Myth: Coaching is all talk and no action.
We have found that there is sometimes an assumption that coaching is not very challenging, is indirect and is a lot of talk about ‘how I’m feeling’. In reality, our clients are hugely challenged by the work they do with their coach and this is normally requested by the coachees themselves.
Designing the relationship
The core of any coaching relationship is how you and your coach work together. One of the first things you will do is consequently design your relationship and that can be changed and re-moulded at any time. Part of that design will be the balance of talk and action that gets the best from you: or in other words the balance of deepening the learning (talk) and forward movement (action). If you want firmer, super-challenging coaching with stronger accountability then that is what your coach will provide. Equally, if you are looking for more empathy, exploration and gentler accountability, they can do that too.
“Like adjusting bass and treble to ensure a song sounds perfect to your ear.”
Your coach’s role is to adjust this mix in any given moment or session; like adjusting bass and treble to ensure a song sounds perfect to your ear. Equally, should your coach feel a relationship is not as productive as it could be, their role is to bring this to the table for positive discussion. At its healthiest you and your coach will continually check-in and re-design your working relationship to increase the benefits to you.
Transaction vs. transformation
Imagine a coaching conversation that is all action and no talk for a moment. You share a personal goal with your coach – ‘to be more confident when speaking in front of a large group’ – and your coach immediately asks ‘what options do you have to attain this?’ One potential omission is not allowing you the coachee to spend time with the idea of attaining your goal. Doing this allows you to explore the positive impact on you, your team and what achieving this will mean in terms of your biggest life. It has the ability to create a deeper awareness of the real destination (who you are becoming) and develop a greater motivation to get there (achieving the goal itself). More talk, at any part of a coaching conversation, can deepen the conversation and be a catalyst for sustained personal transformation.
Coaching conversations are designed to achieve your personal goals and maximise your potential. Often we do not know our own boundaries, or understandably, are nervous of engaging with them. Your coach will encourage you to stretch beyond what you may think, or feel, is possible. You will step into new actions that deliver increased levels of performance and well-being. Are these new actions always comfortable? No. Is the ultimate decision as to which action you step into to left with you the coachee? Yes. Many people find pushing their ‘envelope’ incredibly exhilarating which in turn accelerates their momentum and defines and embeds new behaviours and habits.
In contrast ‘mentors’ have a particular skill set, or experience to share. They are there to share with you how you could do it.
So, do coaches use ‘talky’ questions like “how does that feel?”, “what does your heart say?”, or “what is the sensation in your body when that happens?” Yes we do. And, we do it with purpose. As we have said, deepening the conversation can help with personal transformation. It also helps you, the coachee, use all of your intelligences when processing information and making decisions.
There is now a weight of research, evidence and wisdom that points to us having 3 brains (or intelligence centres) – head, heart and gut. We have listed some references at the bottom of the article if you wish to read further. We often default to listening to one or two of those intelligences. For many the head, or logical thinking, dominates. This means ignoring other information that we are feeling and sensing. For example, if you feel anxious, this may result in symptoms being displayed by the body e.g. butterflies in the stomach (gut), a rising heart rate (heart), red blotches around the neck or headaches (head). Sometimes our ‘thinking intelligence’, or more rational side, will try to convince us to ignore these. An extreme example of this would be ignoring the symptoms of burnout presented by the body.
‘Talky’ questions that can be interpreted as more ‘feeling based’ are designed to increase the information available as you consider your options, and commit to how you wish to move forward. Picture it as opening your field of vision and increasing your ability to process a wider, richer landscape. Equally, if you are very much in tune with your body and feelings, your coach may well ask questions like “what do you really think about that?” or “what would your brain advise you to do in that situation?”. These are deliberate coaching strategies to help expand how you view what is going on around you, develop different perspectives and open up new choices and actions.
Let’s take action (or should we?)
Coaches also act as accountability partners to help you put your commitments into practice. We often ask, “what are you going to do?”, “how are you going to do it?”, “when are you going to do it?” and lastly, “how will I know you’ve done it?” or “what accountability would you like?” These help frame the destination, the action and critically, how it will be achieved. It also requests the coachee to actively update the coach (or someone else) thus creating a commitment feedback loop. Should you not complete a commitment your coach’s role is not to make you feel bad (far from it) but to help you explore (talk) why the commitment was not completed and help you step into a new accountability that IS motivating (action).
So, should a coaching session always end with an action? I have gone back and forth on this question in my own mind and personally it depends on how you define the word action in a coaching context. Often, there will be clear actions and commitments arising from a coaching session; but what if someone is coming to terms with the very idea of taking action? What if they need to change internally first in order to act? Leaving your job. Standing up to make a big speech. Committing to a 10k run, a marathon, an Ironman! Contemplation and reflection may themselves be the right path for a coachee and I am very comfortable with seeing them as interim actions in a coachees journey. Here the coaches role is to help you frame and establish a powerful reflection process and then help you unpack what comes up. Like walking into the ocean and kicking up the sand; the grains may take time to settle and learning is created as they fall into a new place. It is the insight gained during this process that has the potential to propel you forward.
So, is coaching all talk and no action?
Ultimately, a coaching interaction is what you, and your coach, design it to be and that should include a balance of talk (deepening awareness) and action (forward movement). Talk and action have to exist together, with their balance shifting depending on the nature of an individual coaching session. The key to success? You and your coach committing to unfiltered honesty in your relationship, openly discussing how you work together and consistently re-designing that relationship to help you bring your best self into the world.
mBraining (Using your Multiple Brains to do Cool Stuff), Grant Soosalu & Marvin Oka
Science of the Heart: Exploring the Role of the Heart in Human Performance, Overview of Research Conducted by the HeartMath Institute
The Second Brain: A Groundbreaking New Understanding Of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine, Dr Michael Gershon