“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”
-Thich Nhat Hahn
When we work as any kind of human helper we are living on two levels at once. There is the role and function of being the ally for our client, and yet there is always the inescapable essence of ourselves, of who we are, present at the same time. I love to teach that coaching is partly about what to do, but mostly about how to be. To really bring mindful awareness to our work with someone, or even to a precious moment with a friend, we have to get ourselves out of the way by setting our own issues and our own agenda aside, but the paradox there is that if we ignore ourselves completely we face at least three dangers. 1) We cut ourselves off from vital body wisdom. Feedback from our senses, if trusted and discerned from reactions coming from our own issues, can be a valuable contribution to the interaction. 2) We can get lost in our client’s world simply mirroring them, following them like a shadow and supplying little value to the conversation. 3) We can collude, unknowingly, with exactly the dynamics that are keeping them stuck. So, to really focus on our client effectively, to observe keenly we need to be centered in ourselves in a very neutral way. Again, it is like a dance where we hold our center, yet move with the rhythm and flow of the music.
Coaching begins with self-awareness but quickly moves into awareness of your client on many levels. Here your own powers of observation need to be honed. The first challenge is just to observe, to notice, and just to notice. Once again don’t play detective looking for the “real meaning” of those arms folded across your client’s chest. This is about listening with your whole person, not just your ears. Notice your client’s nonverbal signals (even the vocal ones that come through on a telephone) and rather than interpret either file them away for future reference, or feed them back to your client. “I notice that each time you’ve referred to your boss today your voice gets louder and sharper.” You’ll also find that when you “just notice” without judgment, or trying hard to figure it all out, you naturally are less critical and your client feels more supported.
Be aware of your client’s context. Did they just rush to see you after begging their reluctant supervisor for the time? Are they not entirely present with you because of stress and worries about what is next? Inquire so you will understand where they are at, where they are coming from. Affirm their experience, be compassionate and check out their ability to engage with you right now.
As your client tells their story, checks in on commitments they made for the week, etc., be aware of patterns that emerge and feed those back to your client. This is often were great insights are born.
Be aware of your client’s expression of energy. What are they passionate about? What sounds flat? Follow the energy by paraphrasing and reflecting what you are hearing (matching the energy in your own voice as you do), and by asking powerful questions where the energy is highest.
Be aware of your client’s emotional expression. This is partly about “following the energy” (an old axiom of Gestalt Therapy), but also a barometer of motivation and perhaps even the need for referral. Sustaining motivation for lifestyle improvement is a long-term challenge. If your client’s enthusiasm for an area of focus has faded, if they don’t seem to “buy in” to the effort as much anymore, check it out. You’ll be tipped off by your own awareness of their emotional expression regarding that area they are working on. You’ll also need to always be aware of the emotional qualities of affect that point out the need for referral to counseling rather than coaching. See the ICF’s “Top Ten Reasons For Referral” (http://www.lifecoachtraining.com/resources/articles/articles/GearShift.pdf)
We’ll dive deeper into Awareness of the Coaching Process/Interaction more in our next post. Please add your own comments about what brings more awareness to your own experience with others. What helps you remain more mindfully aware in the moment?
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis
on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without
rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment.
Only this moment is life.”
-Thich Nhat Hahn