What is coaching? The coaching process explained

When I say that I’m a Positive Psychology Coach, it is interesting to observe which of these three words people pick up. Sometimes it’s the “positive”, sometimes the “coach” and sometimes the “psychology” – but none of the three words in isolation actually capture what a positive psychology coach does! In this 3-part explainer, we explore how together they form something much bigger.


Part 1: What is coaching?

Words often conjure up pictures that aim to capture the meaning of something or someone. But not all pictures are clear.

The traditional picture of a coach

People often think of a sports coach first, a trainer who helps them become a better cyclist, footballer, dancer etc. This is all about improving performance in a discipline – and this is how coaching has found its way into working environments. Executive or leadership coaches help corporate leaders become better leaders, support mid-level managers develop into senior managers or they help employees overcome a particular challenge in their work environment or career.

In this picture, the coach tells the coachee what to do to improve their performance. They teach new skills, practise techniques and tools. In a way, a coach acts as a teacher, trainer and mentor – maybe even as a role-model. But modern coaching goes way beyond this type of skills development and performance coaching.

Let’s paint a different coaching picture!

Do you remember when you were younger? Maybe there was a relative (a grandparent?) or an inspiring teacher. And when you had a problem to solve (e.g. how to get a better mark in your next exam), they would say something like: “Ah, that reminds me of when my father planted this tree in our garden.” You sat there and listened and probably wondered what this story of the tree may have had to do with you getting a better mark in your next exams. But you thought about this story and in an aha-moment you realised what the connection was.

In the story, before planting the tree, the father maybe consulted books about the soil, studied the access to water and the amount of light and shade the tree would get. Maybe in your next exam, instead of starting to answer the first exam question right away, you could look at the different questions first, consider in what theory you would best root each answer, what you could add to nourish your answer and which question needed most light and attention. And only then would plant your answer on the page of your exam sheet.

Finding the answers yourself

Now, if that relative or teacher had been a traditional performance coach, he would have told you what you needed to do for your next exam and made you practise it until you got it right. But a modern coach acts more like that relative or wise teacher. They won’t give you the answer or tell you what to do – they will give you the question (or the story)! They know that you can find the answer yourself when you think about it.

But not everybody has a relative, a mentor or a teacher who can help them ask the right questions or tell the stories that help find the answers in a specific situation. Coaches are professionals who are trained to help you understand the questions you could ask yourself and who can support you in finding answers. They facilitate your thought process as part of a conversation.

You can check on their training through their accreditation with a globally recognised coaching body, for example the globally active European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) or the International Coach Federation (ICF).

How to find the right coach

Some of these coaches have specialised. For example, some may work with a particular group of coachees (e.g. executives), some look at a coachee’s life in general (e.g. life coaches) and some use a specific technique (e.g. NLP) or indicate the lens with which they look at coaching (e.g. positive psychology). Admittedly, this can be very confusing if this is the first time you are looking for a coach.

But finding the right coach for you is similar to finding that relative or teacher. Think back! What made you listen to that person and not someone else? Very often it was simply that you felt a connection with that person, and you liked that you could safely share your thoughts without judgement. The same is true for finding the right coach for you.

Most coaches will offer you an opportunity for a so-called chemistry conversation. This is a brief, no-obligation conversation of maybe 20 minutes where you can get to know the coach and the coach gets to know you. You can ask each other questions, explore how you might work together and see if you get on. If not, then keep looking. If you want to have a chemistry chat, just contact me.

 

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