Saturday 30 November 2019

The importance of Place

I had a final coaching session recently with a client whom I have been meeting for just over a year. It has been a very positive and successful piece of work - so much so that I have been reflecting on why it went so well.

One of the distinctive features of this coaching relationship is that we have been meeting at my office, in my house, rather than at the individual's workplace.

That made me reflect on the other clients whom I meet at my office, rather than their workplace; and the fact that all of these coaching relationships are going particularly well.  Could there be a link?

A few things occur to me. One is the obvious value of getting away from the workplace with all its distractions, and even associations.

A second is the quiet and the beauty that my location, in a hamlet in the Lake District, is able to offer. And we try to make the visit a bit special, too, with home-made cakes and biscuits - as Nancy Kline has observed, it helps if the place says 'You matter!'

But I am increasingly inclining to a third hypothesis: that the travel time is important. Because I live in the middle of nowhere, my clients have inevitably travelled some distance for their coaching appointments.  That gives them time to de-compress, as it were, from the immediacy of their urgent work stuff, and think about what they truly want to address in the coaching. Likewise, the return journey gives them further processing time, to consider what they have thought about in the coaching session, to reflect upon it and internalise it.

Which raises an interesting question: should I advise that coaching always takes place at my office, or even insist on it?  I strive to be client-focused, and so I often travel some distance myself to make it easier for my busy clients to fit coaching into their schedule.  But am I doing them a dis-service in doing so?

Part of me thinks, yes: I really do believe the benefits of travelling to a different location add significantly to the coaching experience; but then I worry that my experiment is flawed. Clearly people who are prepared to invest hours in travelling, on top of the coaching time itself, are highly committed to the process.  Maybe that is what accounts for the very high very positive success rate for that group of clients. And maybe people who are unable to take that much time away from their work have a greater need for coaching support, and denying it to them would work against the values of my business...  (and that's without even thinking of the phone or Skype coaching I  sometimes do: I can't really get my US client to fly over for a 2-hour session - should that mean I cease to work with her?... And likewise the people I coach in Belfast - I get there from time to time, but try to minimise flights, for all the obvious reasons - and remote coaching seems better than no coaching - and indeed, I think has a power all its own - but that's the subject of another post, I think.)

And so I vacillate.  I think what I'll do is raise the issue of Place more explicitly at the contracting phase of new coaching relationships; talk about the benefits of a venue away from the workplace - and one that allows some travel time for all the reasons I've mentioned, and see what creative ideas new coaching clients and I come up with, between us.

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