You did our non-scientific quiz and decided to get a coach – now what? Here are our 10 top tips to maximise your coaching experience.
Tip One: Choose your coach carefully
Isn’t that obvious, I hear you think? Well yes, and here are some pointers to get you going.
- Ask for recommendations from friends, family, colleagues, even competitors. Personal recommendations are valuable
- Remember that a coach who does a great job with your friend who is dealing with a messy divorce is perhaps not as well suited to coaching you on developing your start-up business
- Talk to more than one coach before you settle on one. Sleep on it if that helps
They don’t need to be mate material, but you do need to be able to trust your chosen coach with your innermost thoughts. If you feel that you could, that’s a good sign.
Tip Two: Decide what matters in a coach
Once you have identified a few potential coaches to talk to, give some thought to what you consider essential and what would be nice to have in your coach. You may need to make a trade-off. For example, are you more interested in:
- Experience or formal coaching qualifications?
- Personal recommendations or proven experience with clients similar to you?
- A lower rate or more experience/better qualifications/glowing recommendations?
Tip Three: Ask everything about them
Make sure you ask everything you want to know about the coach and their practice. In addition to practical questions you should find out about the way they work. Here are some sample questions:
- Can they explain their approach and method to you?
- How often do they have coaching supervision?
- When was the last time they worked with a coach themselves as a client?
If you feel uneasy about asking about these things, if the coach becomes defensive or rushes you, do take that as a sign that you need to look further before deciding.
Tip Four: Have a clear coaching question
When you are clear how you want your coaching experience to make a difference to you, it is much easier to find the right coach.
To define your question as clearly as possible, work backwards: (more…)
Maybe it’s the time of year, and we can that feel spring is in the air and we’re ready for some dramatic change… Have you noticed how many television programmes are about transformation of some sort? Just a quick look at BBC iPlayer reveals these:
- Homes under the Hammer – a long-running property renovation show
- The Great Interior Design Challenge – a competitionabout updating boring rooms
- DIY SOS – renovations to the rescue of people in a health pickle
- Big Dreams, Small Spaces – garden redesign on a budget
- The 100K House – architects helping people recreate their problematic home
OK, maybe this list reveals more about my interests than the state of humankind. It’s still remarkable that the BBC alone has five programmes about transforming our living space right now! In fact, the BBC has no fewer than 570 programmes (radio and television) about homes and gardens, which tells me I’m not the only one with an interest in looking after my living environment.
The hard graft involved
Programmes like the above are are very satisfactory to watch, assuming you are interested in the subject of course. The triumphant reveal at the end is accompanied by a ‘ta-dah!’ soundtrack and a cheerful voice-over listing all the improvements. The ‘before’ flashes across the screen in monochrome before the camera shows us the finished product in Technicolor. As we admire the benefits of the project we all achieve closure-by-proxy.
But for me the end result is only part of the joy. I derive a lot of pleasure from following the DIY-ers’ progress and creative problem-solving prowess. I especially like the ballsy ones that throw caution to the wind and really unleash some inner fury to tackle the task while shouting
Obstacles? Hah! My crowbar and I laugh in thy face!
They’re the ones that appear to undergo their own transformations as well as their house or garden. The bloke who only liked magnolia who paints his kitchen units purple. The mum who turns into a fully fledged bricklayer.
Such programmes are about visible transformations and they are very satisfactory to watch. When I’ve completed a coaching assignment with a client, be it a team or an individual, I’ll tell them that it has been a priviledge to work with them. That’s not an empty phrase to me, because it is humbling to be with someone who is going through such profound change that they come out transformed.
It is humbling because to change you have to be vulnerable, and to be able to be vulnerable with someone else, you have to put your trust in them. Witnessing a client transform through their persistence and effort reminds me what it takes to develop as a person. It isn’t easy. It’s painful because you lose things and sometimes people along the way. And at the end there is no spectacular reveal in Technicolor either…
My job as a coach is to take the client back to the early beginning of the journey and show the distance travelled, because it is easy to forget where you came from if the world looks different now. It never fails to take the client by surprise either when they look back. It’s not the same as popping a bottle of champagne in your fashionably purple new kitchen but I’ll tell you now that such a personal transformation will outlast any such kitchen by decades.
Happiness, it seems, has become synonymous with success. It won’t do to feel meh or mild unhappiness about something: we aspire to having constant positive emotional responses that boost our mental resources and motivation.
