Use Mise en Place to Focus Your Attention on Coaching Calls

by Claire Tompkins

Your best coaching conversations happen when you are easily and completely focused on the call and your client. Your active listening skills are sharp and you feel an effortless connection. How can you set up your workspace to optimize those conditions?

Imagine that you're working at a coffee shop. The typical café work space, a very small table, requires you to keep your paraphernalia down to a minimum. This is a great opportunity to refine your "mise en place." This French phrase means "putting in place" and refers to how professional chefs set up their work areas so that the ingredients, utensils and appliances they need are all ready and nearby.

What do you need to have in place for a coaching session?

Perhaps you need a pen and paper for taking notes, your notes from previous sessions, inspiring images and maybe some coaching tools such as questions or prompts. That's your mise en place. You have what you need, and you also don't have what you don't need.

Unnecessary items just get in the way and distract you. If you coach clients over the phone, your work space should be free of visual distractions. This is especially true if you're visually oriented. Most of us don't have a problem staying focused on a conversation when we are looking at the other person. When we don't have that visual cue, our eyes search around for other input and that takes our attention off the client. We want to avoid that.

People can sense when you're not listening to them closely. Your focused attention is a big part of the service you offer. Here are some ideas for protecting it:

  • Keep your desk spare. Rotate your chair away from it if necessary. Seeing reminders of work to be done is bound to take your attention away from your conversation.
  • Try using Skype for your calls. I love how I can see my client or colleague's photo and the motion of the voice-activated glowing border of the picture holds my attention.
  • If you're not using Skype, then close your computer! It's embarrassingly tempting to check email when you're on the phone.
  • Look out the window. The daily business of cars passing and neighbors walking their dogs is visually engaging but not distracting. Maybe you're even lucky enough to have a relaxing nature scene!
  • Choose inspiring pictures and photographs for your wall, with serene images in colors that are soothing and uplifting to you. These will occupy your visual attention and help to ground you so you can serve your client even better.
  • Use your notepad to quickly capture any thoughts that pop into your head that aren't related to the call. Distractible, creative types (whether that's you or your client) have lot of these thoughts. In order to keep the conversation on track and not digress, jot your ideas down so you can address them later.
  • Doodle. If you get restless on the phone, using your hands to do something that doesn't require mental attention can help a lot. Expert knitters can do their needlework without missing a beat in the conversation.
  • Try squeezing a hand exercise ball or exercise putty to entertain your hands while you work.

Part of the support system for your mise en place is having your client records and notes organized in a way that makes things easy to find. I keep my client notes on my computer. I just type the client's name into the search box and find the file immediately.

If you prefer paper, there are many options, such as a large ruled notebook divided into sections or file folders in a cabinet. Date your client notes and file them in reverse chronological order (most recent in the front). That way, you can quickly flip through the history of your client relationship. Wherever you decide to keep your notes, make sure it's an easily accessible and nearby spot. If you have to cross the room to file them, you're likely to leave them on the desk "for later" and then lose them in a pile.

Be sure to keep all your client records in the same place and in the same format. If some are on the computer and some are in a notebook, it gets harder to find them.

Getting your coaching mise en place down will help you stay calm, focused and prepared, and that will translate into better coaching conversations.

Claire Tompkins  
Professional organizer Claire Tompkins specializes in creating customized organizing techniques. By addressing her clients' unique needs, she provides solutions that make their lives easier with more free time to do what they love. Get her report "30 Minutes to Less Clutter on Your Desk" with your free email newsletter subscription.


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