This article was originally written by Michael Hall - gently edited by The Coaching Room
Whenever I lead the ACMC training, Coaching Mastery, one thing I say over and over is, “The Coaching Conversation is not a normal conversation!” There’s a reason for it. I want to drive home the point that as a Meta-Coach, you need to shift your thinking, listening, and responding when you are in a Coaching Conversation from what you normally would do.
This has actually been an ongoing theme since the beginning of Meta-Coaching in 2002. One of the things that have always stood out to me is that the coaching conversation is not a normal conversation. In fact, if it was a normal conversation, then it would be worth a whole lot less. If the coaching conversation is just another conversation, one that you could have at the morning breakfast table, at the pub after work, or with friends when you are at a sporting event— there would really be nothing special about coaching as a profession. But it is different. And part of that difference is that it is not a normal conversation.
Here’s the problem. If you, as a Meta-Coach, think that coaching is basically a normal conversation, then you will not be able to tap into the uniqueness and, shall I say, the weirdness of the coaching conversation. So what’s so different about coaching from a normal conversation?
Over the years, the fact of the coaching conversation’s non-normalcy has grown in my understanding. At first I would only identify two items that made it different. Now I can identify five or six, or even nine.
1) It is not normal in its direction. The conversation of coaching is a one-way conversation, and not like the way normal conversations work wherein both persons equally share and talk about their lives. The coaching conversation is all about the client. This makes the “dialogue” unique in that it is not back-and-forth about each person, but only about the client’s outcome and experience. That is also why there is so little disclosure on the part of the coach.
2) It is not normal in the use of acknowledgments. When you repeat a sentence in a normal conversation, it calls attention to itself and so seems out-of-place. Yet when you repeat a sentence of your client, especially a semantically significant sentence, the effect is that they person actually feels heard.
3) It is not normal in the use of the meta-comment for meta-awareness. In coaching, you will probably say something like, “Let’s step back from this conversation for a moment—how are we doing?” “Let’s take a meta-moment— what are you aware that’s happening here?” If you do that in a normal conversation— that will bring the conversation to a screeching halt.
4) It is not normal in its intensity. The coaching conversation is a very personal one as it seeks to go to the heart of things. You quickly, and without apology, get personal with people as you ask for the person’s deepest beliefs about things. “And what do you believe about being insulted?”
5) It is not normal in its challenging nature. Now true enough, some conversations are challenging, but they are the exception, not the rule. Coaching, now the other hand, is all about challenge— inviting a person to stretch, to step up and be one’s best self, about not selling oneself short, and even bringing up things that might be unconformable (confrontation).
6) It is not normal in its call for experiential learning. In fact, it is the very nature of coaching that you are facilitating a person’s learning. This is not the purpose of most normal conversations. Yet this is the design of coaching— enabling learning. That’s why in coaching, you sometimes “coach the body” and do other things to get the person to embody an idea or process.
7) It is not normal in how intensely and actively you listen. Normal conversations, in fact, are notorious for not involving high quality listening. This is one reason most people are not good listeners. Normal conversations are often plagued by people multi-tracking several things, answering their phone, interjecting comments to other people, etc. Not so with the coaching conversation. And this often stands out to the client as so incredible and appreciated— to be listened to with one’s full presence and attention.
8) It is not normal in giving feedback to the person while conversing. This can happen in normal conversations, but again, it is the exception, not the norm. In coaching conversations this is one of the key skills that the coach learns— to pay attention to everything going on and to bring many of those things into the conversation. “I noticed that you have been looking up and to your left while you have been describing that event ... are you making pictures?”
9) It is not normal that you set frames before and during the conversation. Normally we do not start a conversation by saying, “Now if I interrupt you it is because I want to catch things that might indicate a limiting belief.” Nor do we, in normal conversation, say, “Thank you for those tears, it means we are getting close to something really significant to you.”
So, what’s the point? Don’t treat the conversation you have when you are coaching as if it is a normal conversation. Nor when you are in a normal conversation, let it slide into “coaching.” If coaching becomes a possibility, stop and punctuate what you’re going to do as very different from just a talk. Prepare your clients for the very special and unique conversation called “coaching.” And finally, prepare yourself with your own unique and best style for coaching. It is special — so let it be special!