The Coaching Conversation: Facilitating Versus Contributing

Coach training often talks about the importance of the ‘Coaching Conversation’. What is it exactly and how is it very different from a Social Conversation?

Coach Patrick Williams (https://drpatwilliams.com) describes the Coaching Conversation as:

Coaching is a conversation where the client gets to say what they have not said, think what they have not thought, and even dream out loud with a committed listener…That is when magic may occur.

Facilitating versus Contributing

As coaching students begin to practice coaching, they sometimes come to a place in the dialogue with their client where they have no idea how to contribute to the conversation. A silence ensues and shortly becomes awkward. The coach may attempt to rescue the conversation by throwing out the best question they can come up with in the moment.

These awkward silences rarely come up in our social conversations. When we sit with a friend at a coffee or tea shop and converse, we both share and contribute to the conversation. A person thinks “How can I add to the conversation? Can I inquire more about what the other person is saying? Do I have a similar experience that I can share? Perhaps this is where I want to share my opinion about this topic.” The conversation develops and hopefully becomes richer as both parties contribute.


Coaching conversations are different. Instead of contributing to the conversation, our job is to facilitate the conversation. We facilitate the client’s own work, their exploration, their clarification, their focus, their decision making, etc. What we contribute is our expertise at facilitation, growth facilitation.

The coach has the dual task of deeply listening to our client and considering how we can facilitate the client’s processing. Sometimes it is about giving evidence to the client that we are, in fact listening and comprehending what the client is saying. Paraphrasing, reflecting and summarizing what the client is saying show that we are listening and helps the client to stay focused or helps them focus better.

The facilitative coach is asking themselves: “How can I help my client to reflect upon their thinking/emotions/behavior? How can I help them to explore more, to question, to examine? How can I infect them with curiosity about themselves?”

The Intention of our Contributions


Even the best facilitative coach does make contributions to the Coaching Conversation but their intention in doing so is to facilitate their client’s work. We are not merely acting as a sounding board who mirrors our client’s speech. We share observations. We suggest tools to use. We offer valid resources. We share self-disclosures in an effective and coach-like way. (Self-Disclosure in Coaching – When Sharing Helps and Hinders https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/self-disclosure-in-coaching-when-sharing-helps-and-hinders/). In other words, there are many times when we coaches are being directive but doing so in a Client-Centered way. (Client-Centered Directiveness: An Oxymoron That Works – Part One https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/2016/09/13/client-centered-directiveness-an-oxymoron-that-works-part-one) (Client-Centered Directiveness: An Oxymoron That Works – Part Two: Adapting To Your Client https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/client-centered-directiveness-an-oxymoron-that-works-part-two-adapting-to-your-client )

Reporting Versus Exploring

Another way we facilitate the Coaching Conversation is to help re-direct our client back to the process of exploration when they are, instead, merely reporting what they have been doing. After we listen to our client’s reports about how they managed to carry out their committed action steps from our last appointment the key is to shift to helping them to learn from their experience. When we let our client go on and on detailing everything they ate, every step they took carrying out a commitment it often leads to little insight or progress. Our client knows what they did. They are not exploring new territory, and instead are taking us for another walk around their neighborhood, or worse, a trip down a rabbit hole.

Client: So, I got in my four walks last week.

Coach: Excellent! Tell me about those walks.

Client: Well, I had an errand to run in town, so I drove down Elizabeth Avenue and parked in city parking garage there. Then I walked from there to the post office where I bought some stamps. Then I cut across Midland Park to the bike path and…

Coach: Excuse me. That’s great that you’re combining your errands with getting your steps in. Tell me more about what you saw as you went through the park and along the bike path.

Client: You know, I’m really glad I took that route. It was a beautiful day, not too hot, and there were so many flowers in bloom in the park. It was lovely. And the bike path wasn’t too busy so I could watch some of the ducks swimming about on the creek that the path goes along.

Coach: Wow! So, you not only got your movement in, but you also had such an enjoyable experience doing it. You slowed down and noticed so many things you could enjoy that made getting out on a walk more fun!


Sometimes we have to assert that the Coaching Conversation is a two-way conversation. We don’t want to teach our clients that coaching is only about “You Talk and I Listen”. We actively participate in the conversation (with our facilitative intention). That may, at times, mean respectfully interrupting our clients to nudge them away from becoming mired in details and redirecting them to, in this case, notice some of the benefits of experience that feed intrinsic motivation. We want our client to recall their experience and profit from doing so. What did they notice and experience that was positive and would make doing the behavior again more appealing? That nudge may also take the form of asking them of the relevance what they have been saying has to their goals or wellness plan. To do so the coach has to hold the bigger picture in mind.

Holding The Big Picture

The coach has another simultaneous challenge, that of being a great listener whose coaching presence is focused on the present moment while at the same time holding the perspective of how what is happening in that moment fits into the bigger picture of the coaching process. While we are right here, right now with our client, listening intently to not only what they are saying but how they are saying it, we have to also be putting what is being said in the context of the coaching work we are doing with our client.

In the back of our minds, we are considering: How many sessions have we already had? How does this relate to what the client has told me before? How is it relevant to their Wellness Plan? Is this congruent with what they have told me about their values and what they wanted to accomplish in coaching? Somehow, we combine this broader context with the present moment. Not easy for us to do, but when we are able to do this, it provides structure and perhaps perspective for our client that can be valuable.

The Safe Container


Another distinction between the Coaching Conversation and the Social Conversation is the sanctity of ‘where’ it takes place. Providing the Facilitative Conditions of Coaching (The Facilitative Conditions of Coaching: The Essence of the Coaching Relationship https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/the-facilitative-conditions-of-coaching-the-essence-of-the-coaching-relationship) : empathic understanding, unconditional positive regard and authenticity and genuiness combined with a professional level of confidentiality allows the client to feel safe, heard and understood. Knowing that they are speaking with an ally who has their best interests at heart, trust builds, and the client feels like they can say whatever they need to say and not be judged. This is what makes the Coaching Conversation special.

As we get more comfortable with our role as conversation facilitator, the Coaching Conversation becomes easier, lighter, and often more fun. Knowing that we are not responsible for ‘fixing’ our client, that they are responsible for their own choices in life and lifestyle, we can relax into being that ally who assists our client in accomplishing what they want to accomplish, that ally that, hopefully, assists them in living their best life possible.

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness – a world leader in health and wellness coach training. (www.realbalance.com). Doctor Arloski is a pioneering architect of the field of health and wellness coaching. He and his company have trained thousands of coaches around the world.

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Busting Out of Precontemplation: TTM and Wellness Coaching

James and Janice Prochaska were kind enough to edit the section of my new book Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft https://wholeperson.com/store/masterful-health-and-wellness-coaching.html that conveys how coaches can make use of their model for behavioral change – The Transtheoretical Model. I am deeply grateful to them for this. While many coaches are familiar with their work on the “Stages of Change” model, there is still much to be learned about how to apply it, especially when we look at the first stage of change – Precontemplation.

Here is a small section of the chapter from my book that addresses this coaching challenge.

The Precontemplation Stage

Imagine that your client has come to you as a referral from their physician or is there because of an employee wellness program incentive that will save them 20% on their health insurance premium. They are not enthused to see you and, despite some serious medical conditions, are not optimistic about coaching helping them to accomplish better health –something they have struggled with for years. They reluctantly tell a story of repeated failure attempts at weight loss, smoking cessation, etc. They would rather not even be talking about trying again to make changes happen. They know that their lifestyle habits are working against their health, but they have no confidence that another wellness program will help, or that they, themselves, would be successful at it.

