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What is Coaching, really?

When people ask me what I do and find out that I coach, their responses can range from “Oh yes, coaching, I’d like to do that, I always wanted to tell people how to live their lives!” to “Coaching? Really? Everyone does it now! I know a woman who cannot string a sentence together and is now a coach!” Sometimes they even ask “so you’re going to tell me what’s wrong with me and that it is my mother’s fault?”

All of these are pretty good guides to what coaching is not. Coaching is quite distinct from training or teaching, since the power relationship of “teacher and student” is replaced with a partnership between the coach and the person coached, where the latter may well be more knowledgeable in their particular field. Neither is coaching a form of therapy: therapy has a retrospective focus on a clearly defined issue with its origin in the past. Coaching, on the other hand, has a predominantly prospective, forward outlook. It is not about correcting problems but about building on and enhancing what already works. In this regard it is an intensely practical discipline.

While nothing prevents someone setting up as a coach with no particular qualifications or licence, appropriate training and certifications do exist and it is important if you seek coaching to check these credentials. A coaching session may detect certain “red flags” or trigger intense emotions and it is vital that the coach has the training and experience to recognise this and offer appropriate support.

So what is coaching? Let's see how that might actually work in practice.

Sue has an issue with procrastination and is aware that it affects her performance at work. How might coaching help Sue? Through specific questioning techniques (such as Socratic questioning), the coach could explore the triggers of Sue’s procrastination and guide her through defining a meaningful goal based on diminished procrastination. Crucially, the pair would then discuss her choices regarding how to achieve this goal and finally ensure Sue takes ownership both of her goal and the means to reach it. Rather than being simply handed a cookie-cutter list of tips or “life hacks”, she is carefully assisted to recognise the resources she already possesses to make her goal a reality.

Coaching then is a safe, collaborative relationship where the coach is not a teacher or a doctor but a facilitator, enabling improved performance and placing personal and business goals within reach.

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