Coaching in Practice

by Apr 15, 2020My journey, Professional

Detail from Bear by Millie McCallum

This assignment is the third of three submitted to the University of Chester in April 2020 as part of my Postgraduate Certificate in Personal and Business Coaching for the ‘Coaching in Practice’ Module.

I use this assignment to review my own coaching practices before and after attending the Barefoot Course, looking in particular at how I changed as a coach cognitively, behaviourally and in my mindset.

This assignment is illustrated with examples from my own coaching experiences with volunteer clients and fellow Barefoot Programme coaching practices, as well as my reflections taken from my Personal Learning Journal and feedback received from supervision and other sources. Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.

The terms ‘Barefoot Programme’ and ‘the Programme’ refer to handouts, notes or events from Barefoot Coaching Postgraduate Certificate in Business and Personal Coaching Course #42, which I attended between March and May 2017. Academic references are provided at the end

A critical reflection on my practice as a coach
before and after completing
the Barefoot Coaching Programme

The coaching compulsion

During my financial services career, I learnt that our emotional relationship with money is the underlying cause of many financial problems. I experienced this in a personal financial crisis, which had its roots in my fear and greed around money. Admitting personal incompetence with money in the financial services industry was frowned upon, and with no-one to talk to I benefited from the experience of sorting out my own life and money, in which self-awareness played a significant part.

Often, my clients found themselves in similar situations and appreciated the more humanistic approach to money that I had discovered. I learnt simple coaching techniques to help my clients develop their relationships with money and lead fulfilled authentic lives. In doing so, I found coaching had a more significant impact than financial advice. Eventually, I relinquished my financial services permissions and enrolled on the Barefoot Programme to gain a greater understanding of the theory and practice of coaching.

This assignment describes my key Barefoot Programme learnings and how I discovered them. I relate how I apply these insights to my practice and my plans for further development. Specifically, I cover:

  1. Myself as coach
  2. Questions and answers
  3. Relationship and trust
  4. Tools and techniques
  5. Psychotherapeutic background and neuroscience advances

I conclude by assessing how I have changed cognitively, behaviourally and in my mindset as a result of the Barefoot Programme and related practice and research.

Myself as coach

My most important discovery from the Barefoot Programme is that I, as a coach, am an integral part of the solution to my client’s problems. This approach is in stark contrast to my financial services career in which my role was that of a conduit and facilitator of solutions imposed on clients.

The coaching role

During the Barefoot Programme, we discussed the role of the coach. Coaching is concerned with transformation through a coachee’s learning and growth, not through teaching and direction (Parsloe 1995; Whitmore 2010). Coaches work with individuals to think their way out of problems, particularly by increasing their self-awareness (Gallwey 1974).

However, coachees induce feelings, ideas and reactions in me which I can use. These feelings may not necessarily be the same as those the coachee is expressing outwardly. In psychotherapeutic terms, this is countertransference. The coach experiences the coachee’s emotions as their own, which increases the coach’s awareness or understanding of the coachee (Heimann 2018; Little 2018). Gestalt practitioners term this concept ‘use of self’. I can be of use to the client by sharing my experience to help them gain personal awareness.

My coachee Christine described her work to me. Her words seemed fulsome and detailed. However, I picked up a sense of a rote answer to my inquiry and a feeling that boredom and lack of interest lay behind her words. I shared my impressions with Christine, who saw that she was overwhelmed by her work and felt despondent at not being able to focus on specific tasks. With this increased self-awareness, Christine was able to take steps with her employer to change her role at work. 

I learnt from Christine and others that my role as a coach includes being a receiver of the hidden or disguised feelings transmitted, often unconsciously, by my coachees. I came to understand that my self-awareness must be sufficient to enable me to differentiate my coachee’s feelings from my own and use these insights for the benefit of my coachee with authenticity and integrity. To do so, I need to see myself for who I am through the practice of self-reflection.

Self-reflection

Coming from a City (and Services) background, self-reflection was never high on my agenda. However, this had begun to change before the Barefoot Programme through my work with a therapist.

I find the ‘What, so what, what now?’ approach (Boud, Keogh, & Walker, 1985) used on the Barefoot Programme to be a helpful method of self-reflection. However, I also favour adding an Appreciative Inquiry overlay, which emphasises building on what works rather than correcting what doesn’t work (Appreciative Inquiry Commons 2016 and Appendix 1). In conjunction with a self-assessment of the ICF core competencies, I have developed my post-coaching reflective checklist (Appendix 2) which includes this AI overlay.

As a result of my self-reflection and feedback, I have become aware that, despite my training, research, a record of success and positive feedback from peers and coachees I still experience concern about my coaching abilities. For instance, after a session with Joanne, I wrote in my Personal Learning Journal that ‘I felt anxiety at the way I initially approached the client’s issues’. Commonly termed Imposter Syndrome, this leads individuals to avoid taking credit for their successes, often handing the credit to others (Watts & Morgan 2015).