Positive psychologists, Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener penned a new book titled The Upside of Your Dark Side in which they argue the case for what they term ‘mild unhappiness’, a term perhaps best explained as dependent on context.
They explain that there are tasks which really benefit from a certain level of fed up-ness to get them done. Familiar and routine tasks which no longer excite us but require our full attention to be done well are such an example. Also tasks which ask us to engage on a level of detail we do not normally favour or things we have been putting off because they take us out of our comfort zone in some other way.
One can be too happy
Feeling (too) happy too often, Kashdan and Biswas-Diener argue, can get in the way of getting things done, because:
- we get used to being comfortable, and start taking things for granted
- we are less likely to attend to detail and think more in broad terms
- we tend to minimise negatives to maintain our happy outlook
- we become desensitised to feeling happy, and so start seeking out events that trump the last one that made us feel happy
- we can also become far more sensitive to negative emotions to the point where they become overwhelming – amplification
- our happiness can impair our own and others’ performance
Of course the authors acknowledge there is a great deal of evidence of the benefits of happiness brings. Being happy is linked to benefits such as higher incomes, better immune systems, kindness and wearing seatbelts. They caution against the unrealistic pursuit of happiness, and argue the case for a better balance.
Mild unhappiness is also clearly distinct from serious, debilitating unhappiness which leads to social isolation or mental and emotional disorders. Mild unhappiness is more about being on the fed up side of indifference.
The business case for mild unhappiness
Emotions which we habitually label as negative can in fact be very helpful in business situations. Here are some examples.
Angry people are less gullible
Being aware of anger rising is informative to you. Because anger is disagreeable in itself, we tend to check whether it is justified to feel angry, and pay closer attention to what is happening. We read the situation in more detail than we would if we were happier about it; in other words, we are less easily influenced by someone’s arguments if we angry.
Anyone who works in customer services knows how hard it is to convince an angry customer who is scrutinising a product or service they are unhappy with!
Anxiety is a safeguard
Anxiety deservedly gets a bad press, because we know high levels of anxiety are bad for our health. At the same time anxiety serves its purpose: it is a very clear indicator something isn’t right.
Short bursts or low levels of anxiety shake us out of complacency and trigger processes that sharpen our senses and heighten our perception and awareness. Anxiety also boosts our problem solving capability, and helps us see creative answers to problems where in a less heightened mental state we would have made no such links.
Approaching deadlines are a prime example of anxiety triggers. In my practice as a marketer I hurtled from one to the next, and realised that I seemed to meet certain deadlines much more creatively (a very important ingredient of marketing) when I was experiencing the right amount of anxiety.
The high of mild unhappiness
The productive use of happiness and mild unhappiness dependent on context is what the authors refer to as ‘wholeness’.
Something the book doesn’t mention, but which I experience often myself, is the feeling of achievement that follows the productive use of mild unhappiness. It is not only that the task ended up being done after getting angry about it and taking a few risks which feels great. The memory of how it got done is so vivid that it serves as a useful reminder of where the line is between mild and full-blown unhappiness.
Early this morning I found myself in Shotover Park just outside Oxford to be interviewed about wildlife and wellbeing. My interviewer, radio presenter Stuart Mabbutt, invited me onto his radio show Going Wild With Wildlife to chat about how the seasons affect my work and business.
Seasons influencing my coaching and mentoring business you might ask. Really?
There is no question that the season we live in makes a huge impact on how we feel. The weather matters a great deal to us, and that’s not just to complain about it! Our social calendar is heavily influenced by the time of year too. We brighten up our long, dark nights of autumn with celebrations like Halloween and Guy Fawkes, and we ring in the New Year on one of the shortest days of winter with great displays of fireworks. They get us out and about in the dark, and make us feel better for it.
The link between wildlife and our wellbeing
How we feel influences our behaviour, judgment and decision making, so yes, the seasons make a difference in my work. Stuart’s question made me think about our relationship with wildlife and nature.
As we walked into Shotover Park, Stuart almost apologetically said there would be noise from the nearby M40 in the interview. I had not noticed the noise because I was busy listening to the birds, which were out in numbers in the early morning sun. Stuart informed me we were listening to a robin a few trees away. The sun lit up the golden grass as we picked our way to a spot near our little robin so we could capture some of its gorgeous song in the background.
