What Do They Really Need? The Most Powerful Way to Assess Your Role as a Coach
As coaches, we play many different roles when working with clients: cheerleader, thought partner, provocateur, external point of accountability, giver of feedback, illuminator of blind spots. While our roles may shift and change over the course of our coaching engagements, many times, the hats we wear shift within a single coaching conversation. By listening to our client for both the words they use and what they do not say, we use our intuition and ability to transition from one role to the other.
Most often this shift is done seamlessly, as part of the dance we enjoy with our client, who takes the lead. This can be due to our relationship with our client, the overt signals we are receiving from them, being grounded in our presence, strong intuition, a depth of experience for us to draw on, or a combination of these.
In some instances, though, pivoting these roles in real time is anything but seamless.
For me, when I am unable to seamlessly and intuitively anticipate the needs of my clients, the resulting spiral looks something like this: The client shifts their focus, throwing out signals that they need me to change the role I play. I miss the cue, misread it or am lost as to where to go next. The client continues, but my focus has shifted. I begin to search more furiously for the next (perfect) question. My attention swings from being present with the client to trying to stay one or two steps ahead of them. I work harder to stay present while fumbling through a pile of index cards in my brain to figure out the next step. I move from being grounded in my practice as coach to coaching from my brain. Sound at all familiar?
Just a note here: This is not to say that valuable coaching conversations cannot be initiated from our brains. I believe that real transformative change-inducing conversations are set in motion when the coaching comes from something deeper.
When I find myself in the middle of that spiral, I have two choices. I can keep pushing on the gas, leading to my tires spinning and digging deeper into the mud. The result? I am no further ahead and am exhausted.
Or, I can heed the “check presence” light on the dashboard, take my foot off the gas and stop.
At this point I breathe, take a moment to remember I am not even the one who is supposed to be driving, then ask my client one question: “What do you really need?” And then I listen. Really listen. For the needs being articulated and the ones that are buried underneath some non-essential needs. And I let the conversation emerge from there.
Instead of spending time and effort trying to anticipate what the client needs, what if the most powerful thing we can do as coaches is ask them about their needs. Let them take back the wheel. Let the client do all the work. This means quietening the voice in our heads that questions the value we are bringing to the coaching conversation. It means getting our ego in check to be in service to our clients.
So here is a challenge: The next time you find yourself in a coaching conversation, or really in any encounter, as you find yourself working hard to anticipate the needs of the other person, ask them “What do you really need right now?” The answer may be surprising. And then frees you up to play a role in addressing that need.
©Fiamma Coaching and Consulting/Rosa Edinga