The most powerful coaching sessions I’ve assessed over the years involve a full partnership between the coach and the client. This partnership is especially important for setting the agenda throughout the coaching session. Masterful coaches understand that setting the agenda for the coaching session extends far beyond asking the client for the topic and then asking powerful questions based on what catches the coach’s attention. This seemingly unconscious coach approach to directing the session results in lackluster results for the client because the client finds themselves following the coach’s interest. Powerful coaching sessions almost always involve the exact opposite approach. Skillful coaches create opportunities throughout the session to: Explore progress toward what the client wanted to accomplish Invite the client to share new ideas and insights regarding the session topic Support the client to choose what happens in the session To ensure that you do not set the agenda for the client, I recommend taking your time early in the session to coach the client to confidently articulate what they want to accomplish in the session, and what needs to be addressed in this session to achieve that. We present many examples of real coaching sessions with coaches demonstrating these behaviors at the ACC, PCC, and MCC levels in our ICF-accredited Group Mentor Coaching Program.
Most coaches know that making assumptions in a coaching relationship or session is problematic. These problems range from momentary misalignment with the client to offending the client beyond the point of repair. While making assumptions is one of the most natural human tendencies and often helps us make meaning of situations quickly, it usually leaves clients feeling misunderstood or diminished. Here are some simple practices I teach in my group mentor coaching program: Notice moments when you tend to make assumptions and spend time reflecting on the patterns, including what might motivate you in those instances. For example, perhaps you make assumptions to help the client feel understood or avoid asking probing questions. Curiously, explore the client’s use of words. We tend to associate words with the meaning they hold for us. Those words almost always have a different meaning for the client in their context. Consider inquiring into the client’s meaning of specific words or concepts by asking questions. If the client uses the word “success,” you might ask a question such as, “What constitutes success? Avoid binary thinking. We can rely too much on simple concepts that provide two contrasting options, including success/failure, wrong/right, and other ways of framing things as opposites. For example, the client might state, “I don’t want to go to work tomorrow,” and we automatically assume they want to stay home because stay contrasts with go. One of the most common assumptive patterns I observe while assessing coaching sessions for ICF involves the coach assuming to understand what the client wants by connecting different bits of information. When the client says, “I don’t want to feel angry at him anymore,” don’t assume the client wants to forgive, be reconciled, or take responsibility for feelings. Consider inviting the client to share what they desire using questions such as, “How would you like to feel?” Assumptions about what the client wants in coaching create significant misalignment between the coach and client. For example, a client states that they are “tired of restarting these projects.” Rather than listening to the client explain what they want, the coach assumes that the client does not want to restart the projects again when it could be that the client does not want to work on these projects independently or something else. It’s also common for the coach to make assumptions about what the client gained from the session. By giving the client a reflective period towards the end of the session and asking questions such as,” Given what we discussed, what would you like to take with you?” or “What are your insights from our session today?” you can help your client reflect on their learning from the session. In our ICF-accredited Group Mentor Coaching Program, we present many examples of actual coaching sessions demonstrating techniques to maintain alignment by avoiding making assumptions.