Structure Is The Wellness Coach’s Friend: Seven Ways To Coach Better

Great coaching finds a balance between structure and spontaneity, customization, “dancing in the moment” and organization. While some large coaching organizations err on the side of too much structure, using scripts and ridged protocols, some coaches “wing it” way too much. Listening to hundreds of coaching recordings, done with real clients, I’m continually amazed at how loosely many coaches go about their work. Observing the variance in structure, or lack thereof, led me to create some suggestions for how you can discover the benefits of coaching structure for your coaching sessions.

 

 

1. Every Session Is A Small Part Of A Whole

Think of each coaching session as part of the larger coaching process and relationship. Keep the individual session in the context of the entire work you are doing with that client.

First sessions, or what we often call Foundation Sessions, or Discovery Sessions, are unique in that they are all about Co-Creating the Coaching Alliance. In this first session there is a lot to do in addition to listening to the client’s story. Typically, two to three times longer than a regular subsequent session, these sessions allow for getting acquainted, creating agreements about the coaching, familiarization with the client’s story, their concerns, etc. The number one error in Foundation Sessions is to get caught up in the story and take a problem-solving approach right out of the gate. Clients benefit much more from you two building the coaching alliance, taking stock of their wellness, and getting clear about how coaching works.

Regular coaching sessions also need to be thought of by the coach in terms of the larger coaching process. Is this one of the early sessions, or are we starting to work towards termination? Coaching does not go on forever and many coaching contracts involve a limited number of sessions. Also, how does this session fit in to the overall Wellness Plan that you and your client have formulated? How does the “issue” that they just brought up today have relevance to their Wellness Plan?

2. Co-Create The Agenda At The Beginning Of Every Session

Certainly, one of the most common errors coaches make is to start a session with a vague invitation like “So! What do you want to talk about today?” Most often client’s immediately think of some sort of barrier they would like to deal with and coach and client instantly begin a problem-solving discussion. I’ve actually heard coaches begin a session with the even more vague request, “What’s up?”. If a specific problem doesn’t jump to the client’s mind, the client might flounder for a while until lighting upon a topic to discuss.

This approach conveys to the client that the coach is a consultant with whom to solve problems instead of an ally in a process of growth and development. This is where some co-creating the agenda first sends a very different message as well as setting up the session for success.

What works best is a discussion of what all will be talked about in the session and what the client wants to get out of the meeting together. ICF (International Coach Federation) examiners are looking for this kind of review and agreement at the beginning of every coaching session. Just like in a team business meeting, co-creating the agenda means taking in all of the topics to be discussed and then setting an agenda based upon strategy and priorities. It’s best to go with a reasonable blend of urgent and important, remembering that not everything is, in fact, urgent and important.

3. Make Checking-In About Wins And Go Beyond Just Hearing Reports

Begin with Wins! “Tell me about some progress you made in improving your lifestyle since we last talked?” Coaching is an inherently Positive Psychology approach designed to build upon strengths. Make good use of that. Acknowledge those wins. Don’t just say “Okay.” Inquire more about them, request clarification.

Transition from Wins into checking-in on the accountability agreements that were made last time on action steps. As you do, urge your client to go beyond just reporting what they did. Begin to help them explore those actions to gain greater understanding of what worked and can be reinforced, what didn’t and what got in the way. Look at how you can facilitate your client’s exploration of their actions and themselves. Head into new territory and watch your client grow!

 

4. Once You’ve Got A Wellness Plan Navigate By It

The map you navigate by, once you co-create it with your client, is the Wellness Plan. Now, whatever comes up in coaching is always put in the context of its relevance to the Wellness Plan. The plan is flexible, changeable, but if you want to get results, you continue to follow it. This is where time is saved by steering back away from tangents and irrelevant topics. This is where “What do you want to talk about?” becomes obsolete. Ask yourself, and perhaps your client “Are we still on the map?”