To counter this negativity, I have written my life story using the Rising Strong method (Brown 2015 and Appendix 3). This piece of writing describes my mistakes with honesty and self-compassion and credits me with my successes where appropriate. When I doubt myself, I re-read the story, a form of self-reflection that reasserts my perspective and awareness of my self.

Ask, don’t tell

As I re-read my life story, I become conscious of the fact that it describes a person with a high degree of resilience and capability for solving their problems. It tells of someone who is resourceful and rarely seeks advice. I do not claim these characteristics as unique to me; instead, they illustrate the views of practitioners such as Gallway (1974), Egan (2013), Rogers (2016) and others who believe in the abilities of individuals to solve their problems through their learning and growth.

Explicitly, the Barefoot Programme has taught me the power of asking questions to help my coachees gain a similar experience of self-managed problem solving through personal insights and learning, and the disadvantages of a directive or advisory approach.

Asking questions

To counter my tendency to advice and direction, I adopted Gallway’s (1974) principle that being an expert is a disadvantage. I concentrated instead on asking questions to develop my coachee’s self-awareness and manage their self-beliefs.

Rogers (2016) provides a useful guide to questions and suggests that coaches avoid closed questions and questions formed from their agenda that precursor advice. ‘Why’ questions, technical questions and questions about other people are informative but not useful. Conversely, questions that seek to increase the coachee’s self-awareness are valuable.

When Clare sought my help with an issue around her finances, I provided her with space and triggers to encourage her to be open. I stayed with the not knowing (Egan 2013) and asked more questions, taking her beyond her presenting issue. As a result, Clare arrived at a broader range of options to consider.

I noted in my Personal Learning Journal that there were times when I was close to telling Clare what to do. Instead, I asked questions to get to the heart of her issue, the options available, actions already taken and the pitfalls of doing nothing. I used more open-ended questions rather than closed questions. I was struck by Clare’s often insightful and involved responses to my questions which eventually led to her finding a solution to her problems.

I reflected that Gallwey (1974) anticipated this when he wrote that ‘The coach’s questions are geared to finding out information not for the purpose of recommending solutions, but for the purpose of helping clients think for themselves and find their own solutions’.

Imposing solutions

Rogers (2016) is clear that providing advice tends to alienate rather than re-assure and suggests that if I insist the coachee will resist. In Roger’s view, giving guidance or direction does little to establish a sound basis of trust with the coachee.

In this regard, I recognise my habit of leading the clients and imposing solutions based on my views. This trait arises from my financial services background in which the highly directive approach, verging on sales rather than advice, was typical. 

During a Barefoot Programme coaching practice, my observer wrote: ‘Don’t make assumptions and avoid leading. The decision should be the client’s choice, not yours. Watch out!’

I learnt a powerful lesson from these encounters and now consciously avoid suggesting solutions. Instead, I am learning to ask questions that increase my coachee’s self-awareness, so they find their answers without direction.

Relationship and trust

Rogers (2012) sees coaching as an exercise in relations and trust and emphasises the importance of the three core conditions of congruence, empathy and unconditional positive regard for clients.

In the early part of my financial services career, I tended to see my client’s money as the client rather than the person. My approach was changing before the Barefoot Programme. However, the Programme provided a far more profound understanding and appreciation of the importance of my relationship with my coachee, which I have covered in detail in my assignment for Module IS7 118.

Tools and techniques

I now have many tools and methodologies at my disposal; whilst these are important and useful, the real benefit comes from the growing confidence it gives me to call myself – and act as – a life coach, not a financial planner

A crucial part of my development plan is to increase my repertoire of, and competence with, questions and techniques. My development in these areas will involve returning to the Barefoot session handouts, working out which I am happy with, practising with volunteer clients and bringing them to fee-paying clients.

Psychotherapeutic background and neuroscience advances

During the Barefoot Programme and subsequent reading, I gained a greater understanding of the psychotherapeutic influences on coaching, and I have begun to appreciate their importance. As part of my continuing personal development, I plan to continue my exploration of these practices and apply them to my coaching as appropriate. I have also gained a basic understanding of the neuroscience surrounding human behaviour, and this is an area with which I propose to become more familiar.

In studying these disciplines, I also seek to gain a better understanding of the connections between the ‘spiritual’ and scientific approaches to human behaviour and how their conflicting or complementary approaches can develop my coaching.

Conclusion

The Barefoot Programme created tensions and conflicts within me between my pre-Programme approach and the professional, research and practice-based approach of the Barefoot Programme. However, I have used this tension constructively to develop my coaching skills. Importantly, the Barefoot Programme helped me to make the change in my mindset from that of a financial life planner of many years doing a little bit of coaching to a mindset in which I see myself as a professional coach. I had been struggling with this challenge for some time.

The Programme has increased my awareness of coaching processes, skills and methodologies significantly. Although I argue in my Module IS7 118 assignment that the relationship I build with my coachees is more important than the techniques, the foundational understanding and familiarity with coaching methods will enable me to provide a better and more effective service to my coachees in the future. I also recognise that the Barefoot Programme and these assignments are only the beginnings of the learning process. To this end, one of my key objectives will be to build connections with peers, attend conferences and workshops and become more integrated into the coaching community to learn from my peers and, in time, add to the sum of knowledge that supports my work and that of my peers

Appendix 1 – Appreciative inquiry self-reflection

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is based on five principles which emphasis the power of positive questions to move people and organisations in the direction of their positive images for the future (Appreciative Inquiry Commons 2016).

