Lessons from the Certifiers

Every so often we get questions about certification, the Masteries, and in particular, how coaches can improve their coaching in order to pass certification. While the IAC is not a training organization per se, we do want to support coaches in being the best they can be and we want them to have the best opportunities to demonstrate that for certification. In this new column I’ll attempt to de-mystify the certification process by answering common questions, reviewing the Masteries and sharing an insider’s look at what the Certifiers look for when reviewing a coaching session. Obviously I can’t do all that in one swoop, so we’ll be running this column frequently. Think of it as tidbits to clarify your thinking and jumpstart your coaching innovation. And please let me know of any questions you have so we can answer them for everyone. Send questions to certification@certifiedcoach.org.

Telling vs. Listening

One of the important distinctions between masterful coaching and not-so-masterful coaching is the distinction of telling vs. listening. Coaching is about eliciting the client’s wisdom and truth, discovering what’s best for them, and engaging the client fully in the process. It is important that the coach not be in “telling” or “instructing” mode for the coaching session. That doesn’t mean the coach can’t tell the client what they are thinking or share relevant information. Certainly, that’s fine.

Where the coaching becomes less than masterful is when the coach spends too much time in this mode. The coach often feels as if he or she needs to be the expert, or perhaps thinks he or she is the expert, and so tells the client what to do, what the client is feeling (or ought to be feeling), and why it is important. The coach’s heart is in the right place. We know a coach genuinely wants to help the client make progress. But when this happens, the coaching is no longer client-centered. It’s become all about the coach, his/her performance, or thinking he/she knows best. In coaching sessions where there is a lot of telling going on, the certifiers have noticed the coach misses critical clues from the client about what is really most important or what the underlying source is, and therefore, the coach and the coaching are less effective.

Interestingly, this often happens in a session where part of the client’s challenge is in standing up for themselves, making their own decisions, speaking their truth, or having confidence about their own abilities or inner knowing. So, even though the coach’s heart is in the right place, the coach is actually exacerbating the problem, and the client doesn’t get what she or he really needs.

Engaged Listening, Coaching Mastery #3, means giving space (silence) for the client to think and respond. It means asking questions…and then giving the client time to respond (even when they need to think about it a bit). It means not interrupting or talking over the client in order to have your idea considered. (Though there are ways to interrupt appropriately if the client is on a rant or “stuck in their story”.)

Engaged Listening also means picking up on the nuances in the client’s communication. If you’re in “telling” mode, you are thinking more about what you are saying than what you are hearing, and it’s virtually impossible to pick up on all the nuances and signals the client is sending.

Some questions to ask yourself:

When you are coaching, who is doing most of the talking – you or your client? (Listen to your own recordings to get an honest assessment.)

What is most important to you – getting the client to do something (anything!) or getting to the source of what’s really going on?

Is what you are telling the client really for them or is any teensy part of it really for you?



Nina East is the IAC’s Lead Certifier and the author of PersonalGrowthEnthusiast.com. As a coach she works with personal growth professionals, helps coaches master the art of coaching, and coaches students through the transition into college. www.NinaEast.com

Please send your questions on the IAC Coaching Masteries and the certification process to certification@certifiedcoach.org.

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