Pause for reflection

In the penultimate part of our series, Charlotte Sills and Bill Critchley
explore the skills and strategies that a coach requires to facilitate change

So far in this Masterclass series by Ashridge Consulting Ltd (ACL), we have
examined the aims and characteristics of the effective coaching relationship.
We have stressed the importance of building an effective working alliance with
the client, through building rapport and developing mutual understanding in
relation to goals and tasks. We have also examined some of the organisational
key issues and areas of focus that are central to the coach’s role.

All these elements are vital and fundamental to the skills of facilitating
change. In this article we shall outline an approach that goes beyond this to
take a meta-view of the coaching and its overall aim in facilitating change.

At Ashridge Consulting, we believe there is a particular stance that
optimises the creativity and effectiveness of the outcomes of coaching. One way
of expressing this would be to say we view coaching as a transformational
rather than remedial process. To achieve this, the coach needs to embrace
certain qualities which are both a skill and attitude. This article explores
both aspects.

An attitude of enquiry. There is a whole raft of skills that are essential
to the ‘helping’ relationship. These types of skills help the client to become
more aware of his situation with regard to his role in his organisation. They
help him to recognise which patterns of his thinking, feeling and relating are
useful and which less useful, as well as to understand his options and
decision-making processes. In a coaching session, these key skills include
active listening, phenomenological enquiry (ie, enquiring into a person’s
current experience as they see it), challenging, clarifying, crystallising and
giving feedback. These are the skills commonly used in counselling and

Reflexivity. This is the coach’s ability to really to know him or herself:
to be aware of feelings, thoughts, assumptions, biases and prejudices and to
reflect on this awareness with the client in a way that is useful to him. If a
coach is able to tell a client how he is personally affected by the client’s
behaviour, for example, the client might better understand how his actions and
attitudes may affect his colleagues or how he might be perceived within his
organisation. Remarks such as "As I am listening to you", I am aware
of feeling increasingly anxious," or "I’m getting overwhelmed by too
much detail," or "I’m starting to feel defensive," enables the
coach to use his awareness of his own feelings and reactions to show his client
the effect he has on other people. Theorists might describe this as ‘use of
self’ in the coaching relationship.

Relatedness. This is entering into a relationship with the client in a real
way. Many conventional coaching relationships are based on the idea of coach as
helper of the client, or facilitator of learning. At ACL we have a different
perspective as we believe that real learning is co-created between coach and
client. The coach is willing to be changed by the client and he is not
reluctant to make his impact on the client. The coach engages in a genuine
relationship of equals working together to produce creative solutions. This
approach avoids the temptation for either of them to see the coach as an expert
– this could be a somewhat patronising position that does not invite

Holding the paradox between certainty and uncertainty. It would be easy for
the coach to fall into the trap of encouraging the client to do ‘more of the
same’, to improve himself while maintaining old patterns of behaviour. This
might serve the short-term purpose of reassuring the client, but will not
introduce anything novel. The coach needs to take risks – including risking not
being liked or perceived as immediately helpful. He does this in the service of
breaking old patterns of acting and reacting. This approach can be vibrant and
exciting but also disturbing and anxiety provoking for both client and the

These are moments when the coach holds his or her nerve, being willing to
forgo stability and familiarity. He thereby models taking the risks that he is
inviting the client to take. The coach needs to create an area of "bounded
instability" (Stacey 1992) that provides enough structure and solid ground
for safety, but enough originality in the unpredictability of a real meeting in
order for creativity to flourish.

This involves stepping into the unknown for both the coach and client. They
must both be willing to sit happily with uncertainty and stay connected in
their dialogue. Within the security of the coach/client relationship, new ideas
and patterns of behaviour can be explored in a relatively safe environment. The
risk-averse client, who is breaking old behaviour patterns and behaving in more
innovative ways, may feel more secure about trying out these new approaches for
the first time within the coaching relationship than he would in his

Coaching as a strategic process

We have focused so far on the coaching session itself. Now we want to step
back and take a broader view of coaching as a strategic process in the service
of sustainable change. This highlights some key factors that start before the
coaching engagement and continue after it has terminated.

At the time of arranging the first meeting, the coach may encourage the
client to undertake any or all of the following tasks prior to the meeting:

– Develop views on how or what they would like to be different in their
working lives

– Have a conversation with their manager on the same topic

– Possibly get 360-degree feedback from their place of work

– Collected broader data about themselves from a wider arena – eg from
friends, family, customer, suppliers

As well as attempting to co-create the kind of sessions that will open up
possibilities during the course of the coaching as we described earlier, the
effective coach will also consider a range of strategies outside the formal
coaching meetings. The coach might choose to extend his or her involvement
outside the actual session. He may for example:

– ‘Shadow’ for a period of time

– Sit in on meetings, give feedback

– Interview colleagues, distil feedback

– Facilitate the analysis of feedback – explore, debrief, interpret

– Take part in a three-way discussion with the line manager, for example
where the coach acts as mediator, advocate, planner)

Strategies for the client in between sessions

The client is encouraged to continue his development between sessions by a
variety of means, such as:

– Keeping a notebook of significant new insights

– Practicing new skills and different behaviours

– Writing up the coaching session, to later compare with the coach’s

– Making agreements with colleagues and subordinates to ensure ongoing
feedback about impact and behaviour

– Developing supportive networks

– Reading books, articles, using the web

Finally, the coach will be aware of the possibilities for growth and
maintenance that occur around the conclusion of the coaching contract. The
coach and client may address:

– How the client might respond to the end of the coaching process, based on
past patterns

– The significance of transitions for the client

– What other forms of ongoing development can be put in place, such as an
action learning group; supportive networks with business related contacts with
others in different organisations but in similar situation; social
networks/hobbies, interests

– What contract might need to be made with the manager relating to that

– How to ensure that the client will receive ongoing feedback

– What other areas for growth have been identified

A major challenge for the coach lies in developing the ability to select and
use a blend of skills and strategies that is unique for each client situation.
The appropriate mix from the coach’s kitbag must be chosen and used in ways
that create new options for the client rather than becoming the formulaic
application of traditional techniques and methods.

Bill Critchley is business director of Ashridge Consulting, and one of
the tutors on the forthcoming Coaching for Consultants programme. Charlotte Sills
is one of the tutors on the forthcoming Coaching for Consultants training
course from Ashridge Consulting

Strategies within the coaching session


– Phenomenological enquiry/ awareness raising

– Clarification of goals, options, actions

– Exploration of patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving

– Identifying patterns from past to present

– Examining dynamics in the room

– Telling life story and identifying significant choices,
changes etc

– Exploring learning styles

– Doing nothing – providing space

Teaching and Experimenting

– Skills practice/role play/video

– Designing and delivering training inputs

– Administering psychometric tests

– Using different media – artwork, music, movement

– Referring client to another source of therapy/training

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