Five ways to wellbeing
A comprehensive report on the benefits of different forms of ecotherapy by the charity Mind defines wellbeing as a positive physical, social and mental state. The report lists five, evidence-based ways to wellbeing:
- connecting with others and the world around you
- being active for better physical health
- taking notice of what is happening in the present
- giving your time and help to others activates the reward areas of the brain
- keep learning to increase self-esteem and resilience
Connecting with nature can do all of the above.
‘Ecotherapy’ refers to nature-based, facilitated interventions aimed at improving mental wellbeing. Such interventions can range from nature walks to conservation projects and animal-assisted interventions. They are different from nature-based activities for a general public in that they are specifically aimed to meet certain objectives, such as alleviating depression or overcoming social anxiety.
The report is really worth a read. Here are some of my personal highlights:
- significant increases in perceived positivity were recorded by participants during the projects included in the study
- 55% of participants reported increases in self-esteem and 76% reported an improvement in mood after a single ecotherapy session
- more than 60% reported feeling more of a connection with nature
- many participants also learned more eco-friendly behaviours and had adopted healthier lifestyles
Cutting out the noise
As our interview progressed, we were interrupted by a helicoptre, which was too loud to ignore. No matter: we simply restarted the interview.
There were joggers throwing us curious glances in passing. We waved at them, and they waved back. A mature student from a local college stopped for a chat after spotting us. He usually walked from Littleworth to Oxford for his classes because the walks were a great way to start his day of learning.
We watched a dog or two sniff around the tripod as we were recording the show, mindful that no-one would cock their leg. We discussed the smell of cow pats in the morning, and whether or not horses are simply very large rabbits with two passing park wardens. The jury is still out on that last one.
No-one seemed to notice the M40.
You’ve heard about coaching, and how it is the latest thing for personal and professional development. Perhaps someone is raving about it. Perhaps you’ve seen the adverts promising success and wealth in shouty tones. Appealing, so you decide to have a go. Simple, right?
Hold on: let me give you six scenarios that show how coaching is not for everyone. Which one describes you?
Scenario 1: You have a supportive manager
And even better, one who is ready, willing and able to coach you on the job. As coaching takes hold in more workplaces, managers have opportunities to increase their managerial repertoire to include a coaching style in the way they lead their teams. Are you one of the lucky ones to have such a manager? Make the most of it!
Scenario 2: You just want to let off steam.
Although this does happen in coaching sessions occasionally – it’s only human – your coach will soon steer the conversation into a different, more reflective direction to help you work through whatever set you off. If you are more interested in going through the issue in minute detail, and reliving an incident without intending to turn the experience into something you can learn from, you are really looking for a rant facilitator, not a coach. A night in the pub with some friends is probably what you need.
Scenario 3: You’re not ready to explore the question or issue.
In fact, you’re not convinced there is an issue to start with! You’ve been told to go to coaching, or you’ve been persuaded to. Maybe you feel an obligation to see a coach and you don’t want to look ungrateful. Perhaps you don’t see the issue as an issue and you’re not willing to spend time en mental energy on it. Whatever the reason; if you are not ready to engage with whatever someone else has told you you need to address through coaching, coaching is very unlikely to work, and will certainly be off to a very rocky start.
Scenario 4: You’d rather someone sorted you out.
You know there’s an issue which needs working on, and you’re looking to someone else to provide you with the solution. That doesn’t sit easily with coaching, which looks to support the individual to find the solution for themselves. Few coaches will sit down with you and map out a plan for you – be weary of those that do. You’re probably dealing with an adviser of sorts, and you’ll want to ask them some questions about what qualifies them to advise you.
Scenario 5: There isn’t really anything to talk about…
Which doesn’t mean you have no challenges to deal with, it just means that you have the natural support and resilience in your (professional and personal) life to deal with things successfully. People go through life without ever having coaching, while others work with a coach for a number of weeks or months and happily move on afterwards.
Scenario 6: You’re after a quick fix.
Coaching does have the potential to open a can of worms, and sometimes it takes two, three sessions for the real issue or question to emerge. Much happens in between sessions too – clients take away ‘homework’ and experiments to try out, while the coaching process itself can take months to complete. It needs time, effort and a degree of patience in almost all cases, which is important to bear in mind.
So, having read all this, has your perception of coaching shifted, and I so, how?