In every story that has woods, the main characters get lost. The same holds true in other works of fiction such as Chekhov’s gun, in suspense stories, and even Amish buggy accidents in conservative romance novels. Great coaching sessions also tend to stray a bit away from the path. The client may forget the original intentions of the agenda and simply get lost in exploration. When you notice this, it is your job as a coach to them make the most of the direction of coaching.
Some of the most memorable conversations we have in life are between friends and family where we completely lose our way. There is something comforting and amazing about forgetting the original topic, while we enjoy each other’s company. Some believe that it is best to allow a client to have this type of open exploration in coaching sessions. The feeling is that the more structure, the less value.
However, the critical question then becomes “What’s the point of the coaching?”. Did the client, or client’s family, pay for enjoyable conversations or life-changing conversations?
The Client’s Direction of Coaching Investment
Coaching works best when the coach and client are fully partnered in the process. This means the coach doesn’t assume what the client would like to discuss in a session. Instead, a coach makes sure to help the client nail down a solid session agenda. This partnership also means that the coach doesn’t simply drive the conversation forward. The goal of coaching is not to get a basic list of actions the client should take. The goal of coaching is to help the client deepen her or his understanding of the challenges she or he is facing. This makes whatever action steps the coaching brings up stronger and more effective.
So, what happens when the client changes focus in the middle of the session? What if there seems to be a clearly more significant agenda just under the surface? Sometimes, it is only seen until the coach and client spend 10-15 minutes discussing the surface agenda. Also, what if great action steps come up as the session is just getting started?
Changing the Direction of Coaching Agendas
In each of the cases above, the value of partnership is the guiding light for the session direction.
In situations where a client wants to take a different direction mid-session, a good idea to keep in mind as a coach is that you have two clients to represent in that moment. Client A was the one who started the session with the early agenda. Client B is the one realizing that there is an alternative direction possible. Instead of just following Client B, or demanding that Client A take back over, allow the two clients to work it out. Simply ask your client something like, “At the beginning of the session you wanted to discuss ____. It sounds like this might be a new direction we might take this session. Which direction would you like to focus on with the rest of our time today?”
When a solid agenda is set and coaching begins, oftentimes, the coaching may dig up an even deeper topic for the client than originally anticipated. In these cases, it is important for the coach to embrace the role of a partner. Offer a direct communication and question, such as: “This sound like a much bigger topic that what we started out with. If we could only focus on one of these, which topic would you like to focus on with our time?” Offer this type of communication in a way that is tailored to the client’s language.
Five minutes into setting the agenda and an obviously amazing action step and plan are able to be put into place. What should a coach and client do with the remaining time in a session? There are a few different directions to go, but the important thing to keep in mind is that the coach should not assume which direction a client would like to go. Perhaps, the client would like to jump off right then and there and get right into her or his action step. Maybe the client would like to begin a new agenda that she or he could think about for the next week. Or maybe the client would just like to go deeper with the coach on the action steps and plans that just came up. The simplest way to discover what direction to go is to simply ask the client an open-ended question to help set the stage for the rest of the session.
You and your client should enjoy the exploration through the woods. As you journey together, return to agenda setting and make sure they get the most out of their investment.