What is coaching like?

That’s a tricky one to answer. Perhaps the easiest way is by example.

In this video (and transcript below) I’ll describe an actual coaching session.

The person arrived with the belief “I’d like to do X but I can’t.” They left with the belief “Actually I was wrong, I can do X.”

I didn’t convince, cajole, or tell them that they were wrong. I helped them to re-evaluate their thinking and in the end THEY drew the conclusion that they could do the thing after all.

I often find myself at networking meetings, or having conversations with people, trying to explain what coaching is and what coaching isn’t.

When people ask me, Tony, what is coaching? I’ve got a stock answer which in some ways is a bit of a glib answer. I often say, trying to explain coaching is trying to trying to explain what a strawberry tastes like.  You can’t do it, you’ve got to experience it for yourself.

While that is true, it’s not always that useful, because by the end of it, the other person still doesn’t have any idea what coaching is.

So I was prompted to make this video after a conversation yesterday, when the person I was talking to thought they knew what coaching was.

They thought it was people coming to me, very often business owners, and saying things like: I want to grow my business, but I’m not doing anything about it, because I’ve got a million things going on around in my head. I’ve got no time to do it and I’m just overwhelmed. Can you help me do something about it? And then me saying, great, let’s slow down. Let’s think about this. Let’s start to create a project. And then when when we’ve created a project, we can break that project down into a series of tasks. And then once we’ve got a series of tasks, you can make commitments of when you’re going to do those things. And then once you’ve made those commitments, I can hold you accountable for doing them.

That is part of what coaching is, that’s one aspect of coaching. But it is no more the whole of coaching than a steering wheel is the whole of a car.

One of my early mentors, a guy named Reg Connelly, who’s who is a great coach, used to say that coaching is little chats that change lives. And I agree with that. I’ve changed the wording very slightly in my head that coaching is a suit is little chats that change people’s perspective on the world. And when their perspective on the world changes, when they change the way they look at things, when they change the way they think about things, that’s when lives are changed.

I’m going to illustrate this with an example. And this is a coaching conversation that I had very recently. It was a conversation that took place probably over 45 minutes.  I’m going to distill it down into just a couple of minutes for you making it as short as I can.

This was a throwaway comment that someone made as part of a different conversation. The person involved had been widowed. Sadly, they’d lost their wife. And it was a couple of years ago. And they were now starting to put their life back together. They said, you know, Tony, I’d love to go on holiday, but I can’t.

That always makes my ears pick up when people say, I would like to, but I can’t. I want to know, why not? What’s stopping them.

Now their friends and family have been really supportive of them. And they’ve said, all the obvious things like you can, you’ve done more difficult things than this in the past. You just got to get your confidence back, but you can do it. We know it’s going to be difficult. First time we do it, it’s going to be uncomfortable. But once you do it, once you’re there, you’re going to enjoy it. You’ll find things that you enjoy, and it will become easier each time that you do it.

And that’s great. But it can have unexpected consequences. If a person believes that they can’t go on holiday, what their friends are actually doing is arguing with them. And when people argue with you, what do you tend to do? You argue back. And when you run out of argument, you make up new arguments to strengthen your position and it becomes trench warfare.

I’m not saying this always happens, but it can happen. So trying to tell somebody they can do something when they’d say that they can’t, can actually strengthen that belief.

So I’m not going to work in that way. I’m going to ask them the question, What’s stopping you go not from going on holiday on your own? What’s stopping you from doing that?

And after a bit of thinking, they said, it’s the thought of being in restaurants on my own. It’s the thought of eating on my own and all the other people looking at me and thinking, look at that saddo over there obviously got no friends being on holiday on their own.

As soon as he said that I knew exactly what the problem was. But again, I’m not going to tell them what the problem was because they can argue with me. What I really want is for them to figure out the answer themselves.

So I said, okay, so you’re in a restaurant, all of these people are paying attention to you. They’re not thinking about what they’re doing or conversations that they’re having. They’re paying all of your attention to you?

And he said, Well, yeah, they may be you’re right, maybe they’re not all paying attention to me.

And that’s the first little bit we’ve chipped away the first little bit of it.

Then I  said: but it’s true, isn’t it? Some people might be paying attention to you. And they might be thinking about you.

But is it true that they the only thing they could be thinking is look at that saddo over there? Is that the only thing that they could be thinking?

Well, no, it’s not the only thing they could be thinking.

Great, what else could they be thinking?

He struggled there, he couldn’t come up with anything so I offered a suggestion to get him started.

They could be thinking, he’s got the fish, that looks really nice. This chickens okay, but it’s, it’s I wish I’d gotten a fish instead. Could they be thinking that? Yes, they could? Are they thinking that? We don’t know? Because we don’t know what other people are thinking.

After that, he started to come up with ideas of his own. What else could they be thinking? They could be thinking? I wish I had the confidence to be out eating on my own. Yes, they could. Are they thinking that? We don’t know, we don’t know what they’re thinking, but they could be.

They could be thinking, I wish I could get some time to myself. I really enjoy spending time with my friends and family, but just sometimes, it’d be nice to get a bit of time on my own like they have. Abit of time to enjoy my own company and to think, Are they thinking that we don’t know, because we don’t know what they’re thinking?

So I then asked him the question. So what actually is the truth here?

He said, Well, the truth is that half the people probably haven’t even noticed that I exist. And if they have, I don’t know what they’re thinking about me.

Great, so how does that change the thought of eating on your own in a restaurant?

It makes it seem a lot easier?

Great, and if you can eat on your own in a restaurant, how does that change your thinking about going on holiday? You know, maybe I could do it, maybe it would actually be really good.

And at that point, I leave that conversation there. It’d  be really easy for me to say: great, so why not challenge yourself that in the next seven days, you’re going to book a holiday. But that would be me telling him what to do.

Going back to Reg Connolly, he used to say to me: when you’re helping people change their beliefs, you don’t need to smash that belief out of existence. You just need to loosen it a little bit. Just introduce a little bit of doubt, when they when there wasn’t any doubt before. Just introduce a little bit of doubt that it might not be true.

Then they’re going to they’re going to go away and they’re going to do the work themselves.

So that is another aspect of coaching is taking something that was before impossible. And introducing the thought that actually it might be possible.

That person has now got a different perspective on the world. And as a consequence of having that different perspective, then the direction of their life changes, just a very small part. But small changes when multiplied by time become big changes.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this, but this is absolutely true. If an  aero plane is one degree off course, after it’s traveled 60 miles, it will be one mile away from its intended path.

If a plane is traveling from Johannesburg, in South Africa, to to Warsaw in Poland, and it’s one degree of course  for the whole journey, by the time it is traveled the intended distance, it will be 245 miles off course. It won’t land in Warsaw, it won’t even land in Poland, it will end up somewhere in Belarus.

Small changes when multiplied by time become big changes.

That is one aspect of coaching, just changing the direction of people’s lives very, very slightly. That’s all it takes.

Then, just when he was leaving, I asked one more question. Isn’t it interesting? If it was impossible, a few minutes ago for you to on holiday by yourself and now it’s not impossible, it’s something that you might be able to do, how else might you have been limiting yourself? And I’ll just leave that with him.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai