Competency 7: Evokes Awareness is found in the ICF Competencies under Part C: Communicates Effectively. ICF defines this competency as “Facilitates client insight and learning by using tools and techniques such as powerful questioning, silence, metaphor or analogy.” This article will address markers 1-4:
1. Considers client experience when deciding what might be most useful
2. Challenges the client as a way to evoke awareness or insight
3. Asks questions about the client, such as their way of thinking, values, needs, wants and beliefs
4. Asks questions that help the client explore beyond current thinking
It’s always interesting to me that when people first start to learn coaching, they believe that the goal of coaching is to get to a list of take away actions at the end. I’d like to challenge that belief. I firmly believe that the goal of coaching is to help the client become aware of things they were not aware of before the conversation. You see, if a client becomes more aware, they have more information to work with. When they start to understand how they are currently thinking and can see other perspectives there is a greater chance that they will change the way they think. Changing the way they think creates new ways of believing and behaving. So, while a client may leave the coaching with some actions to do between sessions, the most sustainable change comes from the shift in mindset that occurs during the coaching. This is where focusing on the person and not just the problem fits into the picture. We want to focus on what the client is thinking, believing, and experiencing and this will help them access the information hidden in the recesses of their mind.
There are multiple ways that we can work with our clients to generate new awareness and think beyond where they are currently focused. As coaches, we have to learn to understand our clients and what is contributing to new awareness and what is not. In order to do this we need to consider what is happening to the client at the moment. Is the current technique resonating with the client? Is the line of questioning creating new learning? If not, we have to recognize that and be willing to shift. We also have to consider our client’s past experiences and our experience working with them in previous sessions to decide what things will resonate with them. What words can they relate to? What metaphors have they used in the past? By fully knowing our clients and seeing the bigger picture beyond today’s conversation we equip ourselves to be most effective.
We can get to know our clients more while helping them discover more about themselves. Asking them questions about how they think and feel will help them to get clear on these things. It is also data for the coach to store away and draw on in the future. By asking them questions about their values we can help them to discover what motivates their actions and responses. Asking questions to help them explore what they need, want, and believe can provide them with answers to the “why” questions they have about themselves. This new awareness helps people to identify what beliefs are not helpful and to make conscious decisions to change their ways of thinking to ways that are more useful.
It is often helpful to challenge clients to expand their thinking. We might challenge them when we hear beliefs that seem to be limiting them. Challenge is often helpful when clients seem to be saying one thing and doing another. By knowing what the client wants and values you may find times when challenging them on violating their values or not going after what they really want can be very helpful to moving them forward. A caveat to remember when challenging the client is that we must leave space for them to respond to our observations and challenges. Perhaps what we said missed the mark. We want to be sure that the client feels safe to say, “No, that’s not right.” So whenever we make a challenge or observation we want to allow the client to validate if what we have brought into the conversation is accurate and is worth exploring.