accountability and broader support. We know that the coachee’s progress is in fact more significantly affected by the external environment (including other people) than it is by our skill as a coach! What we have to do is explore that external environment with them and help them develop strategies to face challenges to progress when they occur.

In leadership and work performance coaching, the consideration of “knock on” effects on the wider environment, or the external pressures on a particular individual or decision are essential but can bring additional insight to the coaching process. One client of mine was working on developing his team leadership skills having moved to a position where his team were mostly distributed around the country. Discussing different ways of communicating some information, I asked the questions “How do you want your team to feel when they hear your message?”  and “What do you want them to know when they hear your message?”. My coachee paused and reflected for several minutes (which is always a bit nervewracking to hold silence but I know that this is what works for home) and then came up with answers to the questions and dramatically different ways of communicating his message. Work is ongoing but this more direct “systemic coaching” type question was certainly useful in that situation and I will use those questions again!

Sometimes a coach might use some more formal “systemic coaching” techniques.  These can include “constellation mapping” – using objects to represent the various parts of the “system” that the coachee sits in and moving them around according to the work being done. Identifying your personal “Board of Directors” is a good exercise for individuals – especially those in new roles or those wanting to feel more confident in their lives. Who is your “cheerleader”? Who is your “expert”? It’s a bit like growing a network but the purpose of the network in this case is to support you and your development.

Often I see parallels between my coaching work and my former world of environmental and climate research. With systemic coaching – this is really clear. With the environment, we may come up with a solution to fix one thing e.g.  a dam to provide water for a large city, but if we don’t consider the impact of changing the water course for the surrounding reason, we will end up in trouble of one sort or another. The same is true for most coaching situations.

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