A metaphor for risk-taking and creativity in coaching

25th August by John Gray

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Over a series of coaching sessions, what does it mean for coach and client as they deepen their understanding of each other and of how the other functions best within the coaching space?

As trust and rapport build, the coach will probably feel freedom to repeat already-tried ways of challenging the client towards new awareness. Hopefully, the coach will also feel confident to build on previous risk-taking by trying out new creative techniques and interventions.

To represent that combination of confidence and greater risk-taking in service of the client, the following metaphor might work as a way of inviting you to reflect on your coaching practice.

Imagine, in this video clip, that the coach (the conductor) and client (the orchestra) have worked together for a few sessions now, and they closely understand how they each function and how they can do great work together.

So the coach can put aside any interventions to formally control the session (ie the conductor’s baton). Instead, he’s freer to bring fewer formal interventions and nevertheless still facilitate a great coaching session. The trust is there, that the client – having felt the benefit of support and challenge in the previous sessions – will take the best advantage that the session offers.

A lift of the eyebrows: offering silence as an invitation for the client to say more.

A dart of the eyes to left or right: an open question, to deepen awareness.

A purse of the lips or a toss of the head: a challenge, daring the client to go further.

And the beautiful, joyous smile: celebrating the work that the client is doing, and manifesting that key Improvisation technique which is also so useful for coaching: Make the other person look good.

What does the clip suggest for you about your own non-verbal skills of listening, encouragement and challenge?

For myself, I’m now playing with more silence, to find more active ways of upholding clients to trust and dare. I wish one day that my coaching could be as minimalist, as inspiring, and as influential as is Leonard Bernstein's conducting in this clip.