5 Obstacles in a Coaching Conversation

Qaiser Abbas

What Coaching Is and Isn’t: Coaching is about helping people be the very best they can be. Coaching is not telling people what you think they should do. It is about facilitating someone to gain their own insights in a situation.

‘A coach acts as an accountability partner to empower clients to choose and follow their success path responsibly and ultimately unleash their full potential’.

Coaching is essentially a conversation. What differentiates this conversation from so many other conversations we run on a daily basis is: “Impact”. An effective coaching conversation influences someone’s understanding, learning, behavior and progress.

Among the plethora of conversations we make in a day, how do we know whether or not it was a coaching conversation?

Here are 3 signs of a coaching conversation:

  1. The focus of the conversation was the coachee
  2. The coachee experienced a change in thinking and behavior
  3. The coachee believes that without this conversation they were unlikely to have that learning or change in their thinking and behavior

How does a coaching conversation impact the coachee?

A coach facilitates discussion that increases an individual’s awareness, insight and available choice in a situation. A coach believes in the ability of the individual to create ideas, decide for themselves, and move their situation forward.

Consequently, the person being coached gains increased clarity regarding the situation or topic, which enables them to make progress in some way. In order to produce this impact, the coaches use the skills of active listening, asking questions and reflection to create a powerful experience for the coachee.

Based on my work and experience with more than 200 coaches in 10 different countries; I have discovered 5 serious obstacles that drastically reduce the impact of a coaching conversation.

Obstacle # 01              FIXING MINDSET

As coaches, sometimes we are so overwhelmed with our desire to help the coachee that we forget the basic principle of coaching; i.e. ‘coachee is capable of solving their own problems’.

In the ‘fix it’ mind-set, we develop an eye for finding faults and fixing the problems only. We fail to see the infinite potential of the individual.

A coach with a fixing mindset develops an unfitting filter to listen only for problems. Distracted by their own thoughts and analysis, Coaches reduce their focus on the other person. They forget the fact that our solution may be inadequate or less relevant than those the coachee could build themselves given the time and support to do so. The Coachee can end up feeling frustrated or flawed or being a ‘problem case’. They can become disengaged as it feels more like advice than purpose-based enquiry.

The critical advice to the coaches here would be to ‘coach the person, not the issue’. When we try to solve their problem, we begin to strategize during the session on behalf of them. Eventually we tactfully lead the person through questions to an idea that we thought was right.

Obstacle # 02                          PROVING TO BE RIGHT

We as coaches do get trapped in the pressure of expectations. Our clients expect us to act professional and business like, exhibit knowledge and experience, have all the answers and bring a significant impact in a conversation. They expect us to know just what to say. They expect us to have a happy, fulfilling life free of problems. Basically, they want us to appear infallible.

The problem with ‘proving to be right’ is that when a coach devotes their effort to appear flawless, it detracts from the quality of their attention and the effectiveness of their coaching.

When we try proving to be right our mind is focused too much on ourselves and how we are operating, we end up losing sight of the coachee. We are not as open and honest and we forget the fact that with less openness, there’s less impact.

Obstacle # 03                          MORE TALKING, LESS LISTENING

By talking less you can maintain a balance between keeping the conversation focused, and supporting its natural flow. Talking too much doesn’t allow the coachee to fully explore their own ideas and thoughts. The coach assumes a superior position and the relationship is more instructional.

The best gift we you can give to your coachee is the gift of silence.

As a rule of thumb, 70-80% of the time it should be the coachee speaking. The coach should know when the coachee is reflecting and thinking deep. This is the moment to provide time and space to the coachee as it will allow the internal thought process to surface. Deeper thoughts and feelings take time to form therefore dialogue with the coach may distract the process.

My suggestion is that when the coachee pauses, do not respond automatically. Use one or two minutes of silence to deepen the conversation. Don’t interrupt the silence. Take a pause. Allow them to think, reflect and access their deepest thoughts, feelings and ideas.

Obstacle # 04                          IN SEARCH OF AHA!

In coaching conversations, there come moments when ideas and insights begin to flow. The coachee finds out a perfect way forward. Problems are resolved, blockages are cleared, the light dawns and everything seems to falls in place.

In coaching we call it an ‘aha moment’. The buzz of the whole experience is quite uplifting. But beware, this can become addictive too. As coaches, we attempt to repeat this aha moment. We assume there is a great solution to every situation and try to find one in each situation.

The truth is that these amazing moments are quite rare in coaching and they usually occur when we least expect them. Moreover, trying to produce fast amazing results can be daunting and digress from the purpose of coaching i.e; gradual inner transformation.

Obstacle # 05                          ‘THIS IS EXACTLY THE SAME SITUATION’

This is the most dangerous coaching trap. A coachee begins to talk and within few minutes we feel this is exactly the same issue we encountered in a recent coaching session.

Since some of the details might be similar, we assume that other aspects will also be the same. We think we recognized the situation leading us to jump to conclusions thinking, ‘I got it’ or ‘I know what to do’.

Because of this flawed thinking, our orientation to the person or situation changes. We try to introduce the idea that benefited the previous coachee. Though we are not fully confident about the relevance we still push our client to go for our proven solution.

Coaches need to stay focused on the present moment. Going into the past impairs our quality of attention and listening. We fail to appreciate what coachee is telling us and causes us to disconnect from their reality in that situation.

Bottomline: No matter how familiar it feels, treat every new conversation as a new situation.

The best way to handle these obstacles is to shift your belief about the human potential as this forms the spirit of coaching. To make our coaching conversations more impactful, we need to have a firm belief that people possess more capability than they currently express. Once you believe in their capability to find their own path you withdraw from you desire to prove to be right or fixing their problems on their behalf. Afterall a coach is only a guide on the side.

Qaiser Abbas, Chief Inspiring Officer at Possibilities, is an internationally recognized Success Coach and Marshal Goldsmith’s Global Certified Coach. He has the Brian Tracy International Excellence Award 2017 to his credit. He has authored several books namely, ‘Leadership Insights’, ‘Power of Teams’ and ‘Tick Tick Dollar’.

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