Creating a New Coaching Relationship, Every Moment
We had just started the game. The instructor kept telling me, “Take the offer. Say, ‘yes.’” Hearing those words, I realized that the scene was asking me to accept the role of an insect and pretend to bite my partner, who was acting as a superhero. Hearing the instructors, I had no choice but to give in. I became the villain by pouring poison from my fangs, but it didn’t slow down the superhero at all. We finished the scene with a loud applause from our instructors.
The scene I described above was from improv, or impro—the short form of improvisational theater, which is performed unplanned, unscripted spontaneously by the performers. I have been attending an improv school in Tokyo since 2017, not to become an improv actor or comedian, but to improve my coaching presence and tame my usual anxious state of mind. After practicing weekly for the last two to three years, I can now focus, listen, brainstorm, play, become creative, and still be myself.
According to Dan Diggles, who is a teacher and performer of improv, there are three rules to good improv:
- It has to be spontaneous.
- You have to say “Yes, and…” to all offers.
- You must make your partner look good.
The Choice to Say “Yes”
Our clients are always alive. They don’t and won’t bring pre-scripted talking points. They are influenced by many things that happen in their lives. When we first start to work with them, they may bring some ideas, thoughts, emotions or values, which may not be fully compatible with ours. In those moments, we need to make a choice based on the necessities of our profession: accepting them for whom they are, staying with their agenda, dancing in the moment, but holding them accountable. Here, we have to remember that we need to make a deliberate choice regarding the “offer” they are bringing to the coaching session. A “yes” will signal acceptance or a handshake. A “no” will signal a gentle concern or disagreement not because of our egos or personal opinions, but for our clients’ further growth. Again, the point here is that as coaches, we need to acknowledge our responsibility in the outcome.
The World of “Yes”
Saying “yes” sounds good. But, in practice, it is one of the most challenging things, like feeling empathy. Sometimes it is natural, but sometimes it is a learned response. If we can truly say “yes” to the things, it means we are taking proactive steps to connect with others even when it is not fully compatible with our expectations.
You can feel what “yes” means by imagining that your client gave you a box of rare chocolate. It is a gift. By saying “yes,” you take it, open the wrapping, open the box, take one piece out, and put it in your mouth. Now you received it, and now you are experiencing something you have never experienced before. You look back to your client. They are expecting you to say something. Rather than just saying “thank you,” you imagine a special brand of coffee that will be great with the chocolate you have.
The Possibilities of “And…”
The moment you imagine that special coffee, you are in the world of “And..” If your client also fancies your offer, you can order it. Now, both you and your client are enjoying the chocolate and that special coffee. You both realize the coffee expands the taste of the chocolate. What both you and your client have on the table now is more than a box.
The World of the Unknown
You can imagine that what the client offers may not always be as wonderful and sweet as chocolate. Improv requires a mindset of being present and making conscious choices at every moment. Three dots at the end of “Yes, and…” invite us to the world of unknown.
The human brain is conditioned to approach unexpected things with awe, amazement and even with anxiety. When we “know” things, there is no excitement and no discovery. There is no “aliveness” in known and tried things.
Why do our clients spend money on coaching?
It is obviously not to have a dull or “normal” conversation. They are onto discovering new things about themselves and recognizing things they need to go beyond. We may be discussing our clients’ executive leadership potential, personal mission, legacy, career or life. All of these topics are about possibilities our clients cannot explore by themselves. That is why coaching interaction has to be alive.
By making “Yes, and…” the cornerstone of our coaching relationship, we can remember that we are digging deep to find and utilize the best in them and us.