Monday 22 July 2013

Telephone coaching

One of the things I have enjoyed over the years of running my consultancy is noticing how the business has evolved and changed over time.  Normally, that has little to do with any strategic intention of mine, and far more to do with being responsive to clients’ good ideas.  My whole coaching practice developed in response to clients' requests.

And so it is with telephone coaching. My instinctive preference was for face-to-face coaching, and that with plenty of time: the Day in the Lakes offering is my ideal.

However, that is not ideal for many of my clients; and by the same token, neither is face-to-face coaching.  Some prefer telephone coaching for a number of reasons, and on reflection I think they are right - and I am valuing (and enjoying)it increasingly.  It has certainly become a larger part of my coaching work, albeit still well under half.

Some of the reasons are the obvious ones: 

Geography means that for some clients, telephone coaching is the only option (if they wish to work with me) as they are based a long way from where I am (some in other countries, or in far-flung corners of this one, like the Home Counties...); and then there are the environmental considerations of minimising unnecessary travel, (not to mention time efficiences) which provide another impetus towards phone coaching

However, there is more to it than that.  I find that some people find the different quality of telephone coaching especially helpful.  The question down the line... the silence... the chance to reflect before answering, without feeling someone’s eyes are on you...  These have their own dynamic, which seem to work very well for some people.

Moreover, by phone it is often easy to have a very brief, laser-like session.  When one or both parties have travelled to a meeting, there sometimes feels to be an obligation to make the meeting last for a certain minimum length of time...

As always, there is a structure in place (in particular the completion and return of the Success Report following up on action commitments prior to each subsequent session) that helps ensure that the sessions are productive in practice.

So why was I somewhat reluctant to go down this route in the first place? My initial concern, as a coach, was that by definition one is getting less information over the phone: none of the clues of body language and eye contact patterns are available.  But in experience, I find that the clues are all there in the words, the tone of voice, the pauses.  Despite my theoretical view of the limitation, in practice i do find that it works extremely well.

However, i am also aware that face-to-face meetings work best for some, and indeed some of those I work with principally by phone also welcome an ocasional face-to-face meeting too.

So what I am working on now is trying to develop some kind of guidelines or questionnaire or checklist (or something) that will help potential coaching clients decide whether phone, face-to-face, or a mix of both is best for them.

But maybe that’s unrealistic: maybe it is a matter of trying and finding out by experience what works best.

I’d be interested in any thoughts any of my readers, clients or colleagues may have on this, whether via the combox or private email.

Friday 19 July 2013

The Vagaries of Freelance Life...

Occasionally people ask me about the way I run the business. Often, it is because they are vaguely considering cutting loose from organisational life and going freelance. So here are some reflections which may (or may not) be of help.

Running one’s own small  business is an interesting experience, and perhaps requires a certain approach which it is not easy to articulate.  I came across a phrase in C S Lewis some time ago, which seemed to sum it up perfectly: Divine uncertainty.

Things change, and they are hard to predict.

A few years ago, a lot of my work came in at relatively short notice: if the diary was fairly busy about 3 months out, that was good.  

But more recently, far more work is being booked as part of an annual planning process.  So, for example, last year looked as though it was going to be a very good year, both in terms of volume of work and the inherent interest of that work.  

There were lots of forward bookings, and plenty of leads and prospects for other things too.  Then with a change of leadership at one of my client organisations, a major programme was postponed; another project which looked promising got off to a relatively poor start and  much of the potential work never materialised; and moreover, very little work came in at shorter notice: suddenly from being a good year, it was just a year.

At the beginning of this (financial) year, June and July, the diary was relatively empty: so I invested a little time in marketing and re-connecting with the network as one does.  And then, suddenly a lot of work came in at short notice and the year was off to a flying start.  But here’s the funny thing: none of that was a result of the marketing and networking conversations I had had.  

By the same token, I sometimes get involved in tendering for work. More often than not, I fail to win work for which I am (in my humble opinion) really well-suited, but instead win work which is rather tangential to my core skills and experience.  But I have blogged before on the tendering process...