They have not given up entirely. They do walk their dog every day and have joined friends in participating in a hiking group that gets out every other weekend. They are worried about the effect that secondhand smoke may have on their grandchildren whom they watch two days a week and are seeking more information about using nicotine patches as part of a tobacco cessation program. Yet, they believe that there is no way to change their eating habits and don’t even want to discuss this. They have made many attempts at dieting with the classic ‘yo-yo’ effect of weight loss followed by immediate regaining of those pounds. In TTM terms we could help our client to realize that they are in the Action Stage with becoming more active, and in the Preparation Stage with smoking cessation. When it comes to improving their diet as part of a weight loss effort however, they are entrenched in Pre-contemplation.

This illustration shows us that every client is a person with a complex set of attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and experiences. Sometimes our clients are full of contradictions and paradoxes. Sometimes they are angry, frustrated, sad, dejected, or experiencing any combination of emotions. As we apply TTM theory we must remember that this theory aknowledges this complexity and as we help our clients to become aware of where they are at with the process of change, we must do so with compassion and sensitivity as well. This is especially true with Pre-contemplation.

A common misunderstanding about this stage is the belief that individuals don’t want to change. Rather, in Pre-contemplation individuals do not have the intention to change. “There is a big difference between wanting and intending (Prochaska J. a., 2016).”

“People in precontemplation are often labeled as being uncooperative, resistant, unmotivated, or not ready for behavior change programs. However, our research showed us that it was the health professionals who were not ready for the precontemplators.” (Prochaska J. a., 2016)

What is really going on for the precontemplator? As I heard a speaker at a lifestyle medicine conference put it, “the dream of better health goes to sleep”. The person may have reached a point in life where they stop evaluating how they have been living. Their self-efficacy is usually very low when it comes to changing a particular behavior, or a group of behaviors that might be necessary for improved health and wellbeing. What often gets in the way is what the Prochaskas have identified as ‘The Three D’s’.

The Three D’s of Precontemplation

1. Don’t know how: This is characterized by a lack of awareness or understanding of how the behavior change may benefit the individual or a lack of awareness of how not improving their lifestyle may bring them harm. The person may benefit from some healthy-living education. The Prochaskas make the point that education is not intended to result in Action. It is intended to move someone into Contemplation. The client may also not know what to do to begin a process of change. Their attempts at change in the past may have been lacking any real plan, support, or accountability.

2. Demoralization: Often our clients are stuck in uncertainty about their ability to change or they fear failure. This frequently arises from repeated attempts to change which have resulted in failure. They may identify causal attributions or reasons why they can’t change. (Not having enough willpower, not having the right genes, low self-efficacy based on repeated failure.). Our client is so discouraged that they don’t even want to consider taking on another attempt at change.

3. Defending: Sometimes our clients feel criticized by people in their lives about the way they are living an unhealthy lifestyle. Their tendency may be to defend or protect their current risky behavior. Defensive behavior is in fact most often a way of protecting independence or autonomy. They may do this by:

a. Turning inward: blaming themselves and/or retreating inward. We may see them withdrawing interpersonally and dis-attending (tuning out). They may internalize their blame, which leads to lower self-esteem and yet more demoralization.

b. Turning outward: blaming others, outward circumstances, etc. We may see them projecting the blame onto others. “My family won’t change the way they eat, so, how can I?” They may displace their own frustration by being angrier and more critical of others.

c. Coaches often hear their clients explaining away risky behaviors. They may rationalize why it is okay for them to maintain the status quo. We sometimes hear intellectualizing, using facts and data to justify bad habits. Everyone seems to know some person who lived to a ripe old age and reveled in exhibiting all of the health-risk behaviors they could.

One of the causal attributions that coaches frequently hear from the client in Precontemplation is that they lack motivation. As we saw in Chapter Six, our clients often have plenty of sources of motivation, but have been lacking the “vehicle” – the behavioral change methodology, the structure that coaching can provide – to put that motivation to work. They have usually participated in action-oriented programs that urged them to start making huge changes in their lives quite suddenly.

The beauty of the TTM approach is that it honors where the person is and helps them gradually progress to where action and success can happen. The Prochaskas direct us to provide hope for our clients. Having a behavioral change ally and the support of that coaching alliance combined with a solid behavioral change process can offer so much more hope than simply trying again to change as our client has before.

By honoring client autonomy, we can avoid bringing out defensiveness in our clients. The last thing a client wants to hear is someone telling them that they are living their lives in the wrong way. There is a story behind every behavior. Our client may have any number of Social and Environmental Determinants of Health that make lifestyle improvement very challenging. The key is to help our client frame these factors as just that – challenges ‒ and offer our coaching alliance as a way to co-create strategies to deal with them.

Perhaps another strategy to consider for reducing defensiveness is to move away from the health-risk reduction approach to wellness. Instead focus on building healthy behaviors that the client is attracted to. Help them build on their strengths and engage in experiments that will result in easily achieved success at behavior change. Help them to examine their own belief systems and get in touch with positive sources of motivation.

Masterful Moment

When the more masterful coach hears justifications coming from their client, they are alerted to reflect on how they have been coaching with this person. Have they been saying anything to bring out a defensive posture? Have they been pushing their own agenda of reducing health risks too hard? Are they becoming too directive and not co-creating the conversation with their client?

Creating Forward Momentum – From Precontemplation to Contemplation

In Precontemplation our client most likely considers lifestyle improvement ever so briefly, then dismisses it.  How do we get our client not to jump into swift action, but to merely give change serious consideration, to contemplate it?  TTM offers three primary methods to help coaches tackle this imposing challenge: raising the pros while reducing the cons of change; dramatic relief; and consciousness raising.

The First Principle of Progress: Increasing Pros to Move from Precontemplation to Contemplation

Why would anyone begin to change when the reasons against such an endeavor outweigh the perceived benefits that might result?  How do we do so without a campaign of persuasion (which most likely will not work)?   Have you ever tried to convince someone to be well?  Clearly the pros of changing must outweigh the cons, but how do we help our clients to discover this?  This is where considerable coaching skill is required.

At the start of Precontemplation the cons are high, and the pros are low.  This is how our client perceives themselves and their situation.  As we begin coaching, we start with an open phase of exploration and encourage the client to engage in a process of self-assessment.  By not rushing to set up goals and action steps we avoid pushing the client beyond their stage of readiness.  The more coach and client explore together the more apparent the stage of change emerges for each behavior that is being considered for change.  The Precontemplation Stage shows up in our client’s language.  We hear our client make the case for why they believe they cannot change a particular behavior and/or do not want to.  The list of cons is recited sometimes with a sense of helplessness, sometimes defensively.  This part of the client’s story needs to be met with compassionate understanding, but not collusion.  That is, the coach can empathize but not agree with the client that change is so terribly difficult.  Reframing it as a challenge can be important here.

The coach proceeds in the coaching conversation not with the goal of stimulating the client into action, but simply to get them thinking – to weigh the pros and cons.  We can do so by:

  1. Offering education. The Prochaskas do this by providing clients with extensive lists of the benefits of various lifestyle improvements.  The wellness coach may offer other resources or help the client to find more information on their own and make those efforts part of the coaching process.
  2. Challenging assumptions. James Prochaska is fond of saying that people too often underestimate the benefits and overestimate the costs of change.  If our client appears to be operating on an assumption about what would be involved in making changes, it’s a perfect time to call out the assumption.  Again, a great line for the coach is “So, how do you know that to be true?”  This can build into a powerful coaching conversation about re-evaluating their pros and cons.
  3. Engaging in Decisional Balance.  In the context of coaching, this would be a coaching conversation exploring with our client the pros and cons of change.  We can help our client to list the advantages and benefits of change that they are aware of.  We can help them list the ways in which change may lead to disadvantages or penalties in their life.  The Prochaskas were able to develop brief assessments of six to eight questions to help with this process (Prochaska J. a., 2016).  As they researched decisional balance they came to an important realization.  “Although we didn’t realize it for some time, we were also discovering that making the decision to change one’s behavior for improved health was nowhere near as rational and empirical as we had assumed.  Nor was it nearly as conscious.” (Prochaska J. a., 2016)

 Prochaska, James, and Prochaska, Janice (2016). Changing to Thrive: using the stages of change to overcome the top threats to your health and happiness. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing. https://jprochaska.com/books/changing-to-thrive-book/  

Find much more about how to coach someone from Precontemplation to Contemplation in Chapter Eight of Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft, by Dr. Michael Arloski https://wholeperson.com/store/masterful-health-and-wellness-coaching.html.

