Helen Attridge brings decades of experience as a Master Certified Coach

When coaching a client, when is it considered a coaching session versus a coaching conversation? Is there a difference? When I am training within a corporation, this is a question that I often hear. In order to create an effective space for coaching to take place, it is important to define the difference between an actual coaching session and a coaching conversation, especially when using coaching skills as a manager. This careful differentiation is crucial for an effective outcome for the client.

In a pure coaching relationship, during a coaching session the client leads the direction during a coaching session. In order for a coaching session to be effective, the client needs to have a clear understanding of the type of coaching they require. They take the lead in determining the area or areas in which they want/need some coaching for that week or month (depending on how often you meet with them) and they often are able to discuss their needs and requirements with their coach prior to the session. Once the client determines the direction of the coaching session, it is the job of the coach to support the client in the most effective path to reach their goals.

By comparison, during a management coaching conversation the responsibility for the dynamic of the session often lies with the coach/manager. They lead the session based on their observations of the coachee’s needs and may ask powerful questions combined with other coaching techniques to help the client get in touch with their own answers. Additionally, there are times during a coaching conversation where the coachee requires direct feedback or support. This dialogue is interwoven into the conversation. In a corporate setting, many coachees’ are looking for specific feedback from their manager regarding how to do their job and can become frustrated with a “powerful question approach” versus receiving the direct advice they may be asking for or needing at that time.

As a leadership coach, I often combine coaching sessions with coaching conversations, working on a global level, leaders will often directly ask me, “what models have other leaders used that have been effective?” When this happens I help clarify for my client when I am shifting roles, first by asking them directly “It sounds like you would like me to share my expertise in this area, is that correct?” If the answer is a yes, I clarify I am shifting roles from coach to mentor or advisor and again clarify when I am going to step back to the coach role, checking that my client got what they needed. While the person responsible for formulating the parameters of a session or a conversation is different, the role of the coach in both cases has several commonalities. The following is a list of tips that will help guide a session or conversation in seeking to meet the desired goals and objectives.

Practice Deep Level Listening – Successful coaches understand the art of deep listening. As a coach it is my responsibility to give the client my full attention during our time together. This simple act demonstrates that I place great value on my client’s input. It makes our time together a dialogue rather than a monologue and it helps to build trust within the coaching relationship.

Utilize Paraphrasing – Paraphrasing means that, in my own words, I summarize the context of our conversation. As a coach, it allows me to verbalize (in my own words) client’s concerns, goals, objectives or blocks to check I understand what my client is sharing. Utilizing this coaching tool sends the message that I am fully listening, I care about what the coachee is saying and I understand or am trying to understand their point of view. By listening through a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) lens I am able to listen specifically for a client’s language patterns, the language that resonates for clients and for beliefs they may have about their life and what is possible or not possible. This deepens their trust in me as a coach and allows them, as clients, to feel deeply understood.

Use Positive Intent and Open-Ended Questions – Our world is filled with negative comments and thinking. As a coach it is my job to enter the time with my clients with a positive and open frame-of-mind. Additionally, approaching it with open-ended questions allows for more open and expanding dialogue and requires the coachee to engage the discussion. Positivity and open-ended questions demonstrate a coaching model that says “as a coach, I value your input, you are the expert in your life and I value understanding your model of the world.” Additionally, it builds a level of trust between the coach and the coachee.

Provide Reflective Feedback – As a coach, one of the most important parts of my job after building a strong foundation of trust with my client, is to provide feedback for the next steps in the coaching process. Reflective feedback utilizes three steps to encourage the coachee to share responsibility for the outcome. The first step is to utilize a clarifying question regarding the situation or the desired outcome (“what I hear you saying is….”). The second step of expresses the value or value potential of the idea or behavior (“Taking this step is a very powerful and important part of this next stage of your journey…”). And, the third step is to discuss the possibilities or potential outcomes (“Taking this step will help you move towards…”). Each step in the process is important because they allow both the client and me to provide input on what we are discussing and offers a place for open and honest dialogue regarding how to reach the next step in the process.

In the end, as a coach my job is to guide our coaching conversation or session in a manner that moves the coachee towards a successful outcome. Using these tools as well as other coaching modalities, including the powerful Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) allows me to help the client create the most effective path towards their future success.

At the Academy of Leadership Coaching & NLP (ALCN), we have the privilege of not only guiding clients through results driven coaching conversations and coaching sessions, we also train C-level business executives how to utilize these techniques to help create an effective coaching dialogue within their organizations through our customized corporate coach training programs and coaching retreats for executive teams. For more information, please feel free to contact us.

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