Last week as I engaged in a coaching conversation with a client*, I was gratified and pleased when he said he had read one of my blogs and converted a small idea in it to productive action. He said he read my article entitled Leadership: Strong Presence or Intimidation, and the idea that an FBI agent seemed intimidated by sitting in my [high school principal’s] office stuck with him.
My point when writing the blog was that leaders need to look at ways they may intimidate employees and clients and consider how to reduce those factors. The “takeaway” for my client, however, was what he called Location Intimidation. He reasoned that being in a comfortable location could have the opposite effect. Taking this a step further, he held an important meeting in a location where he believed a challenging colleague would be very relaxed. He reported results that surprised even him.
When I asked him if I could write about this topic, I thought I would discuss his very interesting theory of Location Intimidation. However, when I considered it a bit more, I realized that what really struck me about the conversation was how much I learn from each client.
When I began training for my coaching practice, I did so with the idea that I would “help” others. I would find ways to support individuals as they struggled with challenges. What I discovered was that I always learn from and gain from the experience. I value the time I spend with clients because the conversations are always stimulating and worthwhile.
This led me to think about the most important things I have learned from my coaching practice:
- I learned that listening is harder than I thought it would be. For any coach, this probably goes without saying. I enjoy talking. I enjoy giving advice. I enjoy having answers. However, I have somewhat reluctantly learned to bite my tongue and listen before I engage in any of the activities I enjoy so much. The client gains more and I learn more when I am silent.
- I have learned to work with possibilities not problems. My attitude about my role in a coaching conversation is critical. A couple of years ago, I heard noted author, speaker and consultant Margaret Wheatley say that she became a better consultant when she began to focus on possibilities rather than problems. I find that when I focus on possibilities, coaching conversations are very different and much more productive.
- I get the clients I need – During my coaching training at Newfield Network, one of the speakers made the statement that she always got the clients she needed. I did not understand what she meant at the time, but I have found repeatedly that as a client discusses his or her own concerns, I learn something about myself that helps me to grow or to have a deeper understanding of my own life. Frequently, the topic is one in which I am personally involved at the time of the discussion.
- I continue to see that the professional is also the personal. I am amazed each time a light goes on in a client’s eyes and he or she begins to discuss a professional situation in terms of a similar situation in private life. The way he handles conflict or the way she deals with criticism is frequently at issue in the personal life as well as the professional. It is wonderful to feel that the conversations that help leaders and their organizations so often support relationships with families and friends.
- Possibly most important, however, is the one I have already mentioned - what I learn from each client. Our conversations may be in person, on a telephone or online, and clients may deal with fields such as law, technology, education or coaching, but I always find that the client brings a perspective to the discussion that I had not considered. For this I am grateful.
I enjoy learning more about coaching and client relationships every day. However, these five enhance my experience, and I hope they make the conversations more productive and more meaningful for my clients.
*Content of conversation used with client permission