Reflecting on the Benefits of Coaching Those Who are Very Different from You
Anyone who has found themselves in the position of being asked to act as a coach across a whole cohort will know that it means you will be meeting a range of clients that you might not normally meet. Rather than the usual chemistry meetings, your coaching services are offered as the only option. This can be challenging and is even seen by some as terrible practice! However, I suggest that there are five positives to this kind of work.
1) You can provide the challenge that clients really need.
A common refrain from coaching literature is to remind yourself that “you’re not there to be your client’s friend; you’re there to be their coach.” If someone is similar to you, then it’s easier to empathize with them. As a coach, that is not your job. You are not there to make things easy for them; you are there to challenge and stretch them. By working with someone different to you, you will be less prone to a feeling that you want them to like you.
2) You can provide an outsider view.
As someone who is dissimilar to your client, you are more likely to be able to step outside of their frame of reference and encourage them to join you there. By seeing their world with outsider’s eyes, you can spot questions that an outsider can ask. For example, if you are a former lawyer and you’re coaching a managing partner at a law firm, when she says “Of course, it’s all about billable hours,” you’re more likely to nod, and think, of course. But a non-lawyer coach might be more likely to ask the question, “Why is it all about billable hours? Are there other ways of earning revenue? Can you describe to me how you feel when you say billable hours?”
3) You can learn something about yourself.
A key function of meeting and engaging with people who are different to us is it provides us with a window on who we are. If we coach someone who is different from us, we spot how we are different to them. It gives us grounds on which to reflect about what is important to us as people, as workers, as leaders, as coaches. If a client says to us, “Being seen to be good at your job is really about working as hard as you possibly can,” and we disagree with that statement, it reflects not only on the client’s world view, but on our own. It perhaps reminds us that we have a different view of what’s important at work, one that is centered around well-being or presenteeism or effectiveness.
4) You can be reminded to dance in the moment.
As a key element of the ICF Core Competencies, the ability to dance in the moment is key to what makes a good coach. However, there can be a temptation for the mind to wander, particularly for a newer coach. When they may still have some concerns around staying in control and appearing to know what they are doing, then dancing in the moment can be hard. With a client who is very different to us, if we become too hung up on how they are different, and whether we are serving them, it can be paralyzing. And so then, more than ever, it gives us good reason to allow ourselves to stay with the moment, with our client, and to serve them as best we can by doing so.
5) In the longer term, you can foster a sense of positive indifference.
Positive indifference is being able to overlook differences as being unimportant or not worthy of attention. It is a valuable skill and if we can do it, we can model ourselves as adaptable, resourceful people who can coach others who are dissimilar to us. We can realize, through this type of work with those who are seemingly different, that there are actually plenty of qualities that make us similar, too. It can be valuable for increasing empathy and compassion for others more generally, and for helping us to work with those who are different to us in the future.
If you are fortunate enough to be offered this type of work by a current or prospective client, you may find that your initial thought is to say yes, and then panic! But if you do find yourself in this position, hopefully you can take heart from my reflections above. Maybe you are even encouraged to go searching for those who are different from you to see how it might build your coaching practice.
© Dr. Katie Best