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness – a world leader in health and wellness coach training.  (www.realbalance.com). Doctor Arloski is a pioneering architect of the field of health and wellness coaching. He and his company have trained thousands of coaches around the world.

Health & Wellness Coaching via ZOOM: Tips for Better Sessions

Most coaching has always been done remotely, primarily via telephone. Nowadays coaches and clients hold many, if not most, of their sessions via some form of video conferencing platform. Zoom, GoTo Meeting and many other apps and services allow us to coach clients all around the globe. What fun it can be to have clients on several continents, and perhaps others just across town, yet see them “live”.

Reviewing video session of coaches and their clients in action has led me to some interesting observations. There are definitely some ways in which coaches must be very conscious about how they are conducting such sessions. Here are some tips for how to Zoom it up and still do your best coaching.

Coaching Presence

• Look at the camera

While telephonic coaching sessions allow you to look at your notes, let your eyes wander, etc., you have to treat a video session like an in-person meeting. Would you ask a question with your head turned down and to the side in-person? Remember your client is (or may be) looking to the screen and is naturally seeking eye contact just like in all other visual human interactions. Look at where your camera lens is located on your device, not on the eyes of your client on the screen. The bigger the device – like a desktop computer – the more the gap between the two. Even when your client is looking all over the place, keep your coaching presence as “live and in-person” as possible.

• Be aware of your surroundings.

No, this is not a street safety warning, it’s about the background of your coaching setting. Your client wants a professional coach, not someone coaching in their bedroom with an unkempt bed visible behind the coach. Now, of course coaches long ago discovered that working from home is a great way to hold down costs. If you don’t have a room that is either suitably neutral or professional looking you have a few options. 1) Go with a background screen (lots available online). 2) Use a virtual background. Virtual backgrounds however have some drawbacks visually. If you move a bit, the back of you head may go into that science fiction warp speed look. You’ve all seen this before and know how distracting it can be.  3) Convert an area of your dwelling into a proper looking space for your video sessions.

• Dress the part

Maybe somewhere in between!

Dress like a pro. Dress for success. Business casual will do fine. Ditch the tee-shirt. Why is this important? Like your “office” surroundings, appearances convey a sense of competence and reliability, which combined with compassion are the three building blocks of trust. You want your clients to be able to trust you with personal and sensitive information. They may be struggling with lifestyle improvement goals that are vital to their health, wellbeing, or even their survival. Think of it this way. If you would like to get referrals from medical professionals, would you like them to see you conducting a session that had a “super-informal” look? It is all part of your Coaching Presence.

• Anticipate potential disturbances

Dealing with interruptions isn’t easy. Working at home can easily collide with other members of the household, both two-legged and four-legged. While most clients are quite understanding and forgiving of the occasional interruption, you’ll want to do your best to keep your “office” boundaries in force. When such things become more than rare/occasional, clients can lose faith in your professionalism.

Let There Be Light!

Back-lit coaches lose their visual advantage for conveying coaching presence.  Light needs to be in front of you illuminating your smiling face well. Harsh, glaring lights will wear you out if you have a few sessions back to back. You don’t have to invest in hundreds of dollars of studio lighting; however, you do need to project an image that is quite adequately illuminated. Warm toned lights convey a more relaxed and, well, warm image.
Request the same of your client. Kindly let them know that your ability to see them well can aid you in your coaching. It’s certainly is easier to pick up on visual changes in expression when you can see a person’s face adequately.

To Zoom or Not to Zoom

• The wandering camera

Not all of the responsibility for a great coaching session via video conferencing falls on the shoulders of the coach. A client may be doing sessions with you on their phone’s video as they continually walk all around their apartment, holding the phone at all angles, moving it very frequently. I can remember working with a mentee of mine where we were both fighting vertigo as we attempted to watch such a video recording! As the client continued moving, they kept distracting themselves and not being very present in the coaching conversation. When the coach requested that they continue their coaching via phone only – with no video, the effectiveness of their coaching actually improved. Both client and coach could concentrate better.

The Visual Aspect of Nonverbal Communication

A coach’s listening skills depend upon keen observation. We are constantly scanning all that we hear and see. While we can pick up on all of the nuances of vocal communication over a phone (volume, tone, rapidity, pitch, shifts), the video allows us to augment that with the visual cues we are able to see and observe. While the client’s camera is usually showing us only upper body and facial imagery, this helps our observation tremendously. Here are a couple of tips for working with this.

• Shifts

Observing any shifts in nonverbal behavior is key. Is there a change in expression or posture as the topic shifts?

• Patterns

Are there any repetitive patterns in the visual nonverbal behavior and are such patterns related to anything in the content of the session?

• Congruence

Is there congruence or incongruence between what the client is saying, and the emotion being conveyed nonverbally? For example, a client who smiles again and again when they speak of a painful subject.

• Take your observations and either share them or store them

Sharing observations is a true coaching skill. The key is to share observable behavior, not your interpretations. Simply feed your observation back to your client with a phrase such as “Are you aware that…” or “Are you aware of…”. You can also ask permission to share an observation. Storing observations may be the choice you make depending upon the usefulness of sharing it in the moment or saving it for later. You may want to stow it away in what I call your “listening day pack” and bring it out when you have noticed a repetition or pattern of the same behavior.

Video conferencing platforms have enhanced our ability to both reach more clients (globally!) and have visual advantages that telephonic coaching can’t provide. Let it work to make your coaching better than ever.

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness – a world leader in health and wellness coach training.  (www.realbalance.com). Doctor Arloski is a pioneering architect of the field of health and wellness coaching. He and his company have trained thousands of coaches around the world.  His latest book is Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft. https://wholeperson.com/store/masterful-health-and-wellness-coaching.html

Compassionate Detachment

January 2022! Welcome to a New Year and all of its potential. Ready to put the stresses and the tragedies of 2021 in the rearview mirror it’s a time to set intentions for a better year ahead. Hopefully you had some respite over the winter holidays and are ready to charge ahead in a positive way. Yet, the carryover, perhaps hangover, from that last year is very real for many people including ourselves and the clients we serve.

As we listen compassionately to stories of loss, grief, and challenges of all kinds, we need to find a way to be there for our clients and yet care for ourselves as well. Compassion fatigue is a common experience when we are exposed to too many stories of strife and trouble. How can we refill our own cup when it seems at times like this, others are draining it? I address this issue in Chapter Five of my new book. I offer this to you in my own spirit of compassion.

From Chapter Five – Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft, by Michael Arloski

Compassionate Detachment

We practice compassionate detachment for the benefit of our client and for our own benefit as well.

Compassionate detachment is respecting our client’s power enough to not rescue them while extending loving compassion to them in the present moment. Simultaneously compassionate detachment is also respecting ourselves enough to not take the client’s challenges on as our own and realizing that to do so serves good purpose for no one.

Compassionate detachment is an honoring of our client’s abilities, resourcefulness, and creativity. We remain as an ally at their side helping them to find their own path, their own solutions. We may provide structure, an opportunity to process thoughts and feelings, a methodology of change, and tools to help with planning and accountability, but we don’t rescue. As tempting as it is to offer our suggestions, to correct what seem to be their errant ways, to steer them toward a program that we know works, we don’t. We avoid throwing them a rope and allow them to grow as a swimmer. Sure, we are there to back them up if they go under or are heading toward a waterfall. We are ethically bound to do what we can to monitor their safe passage, but we allow them to take every step, to swim every stroke to the best of their ability.

To be compassionate with a client we have to clear our own consciousness and bring forth our nonjudgmental, open and accepting self. We have to honor their experience.

“Only in an open, nonjudgmental space can we acknowledge what we are feeling. Only in an open space where we’re not all caught up in our own version of reality can we see and hear and feel who others really are, which allows us to be with them and communicate with them properly.”
Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

Compassionate detachment is also about giving ourselves permission to protect ourselves. Being in proximity to the pain of others is risky work. There are theories about the high rates of suicide among physicians and dentists based on this phenomenon. Compassionate detachment is also about being detached from outcome. We want the very best for our clients and will give our best toward that goal, but we give up ownership of where and how our client chooses to travel in the process of pursuing a better life. Their outcome is theirs, not ours.

Compassionate detachment is not about distancing ourselves from our client. It is not about becoming numb mentally, emotionally, or physically. It is not about treating our clients impersonally.

Compassionate detachment is being centered enough in ourselves, at peace enough in our own hearts, to be profoundly present with our clients in their pain, and in their joy, as well.

Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft, by Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC
https://www.amazon.com/Masterful-Health-Wellness-Coaching-Deepening/dp/1570253617/ref=sr_1_3?crid=1MJ0IKCHU30MJ&keywords=arloski+wellness+coaching&qid=1641835655&sprefix=Arloski+%2Caps%2C200&sr=8-3

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. (www.realbalance.com). Dr. Arloski is a pioneering architect of the field of health and wellness coaching. He and his company have trained thousands of coaches around the world. Dr. Arloski’s newest book is Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft

Consciously Well Holidays


“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” This cheery tune becomes an earwig for many of us as we wander through any kind of store playing holiday muzak. However, “According to a survey, 45% of…people living in the United States would choose to skip out on the holidays, rather than deal with the stress of it all.” (https://www.claritychi.com/holiday-stress/). So, what’s so bad about holidays? Time off. Connecting with family and friends. Special delicious foods. Party-time! Sounds a lot like wellness, but what’s the all too common experience? Stress!

A poll by the American Psychological Association shows:
• Nearly a quarter of Americans reported feeling “extreme stress” come holiday time
69 percent of people are stressed by the feeling of having a “lack of time,”
69 percent are stressed by perceiving a “lack of money,”
51 percent are stressed out about the “pressure to give or get gifts.”
https://allonehealth.com/holiday-stress-guide/


In contrast to the holiday season we have created, the natural season in the Northern Hemisphere is the polar opposite. These are the dark days that slow us down, invite us to rest, recuperate, and replenish our energy. It’s a time better suited to reflection, contemplation, intimacy, warmth and connection. The ecology of the world – which we are part of, not separate from – dives into a biological shift that allows for dormancy, hibernation and such. As larger mammals that don’t hibernate, we do remain active, yet, it seems we try to maintain an activity level that doesn’t change as the world around us changes. Electric lights and indoor heating keep us going like it’s the middle of summer. If anything, it’s not the time of year to biologically and mentally deny us what we truly crave – a break!

“Managing” our stress is only a partial solution, and often more of an illusion. What works is recovering from stress. Psycho-physiologically we need to counterbalance the over-activation of our Sympathetic Nervous System (the Fight-Flight or Stress Response) with time spent allowing our Parasympathetic Nervous System to counteract the former, bringing out the Relaxation Response. (See my previous blog post: “The Psychophysiology of Stress – What The Wellness Coach Needs To Know”https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1471&action=edit)

So, how can we more consciously live in greater harmony with the winter season? How can we slow down with it and recharge our physical, mental/emotional and spiritual batteries? We can look to some cultures in the world that approach winter differently. How about some Niksen and Hygge?

In a very informative Blue Zones article, “Niksen: The Dutch Art of Purposefully Doing Nothing” author Elisabeth Almekinder (https://www.bluezones.com/2019/11/niksen-the-dutch-art-of-purposefully-doing-nothing/?utm_source=BLUE%20ZONES%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=83b24efc00-&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_9642311849-83b24efc00-200739894&mc_cid=83b24efc00&mc_eid=b37dc9f5c1&fbclid=IwAR0dxILZtARpQ6hE2xXuXrLsAziYfdTq5irSFUZu1OiGw-NWJvBxM0azMLA) shows how doing less can give us more. “Doing nothing, but with a purpose to do nothing or no purpose at all, may help to decrease anxiety, bring creativity to the surface, and boost productivity. The Dutch have perfected the practice of doing nothing, or “niksen” so well that they are some of the happiest people on earth.”

For many people, “doing nothing” may seem like a huge challenge. Our minds are usually firing on all cylinders, sometimes fueled by stimulants such as caffeine. We are often continually distracted by our work, our phones, our online activity, the radio we are playing, etc. We are almost bombarded by media about “mindfulness” which offers one alternative solution, but Niksen is slightly different. “It’s not mindfulness: a better definition would be a short period of mindless relaxation” is how Almekinder describes it. She urges us to “loosen your concept of time and productivity and practice this simple exercise from the Netherlands. Allowing your brain to rewire from stress by doing nothing is a wellness practice worth implementing. If you are sitting in a cafe, you can indulge in some stress-busting niksen but sipping your coffee and looking out the window. Leave your phone in your pocket and let your mind wander.” So, when that empty moment comes, don’t fill it in. How many of us have conditioned ourselves to reach for our phone if nothing else is handy and search for something to occupy our minds. You might say that niksen is a way to liberate your mind from occupation!

So, there is value in “spacing out” however you do it. I love to practice this as a form of observational meditation. I’m fortunate to have a great backyard inhabited by lots of birds, squirrels and a few lovely rabbits. Trees, bushes and plants change with the seasons and weather brings sunshine, wind, clouds, and sometimes rain or snow. I simply sit and watch as I rid my mind of thoughts about the rest of the world, what I need to do next, and such. The key is to simply observe. Refrain from connecting what you are seeing with what it might be related to. Just watch the snow fall without thinking about the meteorological implications.

Another culture that knows how to make the most of this time of year is Denmark. The Danes call is Hygge. I wrote about this last December in my blog post “Maximizing Wellbeing During Pandemic Holidays” https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1662&action=edit.

“Hygge, a Danish term defined as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” Pronounced “hoo-guh,” the word is said to have no direct translation in English, though “cozy” comes close.” (https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-year-of-hygge-the-danish-obsession-with-getting-cozy) Taking pleasure in the simple things of life that yield contentment is a great way to make it through the winter. Whether alone, or with whomever you can get cozy with, we can slow down and give ourselves permission to “indulge” in things that give us comfort. Shutting off the television and reading a good novel under a warm blanket with a hot cup of cheer on hand can start to reframe our whole mood.”

Coaching It Up

Health & Wellness Coaching clients sometimes postpone their sessions until after the holiday season passes. While this might be fine for some, it could be the time when coaching could be of great value. Inquire with your client about how you might adjust what areas of focus they are working on to fit their more immediate concerns, such as holiday stress. Ask permission to offer some resources they might find interest in such as the information above in this post.

Current wellness goals may need some specialized attention during this time of year. Weather changes may require new strategies for being physically active as outdoor options may become more challenging. Clients may worry about maintaining progress on weight loss as they face the temptations of holiday treats, parties, etc. Explore with them their attitude, fears, and assumptions about their upcoming holiday dinner. Explore the pressures they are experiencing around holiday gift giving and their financial wellness. There is actually plenty of coaching that can be done to help our clients come through the holidays successfully.

For You and Your Client

Think about what your holiday goals are this year. Consider substituting the stresses and pressures you’ve experienced before with a whole new set of intentions. Sitting down, either by yourself or in conscious deliberation with your partner/others and set intentions for a holiday that actually meets your needs. Those needs can include sharing your abundance with others through gift giving, philanthropy or through volunteer work, etc. Think through how you can create a holiday season less focused on material wealth and more on the kind of personal, spiritual, and physical wealth that enhances your wellbeing and serves others.

Have the grandest of holidays!
Coach Michael

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. (www.realbalance.com). Dr. Arloski is a pioneering architect of the field of health and wellness coaching. He and his company have trained thousands of coaches around the world. Dr. Arloski’s newest book is Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft https://wholeperson.com/store/masterful-health-and-wellness-coaching.html

Structuring Great Wellness Coaching Sessions – Part 2 Process and Progress

Processing in coaching can be like a long, winding road.

Though every coaching session is unique, coaching sessions that follow a general structure are usually more productive. In our last blog (https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/2021/08/26/structuring-great-wellness-coaching-sessions-part-one-how-to-get-started/) we showed how a coach can use structure by Co-Creating The Agenda for the session to get off to a great start.

In that beginning structure we followed this basic sequence:

Greet and Connect. Small talk. Keep it brief.
Check-in.
o Coach and client – and here is the key – DO NOT PROCESS what the client is reporting on.
Co-Create The Agenda for the Session
o Coach enquires about what else the client wants to focus on during today’s session. Again – DO NOT BEGIN PROCESSING.
Remember the Importance of Dancing in the Moment
o Despite the co-creation of a wonderful agenda, be prepared to modify it or even abandon it entirely depending upon what happens in the session.
• Now You Can Begin Processing

The key that we explored in that blog was when to begin processing. Without working together to structure the session first, premature processing all too often leads to a rambling, less than productive misadventures.

PROCESSING – FINALLY!

Clients and coaches are always anxious to explore and get into the content of the session. Now that we’ve got an agreed-upon agenda in place that has prioritized what we want to address first, we’re ready to go!

The processing part of a coaching session is where much of the learning takes place for our client. We create that safe container where our clients explore, understand, and gain insight into their own behavior and thinking. It’s where we help them look at their behavior, their interactions with others, with new perspectives. It’s where all of the coach’s skills come out and do their job.

This is where “How to Be” is just as important as “What to Do”. Coaching presence, the expression of empathic understanding, providing unconditional positive regard, being genuine and real, all help our client to feel appreciated, understood and heard. The Coaching Alliance continues to build with each coaching conversation.

As we process with our clients, we help them to address the internal and external barriers to change that are holding them back. We employ strategic thinking and brainstorming together looking for solutions. The coach can help their client identify assumptions that they are operating on and see how self-defeating that can be. This is also where effective coaches show how they can work productively with their client’s emotions. Coaches help their clients to contact and name their feelings, increase awareness of the role those feelings are playing in their decision making and interactions with others. This is where we help our clients explore the sources of support that they have, or lack, for living a healthier lifestyle.

Photo by M. Arloski

NEXT STEPS – Forwarding the Action

Processing is sometimes hard work for both coach and client, but it often so rewarding, even stimulating, that we can tend towards remaining engaged in it up to the last minutes of our session. Coaching, especially when it is productive, is fun! Can we have too much of a good thing? Well, yes.

A productive processing session can open doors for our clients. Now they have to go out through those doors and make the improvements to their way of living that will make a difference. What makes coaching truly effective is how we set our clients up for success when they go out that door and have to implement what they have learned. The real behavioral change does not take place in the coaching session. It takes place out there in our client’s own life through the rest of the next week.

Change occurs in a treatment session during the session itself. The massage therapist, or the acupuncturist, works their methods while the patient is on the table. Then they can go out and use that stiff shoulder to play tennis again. Change – behavioral change – lifestyle improvement – takes place as our client lives their life, day in and day out after our session. This is why coaching works very consciously to help our clients with what we call Next Steps.

Co-creating (not prescribing) Next Steps is all about strategizing what will be the most effective Action Steps that our client can take between now and the next time we have an appointment, to make progress on their wellness goals.

Well-Designed Action Steps work best when they have:

• An alignment with the client’s values and interests.
• A motivational connection between the Action Step and the Goal the client is trying to achieve. This provides the “why” – why am I doing this?
• Congruence with the Stage of Change that the client is in for that particular behavior.
o Contemplation: continue coaching about it, but Action Steps could include journaling, talking to others about it, etc.
o Preparation: doing research to find out more information, available resources, building sources of support before taking action.
o Action – identifying steps that are at the ‘just right’ level of difficulty. This can vary from taking on a challenge the client feels up for to the irrefutably easy ‘baby steps’ we may take to begin with.

Ongoing Action Steps

As our clients continue their work on their Wellness Plan, they will be engaged in various Action Steps over a longer period of time. As we work on Next Steps with our client, we may find there is a need to:

• Recommit – Recommitting to the same Action Steps from the last time. Perhaps the client simply needs to continue to make the slow but steady progress with more of the same. Or, if our client was not very successful last time, perhaps they are more confident that this week there is greater support for success.
• Reset – If our client found that the Action Step level was too challenging last time (too many walks in one week, etc.), or not challenging enough to be effective and give them the results they want (not meditating frequently enough in the last week) we may need to reset the level to a more optimum range.
• Shift – Perhaps client and coach conclude after processing that the Action Step itself needs to be shifted to something different. Our client may find that working out alone is not as easy as expected and decides to try signing up for a fitness class, for example.

Save Time for Next Steps
As you can see, if done right, setting up our client for success with well-designed Action Steps has a lot of considerations. In addition to co-creating the Action Steps themselves, the effective coach will also be asking:

• So, who/what will support you in achieving these Action Steps?
• What barriers to getting these Action Steps done can you already anticipate?

To do all of this takes time. Waiting until time is running out at the end of the session because you have stayed with processing too long can result in poorly designed Next Steps. A good rule to follow is save at least one-third of the session for Next Steps. So, with a 30 min. session, start working on Next Steps with about ten solid minutes left to go.

The Accountability Agreement

As we finish up our Next Steps part of our coaching structure, we still need to arrive at clarity with our client about how they will be holding themselves accountable to follow through on their Next Steps and how we, the coach, can help. In our next blog we will explore effective coaching for accountability.

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. (www.realbalance.com). Dr. Arloski is a pioneering architect of the field of health and wellness coaching. He and his company have trained thousands of coaches around the world. Dr. Arloski’s newest book is Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft https://wholeperson.com/store/masterful-health-and-wellness-coaching.html

Structuring Great Wellness Coaching Sessions: Part One – How to Get Started

“So!  What do you want to talk about today?”  Your client responds with the first thing on their mind.  You start processing the topic with them and then…what?  Or, you greet your client and start checking in on what they had made commitments to working on and when the first one is brought up you begin processing it and…then what?

Health and wellness coaches often struggle with launching their regular, ongoing sessions with their clients.  With an allegiance to being client centered, coaches may simply follow wherever their client leads.  The result, all too often is a rambling and less than productive session.  String enough of those kinds of sessions together and the coaching may go nowhere and end prematurely.  

We may also see a coach take the reins of the session too tightly in their fists and want to begin the session exactly where client and coach left off at the last session.   “So last time we talked about your challenges in finding people to support you in making healthy lifestyle changes.  Tell me more about how that has been going.”  The client may have come into the session wanting to focus on something entirely different than their topic a week or two ago.