5. Process – But Don’t Get Lost In It

The bulk of most coaching sessions is about processing the client’s efforts at implementing the Wellness Plan. You and your client can have a lot of fun strategizing through barriers, coming up with creative approaches to making progress on goals, and more. The mistake most coaches make it to use 90% of the session doing just this and not leaving enough time for Next Steps. It’s so easy to “get into the weeds” where “the devil is in the details” and get lost. Stay focused and get back to the backbone of the process – the Wellness Plan. Problems become about relevance to the plan. Problems from the past become about relevance (how are they affecting implementing the Wellness Plan in the here and now), not about resolution (that’s the job of therapy).

6. Leave Time For Next Steps

Effective coaches are watching the clock and know to leave about one-third of the session for Next Steps. Processing until there are only five minutes left is a sure way to set your client up to struggle instead of leaving with a clear plan of how to move forward and make progress. Look at what’s working and what needs to be adjusted. Create agreements about the action steps the client is committing to for the time between now and the next session. It often comes down to Reset, Recommit, or Shift. Will they benefit from resetting the level of the action step – going from walking 5x/week to 3x/week? Or, is the best strategy to re-commit to the same action step at the same level for this week? Or, is it best to strategize a shift to a whole new action step? That will require adequate time to do well.

I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance. – Friedrich Nietzsche

7. Pick The Music But Stay Light On Your Feet

Coaching structure provides the framework for progress. It is like the music that the coaching couple picks to dance to. Coaches perpetually use the expression “dancing in the moment” for good reason. Don’t be afraid to let go of the structure of a session in order to deal with what is more important. Your client may need your support in dealing with a very emotional issue. There may be something that needs to be confronted about the way the two of you are coaching together that may be critical to progress, or even the continuation of coaching. If the coaching seems stuck and progress is lacking, have the courage to explore with your client how the two of you can work better together. Shift the dance of coaching to deal with what has emerged, but then, get back to the music and the structure that will facilitate the progress your both want to make.

 

 

 

For more about effective coaching refer to Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed., by Michael Arloski, Ph.D., PCC, CWP, NBC-HWC.  https://wholeperson.com/store/wellness-coaching-for-lasting-lifestyle-change.shtml and to Your Journey to a Healthier Life (Paths of Wellness Guided Journals) by the same author.  https://wholeperson.com/store/your-journey-to-a-healthier-life.shtml 

 

Ten Steps To Structuring Great Wellness Coaching Sessions

HopscotchWellness coaching clients show up for appointments desiring to make progress in improving their lifestyles and thereby improving their lives. For as much as they want the session to be productive, it is easy for the client and the coach to drift together from topic to topic and finish up realizing that little has been accomplished. Sometimes a client comes to the session eager to talk about a particular subject, perhaps an emotion-laden one. Quickly the session’s minutes evaporate while little else is covered, including, perhaps, exactly what the client had originally hoped to work on. The Wellness Plan that the coach and client had developed gets pushed aside and soon the session is over. If this happens repetitively client dissatisfaction soars and soon coaching comes to a premature end.

Getting Started

Beginning coaches often feel awkward initiating the coaching conversation.  Clients come through our door or arrive on the call sometimes unsure how to get started as well.  A lesson from anthropology will tell us that social greeting behavior is expected, normal, and helps everyone relax.  The old saying that “Bullshit is good fertilizer.  Sometimes good things grow from it.” is really saying that it’s not only okay to exchange what we might call pleasantries, talk about the weather, etc., it grounds us in a more comfortable and familiar interaction from which to proceed.

“Structure Is Your Friend!”

While every coach is free to develop their own coaching style, and is probably a better coach because of that, consciously following a basic coaching structure will help insure that sessions are as productive as desired. Clients engage with coaches in order to accomplish what they have not been getting done in their lives. Much of the help that coaches provide is in helping clients to become better organized, to plan, to commit and to be accountable to themselves, thereby producing the results they want to see.

