Living the Masteries

by Alison Davis, IAC-CC and Angela Spaxman

Living the Masteries is a regular column, where we invite coaches to share their experiences of Living the Masteries in their everyday personal and working lives.

This month’s story, an experience from the workplace, comes to us from Angela Spaxman.

Communicating With Mastery at Work
by Angela Spaxman

A group of 30 overworked, stressed managers entered the classroom, some hoping to find help coping with their jobs, and others simply wishing they could be somewhere else on a Saturday morning. I had four hours to help them make progress with their time and people management problems.

As an experienced coach and facilitator, I was sure that each person in the room already knew what change they could make that would make the biggest positive difference to his or her working and personal lives.

So I decided that this short session would not be about presenting information, but rather about providing time and space for them to reflect and decide for themselves. I also knew that with only one coach and such a large, new group, small group coaching would not be practical.

Instead I decided that I needed to condense the essence of coaching into a series of simple behaviours they could follow. Should I use a goals-based approach such as the GROW model, popularized by Sir John Whitmore in his book, Coaching for Performance? I thought not. Most people are too wrapped up in their own problems and solutions to act like a supportive sounding board for a goal-oriented discussion. Conversational structures are not the essence of coaching.

The fundamental essence of coaching is supportive listening in a high-trust environment.

So I asked the group to: (1) Form pairs with people they did not know well (to create distance, neutrality and a change from their habitual conversational patterns) and (2) Choose one person in each pair to be the “problem-solver” and one person to be the “listener.” The problem-solver would be the owner of the problem, while the listener would act as a sounding board.

The instructions to the problem-solvers were to share one current problem they were facing in their work and attempt to find new ways to solve this problem. The instructions to the listeners were to be worthy of trust, to be positive and supportive and to spend about 80% of the time simply listening to the problem-solver. They were also given a small selection of open questions and comments they could use to keep the conversation going.

These are some of the things the participants shared afterwards:

“It felt very good to have someone listening to me.” “I realized how important it is to me to spend more time with my family.” “I decided to start sharing more work with my colleagues.”

“It wasn’t easy to just listen and not give her advice.” “I didn’t realize that other people have the same problems as I do.”

This simple process created a shift from the normal way these colleagues related to each other, and presented immediate opportunities for learning and change.

The simple instructions had been enough to invoke conversations with much more trust (Mastery #1) and listening (Mastery #3) than their everyday workplace conversations. It was heartening to see what a big difference these qualities made to the problem-solvers’ ability to reflect, learn and decide on new actions.

The instruction to be positive and supportive also helped some of the listeners find ways to perceive, affirm and expand their partner’s potential (Mastery #2), invite possibility (Mastery #8) and create supportive systems and structures (Mastery #9).

While many people were able to follow the basic instructions to build trust and listen, it was also obvious that masterful coaching does not come naturally and that to apply all of the Coaching Masteries takes special expertise. Nonetheless, the essential change in orientation that coaching requires is in itself a powerful developmental force.


Angela Spaxman was the Founding President of the Hong Kong International Coaching Community and is the Immediate Past President of the IAC. Angela has been coaching for 10 years. She is a Career and Leadership Coach for managers, professionals, business people and coaches. You may contact her at


This is your column, it can only continue if you share your experiences of Living the Masteries. Please send us your stories of how the Masteries have enhanced your life, how you have noticed them present in your life or how they have helped you unexpectedly. You will inspire others by your sharing, and by talking about them, we create an echo chamber where they take on new life and meaning.

Please send your contributions to Alison Davis at, so she can share them for you in the Living the Masteries column in the VOICE each month.


Alison Davis, IAC-CC, is a certifying examiner at the IAC, coach, mentor coach and founder of the IAC–licensed virtual coaching school Foundations for Living. Discover more at


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