Move into Breakthrough: Movement as an Intentional Strategy - International Coaching Federation
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Move into Breakthrough: Movement as an Intentional Strategy

Posted by Rebecca Dorsey Sok, MA, PCC, and Andrew Shaffer, MCC | February 6, 2019 | Comments (5)

Los Angeles, California, USA

With arms folded and their gaze down, one person quietly controls the tension in the room. Recognizing we may be stuck before we start, I grab the large, playful markers on the table and ask each person to pick a color. Putting the marker in their hand, I invite the team to move to the board to answer one final question. Immediately a buzz begins as they stand. Their faces light up with curiosity. They laugh at their giant handwriting. Stepping back, they point with glee discovering they wrote nearly the exact same words. The energy in the room shifts from a teeth-pulling session with mismatched investment into a lively, engaging team encounter. Voices get louder with excitement. They create inside jokes. They begin to feed off each other’s’ ideas, building momentum and clarity. What changed? We moved. It was that simple: we moved into the needed breakthrough.

Whether we are aware of it or not, movement impacts our coaching. In an often-sedentary profession, we have the opportunity to use movement as a strategic tool.

Even the smallest movements can positively impact a session. Simply inviting the client to move to the whiteboard with a marker, or to pace the room, can help focus their whole body on coaching. This full-body focus accelerates awareness, achieving clarity and insight with often considerably more energy and excitement. Intentional movement also increases client ownership of the process and instantly puts the “co” in co-creating the relationship.

On the other hand, leading the client to sit—without input—may unintentionally limit the possibility of movement and hinder the potential of the session. Inviting a client to consider movement may be just what they need for a breakthrough that day. When we notice the contained energy in the room and ask clients how they would like to use (or not use) movement we offer another tool to help achieve their goals.

Just like any other competency or coaching tool, it is vitally important to develop awareness of movement opportunities, notice our client’s reaction to stillness or movement and evaluate the effectiveness of the movements toward reaching the client’s goals.

Choose when and how to offer movement depending on what you want to accomplish:

  • Connect. Offer a walking session to kick off a coaching relationship. Or, start each session with a short walk to connect and establish the agreement. Movement can break down barriers, ease conversation and build connectivity and trust.
  • Get unstuck. Offer your client the chance to stand up or pace the room while they think. Whether considering how to respond to a powerful question or finding a way past a mental block, moving the body can stimulate the movement of ideas.
  • Focus. Offer your client the chance to draw an image or move to a board and write. When experiencing difficulty articulating what they are thinking and feeling, doodling or drawing an image can reveal what is stuck inside.

Tokyo, Japan

Arriving in Tokyo, an online Beijing-based client asks for our first face-to-face coaching session. We meet in a crowded office building lobby and decide—in the moment­—to find a nearby cafe. Walking out the revolving doors into the bustling street we begin. By the crosswalk, we establish a clear coaching agreement and measures of success. When we reach a cafe two blocks away, our connection is clear, and conversation is flowing powerfully. Sitting on stools, sipping coffee and gazing out the window, we design actions and methods of accountability. In a span of just 40 minutes, the session progresses seamlessly—perfectly in line with our movement and punctuated by naturally occurring moments of awareness and pause. Walking back, the client mentions this is one of the most productive and powerful sessions she has ever had. What was different? Through movement, we tapped into the energy of the moment, bypassing the formalities of newness and deepening our connection.

When planning movement in a coaching session, consider these starter questions:

  • What is culturally appropriate?
  • Where do you meet your clients?
  • Where do you conduct your coaching?
  • What movements have you noticed your client doing naturally?
  • What movements are a challenge for your client?
  • How often do they fidget, swivel in their chair, doodle or stretch?
  • How can you offer movement opportunities that fit your unique client?

We are limited only by our imaginations. Even during online sessions, coaches and clients can move together. Grab headphones and go for a walk together. Encourage your client to step away from the screen, look out the window, do jumping jacks, stretch, pace or draw something.

As an intentional strategy, movement can make the difference between a breakdown or a breakthrough. These are our stories. How will you design movement for your clients?

Rebecca Dorsey Sok, MA, PCC, and Andrew Shaffer, MCC

Rebecca Dorsey Sok, MA, PCC, is a leadership transition and team development coach
 ( based in Los Angeles, California. Whatever transition stage you are in, she believes that everyday really can, and should, be awesome. Andrew Shaffer, MCC, co-founder and managing director at HummingByrd Inc., is based in Tokyo, Japan. Andrew works with leaders from diverse cultural and professional backgrounds to empower themselves and to make a positive impact on people, organizations and communities around the world.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Additionally, for the purpose of full disclosure and as a disclaimer of liability, this content was possibly generated using the assistance of an AI program. Its contents, either in whole or in part, have been reviewed and revised by a human. Nevertheless, the reader/user is responsible for verifying the information presented and should not rely upon this article or post as providing any specific professional advice or counsel. Its contents are provided “as is,” and ICF makes no representations or warranties as to its accuracy or completeness and to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law specifically disclaims any and all liability for any damages or injuries resulting from use of or reliance thereupon.

Comments (5)

  1. It is amazing how focusing a little movement can be!

    I’ve noticed the harder the challenge, the more intense the movement needs to be! Sometimes walking to the whiteboard is the perfect strategy, but other times, you have to have the team go do a lap around the building and talk while they’re walking. The insights that come from just this simple orientation of matching intensity can bring all kinds of new insight!

    Plus, I LOVE those starter questions. Those will get some new awarenesses generated!

    • Rebecca Dorsey Sok says:

      I’m so glad the starter questions are helpful!

      Yes, you are right – the harder the mental challenge the physical movement may need to match. Especially with teams I have found moving the entire team OUT of the regular meeting space to walk – or even just stand – in a new space can make a huge difference in getting ideas flowing. Sometimes when we are stuck mentally or emotionally the restart of moving down the hall or outside can be all that’s needed to kick-start the ideas and energy again.


  2. Kimunya Mugo says:

    Amazing perspectives! I have been using movement (cycling) for my personal ‘self-coaching’. During these rides, I am away from my phone, computer and people. It gives me the opportunity to analyze my challenges/obstacles, mull over my options and design action required. However, it has never occurred to me that the same can be extended to my clients! Thank you for sharing…

    • Rebecca Dorsey Sok says:

      I’m so glad we could inspire you to use movement with your clients! I’m confident you will find incredible moments of clarity and breakthrough with your clients, just as you have mentioned yourself. Learning to ask about, and offer, movement opportunities is a great skill to develop. Let us know what you find is working well with your clients. I’d love to know what’s working and what other coaches are learning about movement opportunities in coaching.


  3. says:

    Movements helps to come out of the tough moments from deadlock situations, its a refresher . Nice and practical prospective.

    Thanks for sharing .

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