Co-Creating The Agenda

When a highly functioning project team meets together to discuss their work, an effective leader will begin the meeting by gathering input from all present and work cooperatively to weave together an agenda.  All present can contribute what they see as needing to be discussed.  That information is recognized and taken in for consideration and prioritization.  Then, and only then is the agenda set and everyone knows where and how we will start the down to business part of the meeting.  Think of this same process being applied with you and your client.

Consider this structure for starting your session with your client:

  • Greet and Connect.  Small talk.  Keep it brief.
  • Check-in.  
    • Client reports in on their efforts at lifestyle improvement, on their action steps that they made a commitment to at the last session.
    • Coach acknowledges the client’s efforts.  Briefly acknowledges and celebrates wins.  Empathizes with disappointments.  
    • Coach and client – and here is the key – DO NOT PROCESS what the client is reporting on.  Save that for after you two  have co-created the agenda.  “That sounds really important to you.  We’ll be sure to talk about that today.  What else…”. Gather it all in.
  • Co-Create The Agenda for the Session
    • Coach enquires about what else the client wants to focus on during today’s session.  Again – DO NOT BEGIN PROCESSING. You are still gathering in topics to discuss, not discussing them.
    • The coach contributes suggestions to be included in the agenda.  Yes, you are part of the “CO” in CO-CREATION.  You may want to remind your client that there is still work to be done on the creation of the client’s Wellness Plan.  You may want to hear any updates that they have from seeing their physician recently, etc.
    • Coach and client weave together an agenda for the session based upon what they mutually determine to be of importance and what order of priority they need to follow.
  • Remember the Importance of Dancing in the Moment
    • Despite the co-creation of a wonderful agenda, be prepared to modify it or even abandon it entirely depending upon what happens in the session.
    • Your client may discover a profound insight that hits them emotionally and processing that may become your new priority in the here and now.  Or your client may realize that there needs to be a real shift in the focus of the coaching.
    • Expect nothing.  Be prepared for anything.
  • Now You Can Begin Processing
Woman with headset in front of her laptop writing something on a paper while making a live video call with a patient or client, copy space

Step By Step – The Check In

Once coaching has been underway our clients are usually making commitments to specific Action Steps that they will work on between coaching sessions.  This, of course, is where the real lifestyle behavioral change takes place.  When those Action Steps were co-created and agreed upon at the last session there was some form of accountability set up – often just checking in at the next appointment about the progress.  Now is the time for the all-important follow through on that accountability.  Successes are celebrated as “wins”.  Acknowledging what it took (effort, strength of character, tenacity, overcoming obstacles, etc.) to succeed is the essence of the strength-based, positive psychology coach approach.  The key is to do this briefly and hold off on processing for later in the coaching session.

When our clients aren’t able to succeed in their Action Steps, we need to meet our client with compassion but not give them a “free pass” (Oh, that’s alright.  I know it’s hard to do these things.).  Acknowledge their feelings.  Empathize.  Then commit to exploring it later in the session as it often takes some real processing to make progress.  Again, this will require more time and concerted effort, so post-pone the processing until after the agenda is co-created.  Then you will have time to work on it more productively.

Step By Step – Co-creating The Agenda

Once the Check-In feels complete you will have some of the elements or topics to include in the agenda that you and your client are co-creating.  In addition to those items it is critical that you enquire about what the client wants to focus on during the session.  Do this before you suggest topics (such as picking up on subjects from the last session or taking the next step on designing their Wellness Plan).  If your client has filled out a Coaching Session Prep Form, you will have some of this information listed but still enquire directly.

Remember the meta-view. As you began to assemble your agenda ask your client some key questions:

  • How is this topic related to your overall Wellness Plan?
  • As we work on this together, what would progress look like?
  • Ideally what is the outcome you would like to see and how will we know if we have gotten there?

That last item, frankly, I find often very difficult for clients to identify.  Do your best to help your client clarify this.  The relevance to the overall Wellness Plan is like referring to the compass that guides the whole coaching process.  If it’s not relevant, in some way, why are we talking about it? 

In an especially helpful article from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) website, (https://coachingfederation.org/blog/establish-the-agenda#) Lisa Rogoff gives some excellent guidance.  “Sometimes clients don’t show up with a clear agenda, or they think it’s clear, but we need to do some work to make it resonate. I constantly remind my client (and myself): Slow down to go fast. I’ll often spend 15 minutes crystalizing what the client wants to work on and why. It is time well spent. From there we cut through the noise and focus.”  Now, Rogoff is most likely referring to hour-long sessions which very few health and wellness coaches do, so adjust your timing accordingly.  The point is worth remembering though, the time invested up front will pay off in productivity.

Our agenda building is not quite done yet.  Co-creation means you and your client both have input on this agenda.  This is where your own session preparation pays off.  As our client’s coach we can help navigate by looking at the meta view referred to above.  It’s like on our client’s voyage of growth and discovery we can continually look at our map and see where we are on our course of progress.  We have a perspective that is difficult for our clients to step back and perceive as they struggle with their day-to-day efforts.  By referring to your notes from previous sessions you can see where your client is at with the methodology of behavioral change.  Are we rushing into simple goal setting when we have yet to help our client take stock of their wellness, strengths, assets, and resources?  This can be where our knowledge of behavioral change theory, especially for example The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change, really pays off. (https://www.prochange.com/transtheoretical-model-of-behavior-change)

Structure is Your Friend

Structure is your friend, don’t make it your master.  Once the agenda is agreed upon you can devote the greatest part of the coaching session to processing and then go on to next steps.  We’ll share more about how this looks in our next health and wellness coaching blog.

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. (www.realbalance.com).  Dr. Arloski is a pioneering architect of the field of health and wellness coaching.  He and his company have trained thousands of coaches around the world.  Dr. Arloski’s newest book is Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft https://wholeperson.com/store/masterful-health-and-wellness-coaching.html

Coach Like Hemingway: Confident, Succinct, Effective

Use short sentences.  Use short paragraphs.  Use vigorous English.  Be positive, not negative.  Opening lines from 110 Stylistic Rules given to each reporter by the Kansas City Star where Hemingway got his first job in journalism (1917).

Hemingway’s typewriter in Cuba

Ernest Hemingway certainly picked up on those dictums and put them to good use over an extraordinary career as a writer.  When we think of these same admonishments, they could serve a coach just as well.  How can we examine our coaching language and find ways to make it more effective with a ‘less is more’ approach?

Perhaps we should say coach like Hemingway wrote.  “Papa” Hemingway certainly had some characteristics that would not make a good coach ­– self-absorbed, and as one critic put it tiresomely macho.  What Hemingway was, however, was an astute observer, both of people and the world around him.  That coaches can emulate.  “The hardest thing in the world to do is to write straight honest prose on human beings.  First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write.  Both take a lifetime.” (Ernest Hemingway: “Old Newsman Writes: A Letter from Cuba”)

Hemingway’s writing style works because we appreciate not just its brevity, but the way, in a few words, he brings us to the heart of the matter.  Whether it is action, description or emotion we arrive quickly where the writer wants us to go.  We get it.  His words are sometimes strong, sometimes tender, sometimes rather simple and mundane.  In my favorite short story of all time, The Big Two-hearted River, his WWI Vet protagonist, Nick, goes into the backcountry of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan ostensibly to fish and camp.  What makes it a healing journey is the way nature, and the author, strip daily activities down to the quick, to an existential present moment free of all the potential clutter that you can imagine Nick’s PTSD mind is capable of.

So!  What’s all of this have to do with coaching?  A masterful coach listens more than they speak.  In fact, when they speak it is usually in shorter, concise sentences.  Questions come across as confident making their impact more powerful.  Observations are free of editorializing.  The coach and client appear engaged in a tight, two-way conversation.