Ed Jacobsen (Jacobsen 2006) suggests this series of AI-based self-reflection questions:

  1. What was the situation the client was facing?
  2. What did I do that made a positive difference to the client, and how did I know?
  3. How did my client’s life change for the better as a result of my interaction?
  4. What did I feel at the time?
  5. What lessons did I learn?

Appendix 2 – Post-coaching assessment and reflection template

I have developed this template to assist the way I assess and reflect on a coaching session. Combined with my self-assessment of the ICF core competencies, this provides a broad perspective of my coaching, taking into account any client comments and observations about the coaching, and the my views on the session.

Client’s emotional highs and lows

Record client’s emotional highs and lows and consider implications and direction of future coaching.

  • *

My feelings and experiences

Record my feelings and experiences, identify instances of transference or mirroring, and interactions with coach’s own agenda, experiences, prejudices and values.

  • *

Impact assessment

What did client set out to do? What did I set out to do? What actually happened? What  did I do to make a positive difference to the client? How did my client’s life change for the better as a result of this interaction?

  • *

Technique assessment

Review my techniques. What worked? What did not work?

  • *

Coach’s learnings

What did I as coach learn from the session? What would I do differently?

  • *

Appendix 3 – The Rising Strong process

Rising Strong is a process of telling the story of a mistake or difficulty in a way that enables the storyteller to own the story, rise from the fall, overcome mistakes and face pain. The pain and suffering experienced brings wisdom and wholeheartedness.

During the process, the untruthful, blame-allocating, self-pitying Shitty First Draft (Lamott 2020) becomes an honest, self-compassionate, generous and self-owned story that can be used to define an approach and role for the future.

The Reckoning: walk into the story

Recognise the emotions behind the story. Become inquisitive about the feelings behind the story. Consider how these feelings influence the thoughts and emotions behind the story and beyond.

The Rumble: take possession of the story

Tell the story of the mistake or challenge boldly and with honesty. Identify and throw away the protective assumptions and confabulations or honest lies (Bonhoeffer 1900). The truth remains, the basis for transformation and a wholehearted future.

The Revolution: rewrite the ending

Take the learnings from the rumble and rewrite the ending. Use this new and courageous perception of self to transform the way we live and engage with the world.

(Brown 2015)

References

The Appreciative Inquiry Commons. (2016, October 12). 5 Classic Principles of AI. Retrieved February 10, 2020, from https://appreciativeinquiry.champlain.edu/learn/appreciative-inquiry-introduction/5-classic-principles-ai/

Bonhoeffer, K. (1900). Kenntnis des großstädtischen Bettelund Vagabondentums. Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis des großstädtischen Bettel- und Vagabondentums, 1-66. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783111576381-001

Boud, D., Keogh, R., & Walker, D. (1985). Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. Routledge.

Brown, B. (2015). Rising strong. Random House.

Egan, G. (2013). The skilled helper: A problem-management and opportunity-development approach to helping. Cengage Learning.

Gallwey, W. T. (1974). The inner game of tennis. Random House.

Heimann, P. (2018). On counter-transference 1. Influential Papers from the 1950s, 27-34. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429475931-3

International Coach Federation. (2017, September 15). Core Competencies. https://coachfederation.org/core-competencies

Jacobsen, E. (2006). Quarterly meetings for life [Conference session]. Illinois Financial Planning Association, Danada Hoiuse, IL.

Lamott, A. (2020). Bird by bird: Instructions on writing and life. Canongate Books.

Little, M. (2018). Counter-transference and the patient’s response to it 1. Influential Papers from the 1950s, 35-53. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429475931-4

Parsloe, E. (1995). Coaching, mentoring and assessing: A practical guide to developing competence. Kogan Page

Rogers, C. (2012). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Rogers, J. (2016). Coaching skills: The definitive guide to being a coach (4th ed.). Open University Press.

Watts, G., & Morgan, K. (2015). The coach’s casebook: Mastering the twelve traits that trap us. Inspect & Adapt Ltd.Whitmore, J. (2010). Coaching for performance: The principles and practices of coaching and leadership. Hachette UK.

Results

This assignment scored 59%.

First marker comments

In this essay, you demonstrate that you have a good understanding of the subjects at hand. You have used your own language in order to explain what you have learned and how you have applied this learning, which is easy for the reader to understand. You have drawn from a reasonable range of source material and you have used these well.

There is some evidence of critical reflection and critical analysis within this essay. You have been able to describe different theories and approaches and explain the impact they can have in a coaching session, which is positive. There is also some evidence of now what: explaining what will happen next for you as a result of this learning.

While forming these essays you will have worked on selecting which subjects you want to cover within the essay. You have covered a lot of subjects here and while you have done a good job with each of them, there is not quite enough space for each of them in which to really dig around and pick apart the issue in greater depth.

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