Friday 15 October 2021

Coaching in a Thinking Environment - and the power of not interrupting

 I have blogged a lot, over the years, about the Thinking Environment and my musings on it. I thought, this week, it might be interesting to reflect on a particular coaching session, and how conducting it in a Thinking Environment, as opposed to 'normal' coaching was different - both for me and for the individual I was coaching.

I started the session by reminding the coachee that the purpose of the session was to give him the time, space, support and challenge to think further than he usually had the chance to do, about anything (relevant to the coaching) that he chose. I mentioned that we would reserve the last 15 minutes or so to pull together the threads, recognise any learning or insights, catch any actions planned etc.  And apart from that, I would listen, and only ask questions when he told me that he had come to the end of a wave of thinking; and that whilst I would be happy to share any perspectives of my own, if he wanted me to do so, that would only happen after he had taken his own thinking as far as he could.  

This was a first session with this individual, so I made it clear we would run this as an experiment: if it worked, we could do something similar next time; if not, we could do something different. That was a way of giving him permission to give honest feedback about the process at the end of the session; and also helping him recognise that it might feel unusual: it was an experiment, after all! I checked he was OK with that, and then I invited him to think: 'What do you want to think about; and what are your thoughts.' And he thought.

As ever, it was really interesting; and as ever, it sparked off numerous thoughts in my own head - questions I could ask, models that might shed light on his experience, similar situations I had encountered with others, and so on.

In fact, I noticed seven times when I was on the verge of offering my contribution, as he paused between waves of thought.  And each time, I decided not to, in order to honour our initial agreement. So instead, I remained silent and he started to think again.  A couple of times, he asked me for another question ('What more do you think, or feel, or want to say?...') to get his thinking going again. 

After about an hour and ten minutes, he stopped, having resolved one substantial issue, and also a second, not-quite-so-weighty, one. He then asked for my reflections. I mentioned that a few things had gone through my head, but there were just two that I wanted to share with him at that stage. So I shared those, and he found them useful.

We then reviewed the learning and what actions he was going to take, and finally reviewed the process. He was surprised at how effective it had been, but had some lingering curiosity over what I had thought but not said. So after the session, I emailed him a list of the things that had gone through my head.  Somehow it looked less desperately urgent (and dare I say it, less impressive) than when I had been feeling that strong urge to interrupt.  He came back to me for more detail on a couple of the points that had particularly resonated or interested him.

So that is how (or at least one way) to coach in a Thinking Environment. It is interesting for me to reflect on how strong the urge to interrupt can be. After all, what benefit is he getting from me as a coach if I withhold my wisdom. And I am sure that I was right not to do so, as he reached his own resolution without me; and moreover, was able to have the benefit of my thinking in addition, after the session. 


With thanks to Girl with red hat  and Laurenz Kleinheider for sharing their photos on Unsplash

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