Lessons from the Certifiers

Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared in the VOICE on July 16, 2007

Five Most Common Coaching Mistakes
by Barbra Sundquist, IAC-CC

Recently someone asked me, "What are the five most common mistakes people make on their IAC certification tapes?" I thought about it for a moment, and then counted off in no particular order:

  1. Talking too much
  2. Rushing to solution
  3. Accepting at face value
  4. Holding back
  5. Telling, rather than asking

This is my list. Other certifiers may have a slightly different list. But if I could wave a magic wand, this is what I would love to hear:

  1. More silence
  2. Seek to explore, not to solve
  3. Challenge assumptions
  4. Say what you're afraid to say
  5. Ask, rather than tell

1. More silence

Silence is a very powerful coaching skill. Nine times out of ten if you stay silent your client will eventually say something thoughtful or revelatory. They are using the silence to process their thoughts or access their intuition. That takes time, so don't rush them. The other benefit of allowing more silence is that you are less likely to interrupt or talk over your client.

Exercise: Make a big sign that says "WAIT" which stands for "Why Am I Talking?"

2. Seek to explore, not to solve

Jumping in too soon with advice or solutions is the most common mistake of new coaches. Most clients do not want your solution, at least not at first. They want you to help them explore all facets of their issue. If you do that, the 'solution' or next step will present itself naturally.

Exercise: practice asking only exploratory questions such as:

  • "How do you feel about it?"
  • "What have you tried already?"
  • "How did that work for you?"

3. Challenge assumptions

Part of a coach's role is to challenge client assumptions, excuses or self-limiting beliefs. By doing that, we broaden their possibilities. And isn't that what coaching is all about?

Exercise: Listen for and challenge assumptions. Here are some examples:

Client says… You respond…
"I couldn't…" "why not?"
"Everyone knows…" "who's everyone?"
"Of course x is true" "who says?"
"I know that…" "Is that a fact or an assumption?"

4. Say what you're afraid to say

Whether you call them inklings, intuition or "that little voice in your head", they're there for a reason. Don't be afraid to share those thoughts with your client. They often lead to breakthroughs.

I'll give you a personal example. When I started coaching I was very strong in some respects, but one thing I didn't do was challenge the status quo with the client. I was a little too polite. As a result I wasn't coaching to my full potential. And I wasn't giving my clients what they deserved.

That changed the day I finally said what I was afraid to say. My client was complaining that his wife was so negative. What immediately popped into my head was "that's ironic, because you're one of the most negative people I know".

In that moment I had to decide whether to keep coaching at the "nice chat" level or to go deeper. I decided to take the plunge. Of course, I didn't just blurt out what was in my head. That would have been hurtful.

Instead, I said, "There's something that I'd like to share with you, but it might be hard for you to hear. Do you feel up to hearing it today?"

When he agreed, I said "It's interesting to hear you talk about your wife's negativity. Because my experience of you is that you are quite often negative, too."

We ended up having the most productive coaching call ever. In fact, he had a major breakthrough. From that point on, I was a changed coach.

Exercise: Listen for that little voice in your head and be fearless in sharing it with your client. Then notice how you feel about your effectiveness as a coach.

5. Ask, don't tell

Coaching is primarily about asking, not about telling.

TELL ASK (better)
You need x. What do you think you need?
You're an introvert. Are you an introvert?
You're obviously feeling better. How are you feeling?

 Exercise: Record and transcribe a short coaching session. Then rewrite, converting "tell" statements into "ask" questions.


Barbra Sundquist, MPA, IAC-CC is a mentor coach and former IAC Certifying Examiner. Her 9-CD IAC Masteries® self-study program "Learn Coaching by Example" has helped many coaches improve their coaching skills and achieve IAC certification. Visit www.BecomeACertifiedCoach.com to learn more.




Do you have a question that you’d like to ask the certifiers? Submit your questions here: http://certifiedcoachblog.typepad.com/blog/ask-the-certifiers.html.


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