Coaching is effective because the solutions are created solely by the client.
That sounds simple but the difficult part of the equation is how?
Human beings are uniquely gifted with an ability to think about their thinking and learning which is called metacognition. We constantly use this faculty in self-talk such as “How can I think like this”, or “What should I do with this now” etc. Unfortunately, we do not exploit its potential voluntarily. When we need it the most this gift becomes a cumbersome companion. We usually begin a mental discussion with ourselves, and our singular focus could be glued to negative outcomes: we are immersed in rumination. We tend to preserve and increase our thinking on negative aspects. We will, most likely not only continue to predict negative outcomes of our possible action, but we somehow become certain that doing anything is senseless i.e., we willingly find ourselves in an undesirable inertia. This situation escalates through our conscious efforts to repeat the negative thoughts until we can create a feeling of being stuck with “no other possibility”. Negative thinking tends to spiral downward and has a very discouraging effect on our self-efficacy stemming from the depletion of self-confidence, and doubting one’s abilities, and we could begin to indulge in self-condemning, criticizing, and self-denouncing phrases about our capabilities. Asceticism or renouncement could result in extreme cases.
If these faculty were to be exploited constructively, it can work wonders, and create new paradigms and innovative solutions for us. It needs objective observation and systematic implementation. One such step is a methodical dialectic that a coach uses to move the client into this productive dimension. The intensity and depth of thinking about one’s thinking and learning are dependent on how the client will be accompanied by the coach. That is one of the most significant determinants of the quality and outcome of coaching. In simple words for the efficacy of coaching.
If that is so, then it must be a “Wundermittel” a magic potion. No, that is not the case. It has its limitations, and a coach should be aware of this fact and also disclose where it is useful. Seeing its success in practice, I have often been asked, “With what problems do clients come to you for coaching?” This is a legitimate question, and it also betrays an underlying curiosity: what problems it can solve? My answer has been that no one ever comes to me with, “I have a problem” and defines the problem. It is always about some situation or some person that is a problem. Very often people come with healthy doubts or are stuck in the old Shakespearean dilemma of “to be or not to be”. This kind of state is a binary state of things, where only one solution can exist: yes or no That also often results in the client being left thinking that she can only choose one of the two options. Mostly she will also explain that she has “no other choice.”
This mostly happens for two reasons: Firstly, because she has narrowed everything down to a single option. Take a few mundane examples: should I leave my job and my partner, or should I stay? Why do I always land up with the same problem, or with the same kind of person in romantic relationships? She is struggling with the consequence of some forgone events. If a single option i.e., single truth exists, any resistance to it will result in an extremely aggressive emotional reaction. This manifests itself in public life in the form of bizarre protests or destructive aggressive actions, all of which stem from the ‘singular truth’ of the perpetrators.
Single, or singular options have the potential to create immense frustration.
In many cases, coaching can relieve you of it.1
Through a dialectic method with an intent to exploit metacognition, it can nudge you to create a mindset to develop multiple options. Coaching can transform a single solution into one paradigm. If the client realises it is just a paradigm, then new paradigms can also be created. The moment you begin to see more options you begin to innovate and create new solutions. This is also the formula that can create optimism and through it new perspectives. Our optimism will eventually motivate and challenge us to attempt what we previously considered a difficult path or even impossible. Once a small step has been tried out and its success relished, the client is tempted to try bigger doses of it. It is like learning a new language: you apply the first 20 newly learned words, and the natives acknowledge it with gratitude. It triggers joy in us, and our motivation shoots up and we want more of that joy. Soon your friends begin to admire you for they call you “talented for learning foreign languages.” This is the path to creating your solutions. Since they are owned by the client, they tend to become an agent to make small necessary amendments in their behaviour to reach the desired targets in different situations. It becomes an adaptive habit and brings a great sense of achievement and raises self-confidence with it.
The second reason is, a term I coined recently, “The Gulliver’s Syndrome”. If the client knows that there is either a yes or a no, then one day she might just decide on one of the two choices. The binary way of thinking is not the only problem. Even if the client was to accept the “to be” of the “to or not to be”, there are thousands of other problems that do not permit her to exercise this option. There are numerous tiny threads on both sides of her body, metaphorically speaking holding her down to the ground. These tiny threads are what held Gulliver down on the island of Lilliput. Even though the Lilliputians were minuscule people, they were able to hold Gulliver down. These threads in the coaching context are our assumptions. Most of them are accompanied by predictions we make which tend to be negative. How often we have heard such phrases from our friends, colleagues and loved ones in need of help saying: “It is no use, I know what will happen.” Most of us are experts at such deterministic predictions.
It all seems so futile that we would rather remain in the inert state. That is why we do not even think of untying one or two of these threads.
Humans do not like inertia, other than for pathological causes.
We want to get out of it and begin to discuss it with family members and friends. We even receive very genuine counsel. The advice from loved ones is somehow not valued much. It is nice but… Strangely after coaching, many clients disclosed, “This is exactly what my wife told me.” A natural response to it would be, why did we not listen to her honest advice? The problem is the confidentiality and the threat of being reminded: “I told you so” or “I know you” or “You keep making the same mistake”. A coach poses no such threat because after the coaching he is gone and is not going to reprimand you. “If I want to talk to my aeroplane seatmate about my darkest secrets, I am safe in the knowledge that I will never see that person again. The knowledge is liberating. By definition, whatever I say will never affect any long-term relationship. Furthermore, if the person is judgmental, it will have no ramifications.” 2
It is not prohibited for a coach to advise a client, but it is mostly counterproductive and not as effective because it is an opinion. An experienced coach may bring along a whole lot of best practices and even share them with the client. There are aspects of life that can be easily adapted by the client if she is made aware of them. All these exchanges are not a faux pas, but coaching is not attempting to transfer knowledge or give advice top-down.
According to my research, 2011 ~ 2016, Coaching differentiates itself from all other helping professions primarily because of metacognition. It is industry and competency agnostic always person-centred. The topics, and problems that clients discuss are always related to their person. Effective coaching is when the client is moved to metacognition so that she is relieved from a binary state of thinking, and creates a multi-option mindset and her solutions.
A critical benchmark for effective coaching is the ability of the client to influence the outcome of events. That happens when you have experienced effective coaching.
Did you get any benefit from this article? Then I would be happy if you share it:
Are you interested in an individual consultation? You are welcome to leave a message via the contact form.
Disclaimer: For the sake of inclusiveness, I use gender interchangeably throughout the article. This I have done for convenience of reading and without any intention to disregard gender: reference to one gender should be understood as to the gender of your own preference.
Copyright © 2021 Arun Kohli | Executive Coach | Intercultural Trainer