Skill Mastery: Holding Space

Holding space is a tool that flies under many coaches’ radar, but it remains one of the most important in their toolkit. In this piece, colleague Heather Plett not only explains the concept eloquently, but also shows – through a touching story – how it can be put into practice.

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Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye is one of the hardest things we do, but no one escapes it. Co-founder of CRR Global, Marita Fridjhon, weighs in on the subject and extends an invitation to act now, before it’s too late:

“Choose somebody that is dear to you. Pick a team member that you believe to be remarkable. Put your attention to a colleague whom you value for who they are and what they do. Then write about them. Write about what it is that you will say if you are interviewed after they are gone. I know this might sounds depressing because who wants to consider somebody important to you dying! And here is the joyous gift… once you finish writing that, share it with them now, while you are still together and sharing this crazy place we call ‘now’.” [Full post here]

Whether you’re at those crossroads or far from it, take the lead from Marita and give the gift of recognition. Bonus points for sharing your gift with a client who could use an acknowledging boost!

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What’s Your Take on Intakes?

Whether we call them “designs,” “discovery sessions” or “intakes,” every coach seems to have their own idea about what constitutes a good one.

The “D&D” session (Design and Discovery) typically serves as a springboard to a coaching program. No matter what the we call it, this session is intended to give both coach and client an in-depth opportunity to:

  • clarify goals
  • design the alliance (establish how best to work together)
  • define terminology
  • conduct foundational exercises (the output of which will be leveraged throughout the program)
  • discuss logistics

Of course, there are probably as many different ways to structure a design session as there are coaches. That said, there are a couple of things the more successful ones have in common:

  1. They’re longer than a normal session – often two hours or more, and
  2. they’re typically scheduled between one week and one month before regular coaching sessions begin.

For multi-hour D&D’s, many coaches bill accordingly – a month’s worth of fees (or more). With that in mind, clients have to decide whether to proceed immediately into regular sessions (paying for the D&D and first month’s sessions at the same time) or wait a month, which keeps the first month’s cost the same as subsequent months.

While some coaches prefer to bypass the D&D entirely, this can be short-sighted. Not only does it “launch” the coaching journey (for example, by establishing the context under which the client came to coaching), but it also provides a number of stand-alone insights and take-aways. These “quick wins” give the client immediate value, encouraging confidence in the coaching process and, perhaps more importantly, trust in the coach.

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The Last Five Minutes

Every coach knows that the last five minutes encapsulate some of the most important – if not the most important – moments of a coaching session. This time offers the coach an opportunity to review the client’s breakthroughs and lock in their learning, while helping the client synthesize the content of the session and design how they want to carry their insights forward.

Blogger Peter Bregman suggests a summative questioning exercise that applies equally well to the end of a coaching session as to the end of an executive’s day (as he had originally envisioned it*). He advises comparing what actually happened in your day with your plan for what you wanted to happen.

Once you’ve collected this information, he recommends asking yourself the following:

  • How did the day go? What success did I experience? What challenges did I endure?
  • What did I learn today? About myself? About others? What do I plan to do – differently or the same – tomorrow?
  • Who did I interact with? Anyone I need to update? Thank? Ask a question? Share feedback?

Just substitute “session” for “day,” and you can use these same questions as you wrap with each client, to help them integrate what they learned from your time together.

Don’t forget: you could create “last 5 minutes” exercises to keep any number of your own goals moving forward, including the growth of your business, your client relationships or your professional development. By investing just a few moments of each session, and a few at the end of each day, both you and your clients could be moving forward with newfound momentum!

* You can find Peter Bregman’s original article, The Best Way to Use the Last Five Minutes of Your Day, here.

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Prickly Predicament: The “Dog Ate My Homework” Client

You know the one. He seems like a great client – playful, punctual, open to new perspectives. Just one snag: he consistently fails to complete assignments he helped co-design. Now what?

“Well,” you say to yourself, “I could fire him. But this is the only hitch in our alliance. Maybe it’ll work itself out.” Sound familiar?

Not so fast – there’s a more co-active approach to this. After all, if you want your client to walk his talk, you’ll have to walk yours.

Putting Responsibility Where It Belongs

It’s time to put the onus where it belongs – on the client. The next time a client neglects to follow through, ask:

  1. “What got in the way?”*
  2. “On a scale of 1 – 10, how important is it for you to complete this assignment?”
  3. “How would you like to forward the assignment now?”
  4. “What needs to be in place in order to successfully complete the assignment?”

Be prepared to redesign the terms of the assignment.

“How close you hold his feet to the fire” depends on what level of accountability you’ve designed with the client. If that client had said, for example, that he had his homework “totally covered,” you could explore how his choices aligned with this commitment.

If, however, the two of you had agreed on more “hands-on” accountability support, it might be helpful to divide accountability for his assignments into smaller chunks. For example, he could break an assignment into individual action steps and inform you of his progress when each is complete. Or he could send you a daily summary of his progress by email or voicemail (whether you respond to each message depends on what you’ve designed, of course).

One Last Tip: Don’t Lose Another Week

However you and your client choose to reconfigure the assignment, invite him to inform you immediately of any obstacles preventing progress, instead of waiting until the next session. This way, you’ll be able to nip the issue in the bud; meanwhile, the client has a pre-planned strategy to prevent another “lost week.”

Occasionally missing an assignment doesn’t necessarily mean a total loss. However, having a specific “safety net” in place can mean the difference between timely insight and an unnecessarily long learning-arc. Perhaps most importantly, if you’ve discussed how to handle this situation in advance, it’s clear to the client that the choice is always theirs.

So, when you’re tempted to get discouraged by a client who claims to have a house full of famished pooches, remember that yours is a designed alliance. Not only do you get to name counterproductive patterns as they emerge, but you have every right to renegotiate how you will best work together going forward. The result is an improved coach-client partnership and a client who’s accelerating toward his goals – a success by anyone’s definition!

*For most clients, there’s a big difference between “What got in the way?” and “What happened?” The first invites an exploration of obstacles, while the second frequently draws “story” or defensiveness.

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Thorny Situation: The Unprepared Client

So, your clients complete a prep form, and you emphasize the importance of being prepared in your design sessions. Yet this particular client comes to her sessions, week after week, without a clue as to what she wants coaching around.

Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common experience for coaches. The good news is that it’s easily addressed. First, “cover your bases” by making sure all of your clients know:

  1. why completing a prep form is crucial to the coaching process, and
  2. that they’ll get much more from the call if they arrive with a topic in mind.

Once you’ve covered these fundamentals, it’s time to dig a little deeper. When a client shows up unprepared, try the following “catalysts:” Read the rest of this entry »

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The “I Don’t Know” Client

Although there are numerous reasons a client might respond to a question with “I don’t know,” many of them seem to fit into one of three categories:

  1. They’re lost or don’t understand the question.
  2. They’re overwhelmed by the number of answers that occur to them.
  3. They’re afraid to acknowledge the truths that surface (for example, they might not trust they have the resources to handle “going there”).

As a coach, the first two items are fairly straightforward to address. You can:

  1. Ask where they got lost, and if necessary, repeat, paraphrase or dismantle the question.
  2. Invite them to sit with the uncomfortable feeling and notice what comes up. Reflect and validate what surfaces; then help them lean into the wisdom of higher self or a series of perspectives. This often provides enough clarity and insight to reveal best next steps.

The third situation, however, can feel murkier. Read the rest of this entry »

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