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Acknowledge what is

Acknowledge what is

Let’s take one simple and universal truth for all chemistry check sessions. Anxiety.

Theirs, not yours. (Remember, this is not about you.)

I often try and imagine what this ‘chemistry check’ might be like for the person in front of me. Fifteen years or so of rising up the corporate ladder and then they hit a glass ceiling or sticky developmental patch or maybe get some challenging behavioural feedback.

Or they have got all the way to the top and are a popular and successful leader but now find that it’s lonely and they’d like someone to talk to – but secretly think that that would be a sign of weakness.

Someone in HR, or their boss, suggests some coaching. That may have come as a shock, it may be welcome. In either case there will be some anxiety around the coaching process – in particular about the coach themselves. Can I trust them/should I tell them about such and such? Do I believe that they will keep this entirely confidential?

I found I often ask clients about this..

“The truths you helped me uncover made me rather uncomfortable – that’s why I decided you were the right coach to work with.”

“What’s going through your mind, what are you feeling, as you meet different coaches and start to think about developing yourself? What’s that like for you – it usually brings up a mix of responses and feelings in people. Say something if you’d like to about your thoughts & feelings leading up to this session……”

The answers are always illuminating and help relieve the inevitable tension.

The client feels ‘seen’ and we all want that – to be noticed, to be seen and really heard. And you don’t get much of that in the competitive corporate environments. The experience of being really seen – for who you are and what you think and feel – is often the most significant and positive dynamic in any relationship and surely embodies the safe and neutral sounding board that is so often the unspoken intangible benefit of a coaching relationship and process.

“The truths you helped me uncover made me rather uncomfortable – that’s why I decided you were the right coach to work with.”

Ask one big question.
All coaches have insights and hunches when sitting with a client. Something they say creates a sense of what’s really going on for them – and those around them. Turning those insights into powerful but respectful questions is, in my experience, often the defining moment when ‘good chemistry’ is made and the real agenda emerges.

Acknowledging that this session is likely to create some anxieties is one example of ‘acknowledging what’s true’. But there will be others, specific to the client and their issues. That’s where a big question can play its role. If delivered with good intention and respect it can create a very special chemistry and understanding.

Big questions, all of which were quoted back to me as one of the main reasons I was selected – have included:

“Do you ever get bored with this, your story?” [Response from this senior executive in an international company: “Yes! . . . and I wish somebody had said that to me ten years ago…”]

“I wonder if your issue is more about authentic leadership rather than being an American working in the UK?” [Response: laughter and relief at coming out from behind his hiding place. This informed twelve months of work and a rich professional development journey.]

“What’s your secret – it feels like you’re hiding something?” [Response: Smiling for the first time he said: ‘Yes, there is something….’ We had begun the work and his answer informed months of hard but productive work.]

“What’s the best possible but slightly ‘edgy’ question I could ask you?” [The real coaching agenda was revealed in her answer. It was challenging stuff but having volunteered what it was she was truly willing to work on it and made great progress.]

I’ve only asked each of those questions once because they were the right questions at the right time with particular clients.

Your own questions will be, like these, connected to a deep sense of what is ‘going on’ for this particular client at this particular time.

Finding a way of acknowledging and normalising their own truth, their experience – and then starting to work on it – can be a huge relief for the client and significantly reduce their anxiety, building confidence and trust.

And that’s good chemistry.

Start at the end
Take in the whole system
Acknowledge what is
Not about you
Choose your clients
Everything else . . .

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Start at the end
Take in the whole system
Acknowledge what is
Not about you
Choose your clients
Everything else . . .

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