Structuring a short coaching conversation

In many contexts, short conversations are the norm and some people are not familiar with coaching processes, so it’s important to help a new coachee get orientated quickly within the conversation so that they can get the most from it.

The other day I was doing my first set of 1:1 coaching appointments in a college. The attendees were experiencing coaching for the first time in some cases and mentioned that they weren’t really sure what was going to happen in this kind of conversation. I spent time in each case explaining this and answering queries before getting into the coaching conversation proper. Some coachees looked as if this needed some processing time as it was all very unfamiliar but they were prepared to jump in and explore the conversation anyway! They had been briefed on the purpose of the sessions beforehand but I realised that unfamiliarity with the process of coaching was also a potential barrier to a focused, reflective conversation.

Reflecting on this, I thought this could be done more effectively and concisely another way. When I went back for the second day of 1:1s I prepared some post it notes, with these headings:

  •  How we can work together
  • Your context + query/hot topic
  • Goal for session
  • What you’ve tried already
  • Options
  • Some ideas or questions from me
  • Steps

I laid them out on the desk in front of myself and the coachee. When they came in, I used these as visual prompts in outlining the kind of things that often come up as part of a coaching conversation. I stressed that this was their time for a confidential discussion and they could therefore focus the conversation on their own needs. I asked if they had questions about the process before we opened the coaching conversation itself.

I noted that in these sessions, coachees focused quickly on their key areas of interest, seemed confident in discussing them openly and without further prompting moved into fruitful reflections on options and steps. At the end of the session each person commented on how useful it had been to clear their heads and think more deeply about the issue in question and that they were pleased to have identified several useful steps to take after the session.

I am going to be interested to see if this framework for introducing the coaching conversation works well in future sessions. I can see how some sense of shape and process might be reassuring and clarifying for people who have never attended coaching before. I am going to explore the option of sending the outline out along with the briefing about the purpose of coaching sessions, before the session. This may help some people to begin their thinking process before they come into the room and mean that we can cover a greater amount of  useful ground within the session.

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