“Mr. Hemingway knows how not only to make words be specific but how to arrange a collection of words which shall betray a great deal more than is to be found in the individual parts.”  (Review of The Sun Also Rises)

A Mindset of Facilitation and Catalyzation

My job as a coach is to facilitate and, when appropriate, to catalyze the growth process in my client.  Rather than think for them, how can I get them to think in new and creative ways leading to their own conclusions?  Facilitating their work means not doing the work for them but making their work easier and more effective. 

If I am still operating in the consultant, educator,  or treatment professional mindset, I take on much more responsibility and, frankly, have to contribute more to the conversation because I am actually consulting.  Coaches can blend in education, certainly.  A health and wellness coach may share some evidence-based, widely accepted principles that help the client to learn more about how to improve their lifestyle.  If I coach from the consultant’s mindset though, I will be more verbose as I share more information, more of my own analysis, etc.

When I stay in the coaching mindset, I see my work as facilitating my client’s own work.  At times I may contribute my own observations, own and share my own perspectives, etc. (See my blog “Client-centered Directiveness is an Oxymoron, but it works!”  https://realbalancewellness.wordpress.com/2016/09/13/client-centered-directiveness-an-oxymoron-that-works-part-one/#like-1228 ).  There are times when such sharing can serve as a catalyst for my client’s thinking.  Think of it like the drag racer who injects a little rocket fuel into his race car’s fuel tank.  If it ignites (my client finds value in it), boom!  We are off to the races.  The key is to use an eyedropper, not a gallon can.

Confident Questions

When a masterful coach asks a question, they simply ask it and let it stand without elaboration or explanation.  They may think of a way to clarify their question but rather than do so aloud, they hold, wait for the client to answer their first question and see if clarification is even needed.  What we see beginning coaches doing all too often, is asking a question, then adding a second and perhaps even a third clarifying question before the client has a chance to answer.  The coach is ‘thinking out loud’ and the effect can be one that causes confusion for the client, and, perhaps, waters down the power of the initial question.

Slow down.  Choose your words more consciously.  Have confidence in your question.  Have confidence in your client’s ability to understand it as you spoke it.  If they need clarification, they will let you know.  

The Iceberg Theory

“If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.  The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”  (Hemingway – from Death in the Afternoon)

In his book Write Like Hemingway, author R. Andrew Wilson explains the Iceberg Theory in Four Principles:

  • Write About What you Know, But Don’t Write All That You Know
  • Grace Comes from Understatement
  • Create Feelings from the Fewest Details Needed
  • Forget the Flamboyant

Write About What you Know, But Don’t Write All That You Know

The coaching conversation can never address everything that is going on in the moment.  The brains of coach and client are processing at lightning speed far more than can be (or is) put into words.  Coaches are constantly having to choose what to address, what to inquire about, what to feedback to the client and what to keep silent about.  As we observe and listen, we may choose to tuck some things in to what I call my ‘coach’s day pack’ for use later.  

Your client knows their own life.  In fact, they know it in far more detail than is necessary to discuss.  As you facilitate their process your client will fill in the gaps, the details in their own mind.  You don’t need to keep digging for them so that they are spoken aloud.  They are doing the work, just keep supporting them in exploring it.  Think of it as making strategic adjustments or touches to the process.  A little verbal nudge here or there in the form of Active Listening Skills or effective questions keeps your client moving forward.

When the need for education, sharing of resources, etc. comes up, share what is helpful and then return to coaching.  Your client’s topic  may trigger a wealth of knowledge that you have about a subject.  It may be enjoyable to share but some self-vigilance may help you distinguish between meeting the needs of your client versus your own.

Grace Comes from Understatement

Hemingway’s own personality came through in letters to friends and we see plenty of it in the tales of his adventures and legendary nights at the bars.  There he allowed his strong convictions, judgments and condemnations to come through.  In his writing, however, you won’t find him moralizing rights and wrongs.  There is an almost stoic acceptance of the realities his characters face.  

Certainly, it is trust that builds the coaching alliance and the best way to build that is through what Carl Rogers called unconditional positive regard.  Being non-judgmental is key to creating the ‘safe container’ in which our coaching can take place.  Few things are appreciated more by our clients.  Getting ourselves out of the way always makes coaching work better.

Create Feelings from the Fewest Details Needed

When we use fewer words, we get back to listening, putting the spotlight back on our client.  When we paraphrase or summarize our task is to bring our clients words down to their essence.  This condensation keeps our clients focused and on track.  When we reflect a feeling and do our best to name it a whole whirlwind of emotion can now be hung on a single hook on the rack allowing our client to breathe in relief as they validate our call.    Now we are combining the beauty of understatement (above) with the efficiency of honing in on the essential. Less is more.

Forget the Flamboyant

In the last of his four principles of the iceberg theory, Wilson reminds us that “the purpose of serious writing isn’t to demonstrate how much you know”.  For the writer it shows up in over-description, flowery phrases and improbable plot lines.  For the coach?  What would a ‘flamboyant’ batch of coaching look like?  It might be entertaining to observe, but not so helpful to the client.  Great writing isn’t about literary tricks and great coaching isn’t about flashing techniques for their own sake.  A guided visualization exercise has to have a solid rationale for its use, likewise the selection of a coaching tool to use.  Great coaching often looks pretty basic much of the time.

Comfortable With Silence

The pause.  That pause that goes on longer and longer.  Is my client processing, cognitive gears whirling, emotion being tapped?  Or, do they need a nudge, a priming of the pump?  As our coaching matures, we become more trusting of our client’s ability to find their way through the silences.  We do “hold our clients to be naturally creative, resourceful and whole” as the authors of Co-Active Coaching have long affirmed. (https://coactive.com/resources/coactive-coaching-4th-edition/)  We need to decide when we are tempted to rescue our clients and when to let them do their work.  It may be a tricky call to know when to provide the nudge, the catalyst, and when to stay patiently silent.  Let your decision be driven out of keen observation and rationale instead of your own anxiety. 

The more centered and grounded you are, the easier it is to exude the patience needed for effective coaching.  Let your pace work for you, giving you enough time to be clear in your thoughts and confident in your questions.  Trust the coaching process and play with coaching a bit more like the way Hemingway wrote.

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. (www.realbalance.com).  Dr. Arloski is a pioneering architect of the field of health and wellness coaching.  He and his company have trained thousands of coaches around the world.  Dr. Arloski’s newest book is Masterful Health & Wellness Coaching: Deepening Your Craft https://wholeperson.com/store/masterful-health-and-wellness-coaching.html

The What, the How and the Why of Lifestyle Improvement

Health and wellness folks are sometimes confused about the role each professional might play in helping individuals to live their best life possible.  Our clients are seeking to be healthier by losing weight, managing stress, stopping smoking, becoming less isolated, and often, managing a health challenge of some kind.  To do so they need:

  • excellent wellness information
  • great treatment (if that is called for) 
  • and a way to make the lifestyle changes that will ensure lasting success.  

So, who is responsible for what?

Help rehabilitation patients keep going at lifestyle improvement.

Fitness trainers, rehabilitation therapists, physical therapists, dietician, various treatment professionals and health educators can help their clients/patients to know what lifestyle behavioral changes will move them towards improved health and wellbeing.  What we often hear from these medical and wellness pros is frustration with a lack of success on their client’s part in making the recommended changes and making them last.  The reality is, most people simply don’t know that much about how to change the ingrained habits of a lifetime.  

The physical therapist works with their client in their session and sends them home with exercises that must be done every day.  The dietician creates a fantastic meal plan that their client must put into practice.  The fitness professional creates a tailor-made workout plan, but their client needs to exercise on their own, not just in front of their trainer.

Health educators, treatment professionals, etc. provide the 

WHAT

Health and Wellness Coaches provide the 

HOW

Our Clients find their 

WHY

Everyone’s challenge is the how.  It takes more then will power and motivation.  What is often lacking is an actual well-thought out plan that the client has co-created with the help of someone who can provide support, accountability and a well-developed behavioral change methodology.  Translating the lifestyle prescription into action and fitting it in to an already busy life is often where, despite good intentions, our clients struggle.  This is where having a trusted ally in the cause of one’s wellness pays off.

As field of health and wellness coaching grows, the challenge coaches sometimes face is clarity about their own role.  Sometimes the confusion is all about the what and the how.  For coaches to be proficient at “writing” the lifestyle prescription they need additional qualifications.  It becomes a question of Scope of Practice.

To guide coaches the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaches (NBHWC) has developed a Scope of Practice Statement.  Here is the part most relevant to our question.

While health and wellness coaches per se do not diagnose conditions, prescribe treatments, or provide psychological therapeutic interventions, they may provide expert guidance in areas in which they hold active, nationally recognized credentials, and may offer resources from nationally recognized authorities such as those referenced in NBHWC’s Content Outline with Resources.”  (https://nbhwc.org/scope-of-practice/ )

If coaches can “wear two hats” professionally they can combine the what and the how Otherwise the key is to coordinate with other wellness professionals or work with the lifestyle prescription that their client already has.

A wellness lifestyle can mean a better quality of life!

Beyond the what and the how is the why.  The “why” of behavior is all about motivation – initiating and sustaining behavioral change efforts by drawing upon the energy and desire to do so.  The key here once again is the question of who is responsible for supplying this. People may initiate behavior based upon external motivation – the urging and cheering on of others, the fear of negative outcomes.  In order to sustain that motivation, it has to come from within.  The challenge here for all wellness professionals is to help our client to discover their own unique sources of motivation.  

Seasoned wellness professionals realize they can’t convince or persuade anyone to be well.  However, when we help our clients discover their own important sources of what motivates them, they discover their why.  Motivation is fuel.  Now with the aid of a coach our clients can find the vehicle to put in. They know what they need to change.  Now they have a way how to change and grow, and they know themselves, why.  (See our previous post Motivation Plus Mobilization: Coaching For Success At Lifestyle Improvement.  https://wp.me/pUi2y-mn

(A modified form of this blog has appeared in the Medical Fitness Network) 

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc. (www.realbalance.com).  Dr. Arloski is a pioneering architect of the field of health and wellness coaching.  He and his company have trained thousands of coaches around the world. 

Coaching Alignment: Patience and Pacing

Alignment

Being in alignment with our client can refer to both our cognitive and emotional congruence with them. Congruence, resonance, and even alignment itself are all ways of expressing “being on the same page” with our client. This means clearly understanding the content of what our client is saying and also being in touch with their emotional state and expression. This allow us to more easily and effectively provide empathic understanding. This results from the effort by the coach to relate to our client, understand them and what they are communicating.

Alignment is achieved by a combination of effective coaching presence, a lack of judgment, active listening skills and the way the coach creates a tempo for the session through the use of their own verbal skills. On this latter point, how is the coach matching or reflecting the speed of the client’s speech and how are they (the coach) influencing or regulating it? How fast is the client covering ground ? That is, how quickly are they discussing subjects and processing? In other words what is the pace of the coaching session?

When coach and client are out of alignment coaching, much like a car engine, tends to sputter. If the coach is ahead of the client; talking much faster; pushing an agenda or trying to cover ground too quickly, the client may simply check out of the conversation, or struggle to keep up. The result could be awkward silences in response to questions, or a ‘fits and starts’ type of interchange that is seldom productive.

If the coach is behind the client, we see insufficient energy being expressed by the coach and the client is setting a pace that the coach is out of synch with. At some point the client will notice how the coach is not keeping up either with content or with energy. The client may become frustrated, or despondent and could even decide to drop out of the coaching. The consequences of being out of alignment with our client can be serious.

Being Out of Alignment – Causes

So, what can cause a coach to be so out of alignment with their client? What leads them to become out of synchronization with the coaching conversation?

Coach’s personality and anxiety. Some people are naturally faster talkers and processors. These coaches have to self-monitor their own rapid speech and processing with a determined effort at patience. There is also the anxiety that comes with being new to coaching.


Coach’s culture and background. Some people have simply learned to talk faster because of their family of origin, their own background, or even where they grew up. It’s a common observation to see the stereotypical New Yorker speaking rapidly.


Pressure from a coaching system the coach is working in. Coaches sometimes work for companies that expect fast results. Coaching sessions, even with limited time, don’t have to feel rushed but easily could.


The coach is too up in their head. That is, they are thinking too much about what to say or ask next and their listening is suffering as a result. The coach misses vital expressions of emotion or even content leaving the client feeling unheard. The client may be baffled by why the coaching is asking about something that they spoke of earlier but have already moved on from.

How to Be in Alignment With Our Client

Get centered. Being centered, grounded and more calm allows the coach to be as patience as they need to be. It allows the coach to be more present and better at observing all that is going on with their client. Doing what centers you in your life on a regular basis will allow you to come into the coaching session in a more centered way.


Psychophysiological self-regulation. What allows you to manage your own anxiousness? First is awareness that you may have gone beyond feeling energetic to acting frenetic. Become aware of the signs that your level of anxiety has gotten high. Anxiety is not always accompanied by worry. Are you jumping at sudden, loud noises? Are you breathing short and shallow? Have you exceeded the caffeine intake that you can handle without becoming ‘wired’? Practice breathing with more depth. Get enough sleep and rest. Consider learning methods for deeper relaxation such as relaxation recordings, practicing Yoga or Tai Chi, etc.


Know yourself. If you are a person with a long history of very rapid speech (no matter where or how you learned it), your challenge is to accept the fact that unless you are matched with a very similar client, it just won’t work well in coaching. You will have to make a very conscious, concerted effort to slow down.


Pace with patience. Consider the work you are doing with your client as a whole, not just one coaching session. This is where coaching with a well-developed methodology that has significant coaching structure will allow you to have perspective. Such perspective will allow you to be more patient and not feel like you have to push to get steps accomplished prematurely.


Dance with some rhythm. Good and great coaching appears to be like a dance between two partners that have established a rhythm that they are in synch with. There is a great two-way nature to an effective coaching conversation. The coach is actively involved, not just passively listening for long periods of time while the client rattles on. This is where effective use of Active Listening Skills throughout the conversation keep the coach involved and keep the client better focused. There is a rhythmic back and forth in the conversation that leads to productivity. A big part of dancing is also adjusting to the changes in the music. When your client shifts, are you able to shift with them? A change in mood, energy or topic needs to be noticed by you and requires an adjustment. To keep your client focused you might bring the shift to their attention and ask them how they would like to proceed.


Self-reflect. Listen to recordings of your coaching. It is much harder to self-reflect in the moment. Your lack of synchronization with your client may become much more obvious when you can observe is afterwards on a recording.

It’s easy to become far too content-focused in our coaching. Yet, what is the content bringing up in our client emotionally, mentally? There is so much more going on in a coaching session. This is where our threefold task of awareness comes in: 1)awareness of our client; 2) awareness of ourselves; and 3) awareness of what is happening in the coaching relationship. When we are in touch with all three, we will notice more about our pacing, our speed of speech, and the whole tempo of the coaching experience. Bottom line is trust the coaching process, relax and enjoy!

Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, NBC-HWC is CEO and Founder of Real Balance Global Wellness (https://realbalance.com) a premier health & wellness coach training organization that has trained thousands of coaches around the world.