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What Is Coaching And How Does It Work?

The word ‘coach’ dates back to around the 16th century and the Hungarian village of ‘Kocs’, a place where grand horse-drawn carriages were produced. In Britain the word evolved into ‘coach’, and some three hundred years later it took on the additional meaning of being a tutor.

As is the case of a coach with wheels, coaching can help to take you from where you are to where you want to be. Today there are hundreds of definitions of coaching, which include ‘unlocking potential’ and ‘maximising performance’, but one which is slightly different is from the late Laura Whitworth, co-author of ‘Co-Active Coaching’, namely “Coaching is a powerful relationship for people who are making important changes in their lives.” Without a good coach-client relationship, coaching will not be effective.

The success of a coach depends on a combination of important skills, attitudes and attributes, a few of which are mentioned here.

Active listening is absolutely crucial to being a good coach. Stephen Covey’s ‘habit number 5’ suggests that we should “seek first to understand, then to be understood”. If a coach can give their client the feeling that they are really listening to the client, demonstrating empathy, understanding and interest in what they are saying, they will “feel safer and more secure as well, and trust grows” (Laura Whitworth et al).

A coach must be able to build trust in order to provide an environment in which the client can share their hopes and fears, their failures (perceived or otherwise) and dreams, without worrying about a breach in confidentiality.

Openness and honesty are a part of the trust equation and will encourage not only the client to open up and share their thoughts and ideas about how to make improvements to their situation, but will also allow the coach to provide valuable and constructive feedback as appropriate.

All of the above will contribute significantly towards building a high level of rapport; rapport is required quite simply because if the client doesn’t feel rapport with the coach, the coaching relationship will not work.

Effective open-ended questioning can “awaken a client’s awareness of the skills and knowledge they already possess” and helps them to identify options and solutions to their problems that were not immediately obvious.

By remaining non-judgemental about the client’s input, the coach is able to remain detached from the outcome of the client’s journey, which in turn encourages the client to take responsibility for their actions and future. Another way to encourage responsibility is for the coach to challenge the client to move out of their comfort zone (with their permission) which is particularly useful when faced with limiting beliefs, helping them to move beyond self-imposed boundaries.

The GROW model is an effective coaching framework that can be used to structure one-to-one, group or even self-coaching sessions. The letters of GROW represent four stages of the coaching process, namely ‘Goal’, ‘Reality’, ‘Options’ and ‘Way forward (or will)’.

Just as a ship’s captain would not leave the harbour without knowing his destination, if we don’t know where we’re going, we are never going to get there. The ‘G’ of GROW is for goal setting, be that an ‘end goal’ (not always in the client’s control) or a ‘performance goal’ (more likely to be achievable because the client has greater control).

By using open questions the coach enables the client to identify what they want to achieve, and also why their goal is important to them. Ninety per cent of success in reaching goals is in the ‘why’, and only 10 per cent in the ‘how’, and it is during this stage that the client will discover whether their goal is congruent with their values.

A great goal is described with another acronym: SMART – Specific, Measurable, Agreed (or attainable), Realistic, and Time bound. Goals should always be stated positively and written down by the client, and referred back to by the coach throughout the session. Below are some questions that a coach might ask at the ‘G’ stage:

a. How will you know that you have achieved your goal?

b. What does success look/feel like with regards to this goal?

c. What is going to be the best thing that will happen when you have this?

d. Why is this an issue for you?

e. How will you feel in five/ten years’ time if nothing changes?

Once the client has set a great goal, it is time to examine the client’s ‘reality’ or ‘R’. It is important to spend sufficient time in ‘R’ in order that ‘wishful thinking or self-delusion is grounded in reality” (John Whitmore). Unpacking reality can also raise the client’s awareness of similar situations in the past where they successfully negotiated obstacles similar to the ones they believe they currently face. The coach will ask questions such as those below:

a. Where are you now with regards to this goal?

b. What action have you taken on this so far?

c. What were the effects of that action?

d. Tell me about a time when you were in a similar situation

e. What are you doing right?

‘O’ stands for options; the purpose of this stage is not to “find the right way forward, but to generate a variety of possible alternatives not previously considered” (Lesley Matile). The client may come up with some creative and sometimes unrealistic actions, and it is important for them to write down as many ideas as they can think of in order to be able to then make a qualified decision about which one will take them closer to their goal. Below are some questions that could be used during options:

a. If you had a magic wand, what would you do?

b. If there were no consequences from your actions, what would you do?

c. What if you secretly knew the answer, what would it be?

d. If you were a risk taker, what would you do?

e. I know you can’t think of any more, but if you could, what would they be?

The purpose of ‘W’ is “to convert a discussion into a decision” (John Whitmore). The client is asked to commit to the option/action of their choice, and to include a timeframe for implementation. The coach might include the following questions:

a. Which option will take you closer to your goal?

b. When will you take that action?

c. What could prevent you from taking this action?

d. On a scale of 1 to 10, how committed are you about taking this action?

e. What would have to happen to make it a 10?

Coaching is not counselling, or mentoring, or treatment, or psychotherapy. Coaching is not fluffy, and it’s not like a gym membership that you pick up and drop again when you’re tired. Coaching is about empowering YOU to create the future that you want and deserve.


(Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash)

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