What Exactly Is Coaching? Suman July 24, 2015

What Exactly Is Coaching?

I happily announced to anyone interested that I have become a certified coach. And people responded with equal enthusiasm. But from the conversations that followed, I gathered that coaching is not a very clear concept in our minds. The most common question I get is – “Coaching in what?”. Probably they are looking for a subject, just like training is in communication and soft skills. Another common expectation is I’ll ‘coach’ people in developing skills, probably a spill over from my being a trainer. Since the common perception about coaching is not what it actually is, I thought of writing a post answering the most common questions about coaching and clearing out the basics. Coaching is a great way of getting over our obstacles and achieving what we want to. And knowing how it works will only help us all benefit from it.

What is Coaching?

The International Coach Federation defines Coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential”

I found this interesting video that very simply captures what coaching is:

A coach is a medium through which the coachee (also called the client) can reach his/her ideal self. The coachee decides the start and end points – where you are and where you want to be. The coach has a tool box of different resources to help you move ahead whenever you get stuck. The coach’s main role is to ask powerful questions and use other techniques of coaching which will enable you to find a path to your goals.

How is coaching different from training and mentoring?

Even though the three terms are used generally in the context of skills development and achieving goals, they are quite different from each other. The situation or the objective also plays an important to choosing the most effective one among these.

In simple terms, a trainer teaches, a mentor tells and a coach helps discover.

In a training session, the trainer decides the topics and the content and delivers it. Mentoring is about sitting down with a more experienced person and learning from him. In a coaching session, the client chooses what he wants to talk about and the area he wants to work on. So, a trainer is the most involved in making decisions about what the trainee needs to learn and the coach is the least involved in that decision for the client. (This is because of one of the principles of coaching that says that the client is the expert of his own life. More, later)

To make things more clear, I found this detailed and exhaustive article on the differences between coaching, mentoring and training from the Coaching and Mentoring Network in the UK.

How does coaching work?

Coaching, to me, is a non judgmental, non-threatening technique which helps open up, explore yourself, find options and get to your goals. It has client friendly principles that the coach has to believe are true about all clients. This ensures that the coachee has all the freedom to express himself and find the path best suited to him. The principles assume that the client is the expert of his life and the choices he makes are the best for him. The client has all the resources and means to achieve his goals. The job of the coach is to just help the client use those resources in ways in which he can get to his goal. Speaking to a coach, through his guided questions can, help you discover the answers within you and your subconscious magically opens up to new possibilities.

Coaching also has tools and techniques which can be used at relevant times to help the client along in the process of achieving goals.

What does a coach do?

As mentioned earlier, the role of the coach is to ask powerful open ended questions and nudge the client to find the answers to his questions. The coach maintains a coach position – that of being a detached listener in an advice free zone constantly listening to ascertain that the client’s thoughts are moving towards the positive – through out the session. The most important thing that the coach does is to ensure that the client works with a positive ‘outcome frame’. This means constantly checking that the goal the client wants to achieve is positive, in the client’s control, SMARRT (Specific, measurable, relevant, realistic, time bound) and ecological (how it affects people around). Whether your goal is a short term one or a long term, the coach always listens to you keeping your final goal in  mind so that the questions are directed to moving you towards your final desired result. 

When to use coaching?

Coaching can be used to help with any personal or professional goal. Or just make it a journey towards your better self. It is now gaining popularity in business contexts and professionals called business or executive coach work in this area. These coaches help employees of organizations improve on their skills to move up in their jobs. Coaching is also used in the business context to groom the next level of leaders.

Even though coaching is still at a nascent phase in our country, we still come across many terms related to coaching. No matter what the term, it’s just an indication of the area that the coaching deals with. For instance, Life coaching helps with life goals in general, not essentially related to work. Similarly, there’s career coach, success coach and wellness coach (health related). Coaching can also be used in a variety of fields – sports, finances, teenage issues, divorce, matrimonial conflicts, women entrepreneurs and the list is endless. 

As mentioned earlier, for the purpose of coaching, it is important for goals to fit into the outcome frame. If any one of those criteria doesn’t meet, the goal isn’t perfectly achievable. For instance, wanting your spouse to quit smoking isn’t in your control and hence the coach cannot help you with it. He could help you, maybe, come to terms with it! Similarly, wanting to sell a property in a down market may not be realistic enough and hence unachievable.

So, what happens in a coaching session?

A typical coaching session is about 30-35 minutes long. (longer if need be). The first thing in a session is to set the ‘contract’ for the session – what exactly would you want to achieve at the end of the session. This may take some time if the client is not clear and has many thoughts shooting through his mind. Since the coach is always in a detached, advice free zone, the client is free to decide what would be the best use of his time. The coach helps by asking open ended questions and eliciting importance of why you want to do it. This helps the client figure out the more urgent things he may want to discuss.

Once the contract is set, the coach takes the client through questions or introduces a new technique, if required to help him find what works best for him. The coach pays attention to the voice, the body language and the words of the coachee to better understand his emotions. The coach may also use the words of the coachee to him further explore what and why he wants something. Coaching is also experiential when the coach uses techniques to help the client envision how it feels to reach his goals or step out of himself to objectively look at things. If the sceptic in you is raising his head, no worries, I have been there and have been won over by the magic of coaching!

Coaching is too wide and deep a topic to do justice to in just one post. But I hope that I have been able to out the basics in perspective. Do feel free to ask me questions about it in the comments below. I am also available for coaching assignments apart from training. If you’d like a free sample session, do drop me a line.

You may also want to read my next post on coaching: How can coaching help you

PS: Masculine gender has been used through out the post for ease of writing. The coach and the client can be a he or a she.