…that you already do when coaching
Yes, the secret of successful chemistry checks is – start coaching!
So, do all the things you already do in coaching.
For me and many others, that means doing some or all of the following throughout the coaching process, particularly perhaps in this first crucial meeting of minds:
Trust your feelings
All experienced coaches know that the feelings they experience when with a client are likely to contain important information. That this is often the richest source for insights. But it’s easy to forget this aspect in the first session. If you’ve developed a stance that works for you, that is authentically you, then you’ll be able to stay fully ‘in the moment’ and be prepared to abandon all the rules and follow the information and energy coming from the client. Then you’ll be able to identify – and spot the difference between – projection, transference and counter transference. Excuse the psycobabble.
Affirm what’s good
You never know what developmental opportunity lies behind affirmative feedback. Giving apparently entirely positive feedback can still elicit powerful insights and surface deeper agendas.
I recall saying to a board director:
“My brief experience of you is as a charismatic leader who has a strong sense of themselves”
As soon as she heard that affirming feedback she responded by sharing a very challenging personal dynamic that proved to be central to her developmental journey and informed much of the work that followed.
Be challenging but respectful
On one occasion I was sitting with an executive in one of the world’s leading businesses and found myself feeling bored with his story. I stopped him in his tracks and simultaneously won his confidence by challenging him on this. What I said is highlighted in the ‘Acknowledge what is’ page.
Of course we all know deep down our own truth, and the challenge rang true. He had the maturity and determination to change that allowed him to hear the feedback as a developmental opportunity. He knew in that instant that if he chose to work with me he’d have to stay connected to his own truth. It was a choice and I made that explicit for him.
Trust your own sense of the person in front of you.
Then feed it back in a way that they can take in and with great respect.
Check they are following
Always check that the client is more interested in – and committed to – their journey than you.
All other criteria can be met, but if this one isn’t play it back to the potential client to see if they are really interested and wiling to go on a journey. If there is no energy there, there will be no coaching.
I don’t believe you can coach somebody who doesn’t really see the need for change, or want to change.
When there is not enough investment in the developmental journey, there’s no chemistry.
So there is no journey.
Show them the exit
Another dynamic at this crucial stage is of course a degree of resistance. When I sense, on the rare occasions it happens, that the client has in some way (or feels they have) been ‘put into’ coaching I’ll generally offer them a way out. I offer to withdraw and suggest that they decline to work with me or anyone else and take their issue back to whoever they feel ‘put them’ in this position. Or suggest a three-way to clarify coaching objectives. Then ask them how that would be for them. What that might give them, and what it may cost them. Their answer allows some authentic connection to be made, and in many cases the coaching to begin.
Catch the crumbs
Just as in the old adage about patients visiting the doctor sharing their real underlying anxiety as they go to leave the consulting room, I often think that the little asides or ‘unsolicited denials’ provide the clearest and deepest insights into the client’s inner world. Of course we all pick up on them in coaching itself but I think it’s in the chemistry check where you often get to hear one or two of the most important.
The asides offer rich insights, often the very essence of the individual’s deeper or more personal challenges. Play them back to the client in a way that they can hear and see what emerges.
Get to the essence
I hope that this point is implicit in all the other points. If you leave the client without knowing you both have a deep sense of the essence of their objectives – carefully challenged and honed through skilful dialogue – you’ll leave without the client.
Get it down to less than five words and then the client – your client – will never forget their objective.
And neither will you.
Good chemistry follows from finding your own authentic stance so you can stand calmly on your own ground and observe the multiple messages coming from the client.
It’s the start of a rewarding journey.