Being client-centered does not mean passively following the client in conversation wherever they may lead. It means facilitating the client’s own process, keeping them in the driver’s seat, but traveling down the road to where the client wants to go. The metaphor of the coach and client walking down a trail in the woods at midnight is a good one. It is the coach’s job to hold the flashlight and illuminate the way. It is the client’s job to choose the path.

Co-Creating The Agenda- Every Timeagendaicon

Coaches help their clients to get clear about what they want to accomplish in coaching. They consciously co-create the coaching alliance. They hold the client’s agenda to be the agenda, but that does not mean starting a session with the often-disastrous invitation “So! What do you want to talk about today?” Make your coaching sessions more productive and satisfying by using the following steps as part of your coaching session structure.

tenStepsTen Steps To Structuring Great Wellness Coaching Sessions

1. Preparation. Begin working on the session before it even happens. Have your client use a Coaching Session Prep Form to list their “wins”, address their commitments to action steps, and share what is important to process. Do your own homework on this client by reviewing notes, and getting mentally and physically prepared for the session.
2. Consciously Co-Create The Agenda for the session. Create an agreement about what will be worked on in this particular session. This should be relevant to the client’s overall Wellness Plan, or to the development of that plan. Following a map insures that we will get where we want to go.
3. Acknowledge and… When a client comes bursting through the door, so to speak, with an important issue to discuss handle it like this: A. Acknowledge their experience. B. Reflect their feelings about it. C. Emphasize the importance of being sure to talk about this issue today and ask what else the client wants to be sure to include in today’s agenda.
4. Dealing with crisis. Realize that when a client comes to the session in the midst of an immediate crisis that the empathic understanding and support of the coach may be all that “gets done” today, and that is totally okay. Create an agreement to just focus on helping them to express themselves about this issue and, perhaps do some immediate problem solving, such as helping them find additional resources to deal with the crisis (this could include referral to medical resources, mental health resources, or other possibilities).
5. Wins! Most sessions will progress from Co-Creating The Agenda, to checking in on what has gone well for the client since the last session. You may want to go over the Prep Form together. Looking at “wins” first is a positive psychology approach that coaching is famous for. It works! This moves along to checking in on progress and challenges regarding the action steps that the client had committed to working on during the last session.
6. Drawing out learning and processing. Explore the client’s experience with those action steps, with internal and external barriers that have come up. Coach for realization, insight and deeper understanding of self and environment. Connect with motivation. Coach for possibilities.
7. Next steps. Leave about one-third of the session available for “Where do we go from here?” Drawing upon what was gained in the session co-create next steps for the client to take in applying what they are learning. Look at previous commitments to Action Steps and either RECOMMIT (to the same Action Steps), RESET (adjust the Action Steps to a different level or threshold), or SHIFT (shift to new Action Steps). You may also want to co-create with the client an “inquiry” for them to work on in the coming week – something for them to think about, journal and/or converse about that is relevant to what came up in the session.
8. Review and agree. Summarize the essence of the session. Review exactly what the client’s understanding of the way forward is and agree upon specific Action Steps that the client is committing to. Reinforce the motivational connection between the Action Steps and how these actions will help the client achieve what they want in their Wellness Plan.
9. Wrap it up and close. Leave the client with inspiration, acknowledgement and clarity about the next meeting time.
10. Notes & Self-Care time. Finish up your notes, including notes about information you need to find (such as knowledge about a medication your client is taking) and any action steps that you have committed to doing. Then, take a little time for your own self-care, on a mental, emotional and/or physical level.27-730x487

Students in our Advanced Wellness Coaching Competencies classes (https://www.realbalance.com/Event-Details?catid=13&id=112) and our Mentor Coaching program have consistently remarked how implementing the co-creation of an agenda for the session (Step #2), has completely changed and improved how they coach with their clients. Step #3 has often helped them to stick to this structure while meeting the client where they needed to be met.

Structure often serves to paradoxically increase our freedom. Instead of wandering or even floundering on our coaching path, we find we cover more ground discover more along the way by having a map to follow.