Accelerate your thinking with a little bit of chemistry…

Any scientist will tell you that a catalyst can accelerate a chemical reaction. Change may eventually happen on its own, but a coach, as a catalyst, can help it happen faster.

In the chemical world a catalyst will only work with certain reactions. Some people have a natural chemistry with each other. Others don’t. But people have the advantage over elements of being able to continuously change and adapt. As coaches we need to find ways of adapting to build a good connection with our client to help them make a change happen.

One of the comments on my last post, Coaching through the rain, asked what to do when “faced with someone who isn’t a good coachee”.  Making a good, positive connection with the client from the beginning is possibly the single most important thing to get right, but it can be hard to achieve. Here are two different scenarios I have been thinking about.

Working with a client you haven’t met

The first meeting between a coach and the coachee (client) is different from any sessions that follow. There is no existing bond between you when you first meet, so getting the tone right is essential. There are a number of things a coach must do during the first session, including discussing confidentiality and other factors, but if you don’t build a rapport and spark interest in the process, then this becomes meaningless.

Build on common ground. Listen actively and without judgment. Be curious, ask questions but let them talk. It helps to be flexible, to be able to go off topic and put people at ease without losing the sight of why you’re both there. You need to understand the coachee and what their goals are. You also need to communicate that understanding. Not every coachee will know what their goals are and not every coachee will be convinced that you can help them. Give a sense of how you can work together towards finding their goal and achieving it. Agree how you will work together; how frequently, how long for, and terms of engagement whether that be payment and cancellation or discussing how the relationship will work with their sponsor i.e. another person who may have commissioned you as a coach. At this early stage, I believe a good coach should also keep in mind the question of whether coaching is the most helpful and appropriate intervention for the client.

Working with someone you already know

If you’re a line manager or supporting a colleague, using coaching techniques could benefit a team member by helping them to overcome a challenge or find a solution. This is a very difference scenario but many of the same principles still apply.

Make sure you signal and both agree that either you are beginning a coaching relationship or that you will be using coaching techniques during your regular sessions together. Not doing this risks losing trust because they will notice a difference in your approach and may wonder why. You must leave everything you already know about them and the scenario at the door. This is not always easy and I share some techniques I have found helpful for achieving this, in a future blog post. Confidentiality can be particularly tricky when coaching a work colleague or as a line manager. There may be times when keeping to this important coaching principle puts you in a difficult situation yourself. Discuss this scenario early on.

Building a good connection can take time. As with people you have never met before, starting with common ground, actively listening and being interested are good starting points. This is the start of a different type of relationship, one which must be built on trust. The weighty labels attached to us in a work context and divisions these can create can be a barrier to effective coaching. Be yourself. Respect professional boundaries but be yourself.

As a coach and a catalyst, help a change to happen without affecting the outcome of the reaction, only the time in which it happens.

I’d love to hear from other people who have thought about coaching, from people who have never considered coaching as a way to find a solution and from anyone who has got a view on this topic. I’m always happy to share my views on a question and am keen to learn from your experiences as much as share my own.

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Avatar photo Sarah Gilbert is an experienced campaigner. She is an independent consultant and runs projects for NCVO on campaigning and influencing, including the Certificate in Campaigning and Leadership in Campaigns. She also coaches campaigners, has guest lectured for Roehampton University, and is a member of the advisory board for the University of Westminster's MA in Campaigning, Communications and Media. Sarah sits on the Campaigning Effectiveness Advisory Board and writes blogs, articles and tweets about how to influence people and the sector’s role in campaigning.

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