All this is worth mentioning, because it is something of a pattern.  If I neglect that side of the business, eventually things go quiet; if I spend time on it, things pick up - yet the causality is far from obvious. Maybe it’s just confirmation bias: but it really looks as though there is something in it.  

And not only did short term work come in, lots of it, and for the first time in months, but also the forward bookings were starting to come in.  Jane and I sat down for a forecasting meeting yesterday morning, and it was looking quite solid: lots of things in the diary, and quite a few prospective pieces of work, too.  If only some of those would firm up.  I made a list of some people to talk to about that.

But before I could do so, in fact that very day, five of those clients were in touch, confirming, and in one case radically expanding, that prospective work.  So this year (13/14) is looking very good indeed: lots of very interesting work, with a larger range of clients.

And the moral of this story?  I am not quite sure, but suspect it is something about requisites for running a small business including hope, patience and persistence.

Friday 5 July 2013

Talking to myself

The other day a friend caught me talking to myself.  I am unrepentant.  Apart from Gandalf's observation about talking to the most intelligent person present, there are other good reasons to do so.

I am always particularly interested in notions I initially dismiss as bunkum, but eventually learn have some real value.

Positive self-talk is one of these.  It was my friend and colleague Ann Bowen-Jones who overcame my cynicism.  I was approaching a piano exam, as an adult learner, and confided to her that whilst my scales and pieces were OK, 'I am rubbish at sight reading.'

She picked me up on this, and pointed out that if I repeated that to myself often enough, it might not help...  The neural basis for that is the same as learning, say, times tables by rote.  As a child I said '3 times 4 makes 12' (and so on) so often that now if someone says 3 times 4, the answer 12 comes automatically to mind. Ann's point was that I was teaching myself to respond poorly to the words sight reading, so when the examiner said it was time for the sight reading test, my brain would instantly respond (internally only, if I was lucky!) 'I am rubbish at sight reading.'

So she got me to think of the most positive thing I could think of to say about my sight reading which I could actually believe (she was clear that lying to oneself is pointless), and then repeat that over and over to myself, in groups of 3 ('When relaxed, I am OK at sight reading.')  Three times on getting up , three times on getting into the shower, and so on.  And being a good friend she got me to do this despite my resistance and incredulity.

The result astonished me.  The examiner duly announced that it was time for the sight reading, and my brain told me 'When relaxed, I am OK at sight reading.' - and I played the piece OK; not perfectly, but it was very much better than the previous exam when my fingers had turned to jelly.

So I am a convert to affirmations.

Here's the content of a handout I sometimes give people explaining them:


Affirmations are a powerful psychological tool that we can use to help us to overcome habitual inner dialogue that inhibits or limits us.

For example, approaching a major presentation, you may find that a gremlin voice in your head starts to tell you, repeatedly: “I’m no good at presentations.  This will be a disaster.

Rationally, you may know this not to be true (or not wholly true..), but nevertheless, the persistent inner voice can be very debilitating, and can cause you anxiety that then sabotages your preparation and delivery.

Affirmations target this inner dialogue directly, by replacing the habitual negative message with a habitual positive one.  (There’s a lot of clever stuff about neurology that underpins this...)

How to use affirmations

1    Identify a future situation that causes you to feel weak in the stomach (eg a forthcoming presentation) or a recurrent and habitual negative thought that inhibits your performance.

2    Identify any negative inner dialogue that you are using to sustain that feeling (eg “I’m no good at presentations.”)

3    Write out the strongest positive statement, contradicting your negative inner voice, which you can believe to be true (eg “When well prepared, I present with confidence.”)

4    Repeat the affirmation to yourself, 3 times in a row, several times a day over the days leading up to the event.  If you notice your old habitual self criticism cutting in, laugh at it and interrupt it with the affirmation (Eg if you notice that you are beginning to think “I’m no good at presentations,” interrupt with: “Good try... however, when well prepared, I present with confidence!”)

5    Repeat the affirmation immediately before the event or in times of need, as appropriate.