What do we really know about the client as they enter the room? In Part Two of this blog series about the “7 eyed Model” for coaching reflection and supervision, I’d like to share my personal reflections about looking through the first ‘eye’: The Client System.
We could be forgiven when reading some coaching text books for thinking that a coaching client will turn up for coaching, clearly state what they want to work on, that the coach will work their “magic”, the client then commits to action which when they leave the session they achieve. Yeah right ! How many times does that happen?? In reality, what we meet when the client enters the room is both their “here and now” thinking and needs along with “everything else in their life” that has gone before them. Or as a colleague (Thanks Alison!) once said – “their whole messy self” enters the room. This is what eye 1 of the model – “The Client System” is about.
Let’s take for example a client of mine who felt overwhelmed by their workload and whose manager suggested they received coaching on their time management. In our first session we uncovered that he already knew about the “important vs urgent” prioritisation matrix – so why on earth wasn’t he doing it then? We explored what success could look like. We explored what he thought was getting in his way. I questioned how he approached things in practice ….every line of enquiry seemed to meet a complex set of “excuses”… hmmm…..I was getting nowhere fast! And, might I add, I was beginning to feel some level of sympathy for his line manager!
In our second session (and after some reflection) I realised that I needed to find out more about how he “ticked”. This is particularly what Eye 1 is about. So this time my line of enquiry was about what he knew about his personality and how that might have been affecting his ability to manage his time. Through this discussion we uncovered that he had reflective tendencies. So he suffered from that all too common experience, of only realising what he “should have said” after the conversation had ended! This is often a characteristic of introverts and so I also enquired how comfortable he was approaching people – he wasn’t. So, when a conversation had ended he didn’t feel able to “go back” and re-engage. We also discovered a tendency to put other people first. So when one of his team was busy and looking stressed, he felt it more important to get them sorted out even if that meant he had to stay late to catch up. This was gold dust for me!
It clarified that if we were to see a difference in his time management I needed to help him change some fundamental behaviours. First to get others to appreciate he would need some time to consider what was “do-able”, and to “get back to them”, rather than making a commitment during a conversation. Secondly, to help him be more aware that in addition to thinking about how he could help others at work , he could balance that with how he could help himself and his family at home. This actually shifted the emphasis of the coaching away from time management to a much deeper discussion around his values and beliefs about what was required of him in the organisation, his expectations of himself and his consequent perception of his responsibilities both at work and at home.
So the moral of this particular story is that when I don’t feel like I’m connecting with a client, it can be helpful to go back to basics and consider if I have properly understood their fundamental individual characteristics. In this example I considered their personality profile, and there are at least two other things to consider. Firstly, their learning style – are they an Activist, a Theorist, a Reflector or a Pragmatist? (if you would like to know more about this look up Honey & Mumford Learning Styles). Secondly, what is their representational system? If you have done any NLP training you will know that some people are Visual, some are Auditory and some more Kinesthetic.
I think people have hidden depths and all kinds of things can bubble up as part of a coaching exploration. There’s often a whole lot more under the surface than you at first imagine. Eye 1 encourages me to get into the water and explore what lies beneath.
If you like the 7-eyed model, it would be great to hear some of your experiences that will bring this first “eye” of the model to life for others. I look forward to hearing your comments!