Some clients can get right to the point. Other clients will never use 100 words when 10,000 will do. The challenge for the coach is to maintain a high level of relationship and to stick to coaching fundamentals, regardless of the client’s preferred communication style.
One way to focus on serving your client is to build your coaching conversations around the client’s story(s). Every compelling story has a beginning, a middle and an end. In each section of the story, something happens. In the beginning of each story, you meet the characters and gain understanding of the situation you’re there to address. This might be the initiation of the overall coaching relationship, or the beginning of each coaching conversation.
In the middle of the story, conflict or tension grows. You and your client might be getting to deeper understanding of the root of the issue, or the client might actually be able to talk about it with you because you’ve built enough trust. There could even be unexpected surprises along the way.
At the end of the story arc, resolution comes. The tension/conflict is taken care of, and the client is clearly able to point at what is different because of the coaching you’ve done. Whether there is a happy ending is not as important as whether the client feels like there has been the right kind of progress. In this case, resolution=progress=success. And, it’s always evaluated through the client’s lens.
The most effective coaches tailor each coaching conversation to where the client sees themselves in the larger story—the beginning, the middle or the end. Are you at the beginning? Ask the client what you might need to know to effectively coach them? Are you seeing signs of developing conflict (the middle of the storyline)? Ask what is causing the conflict and explore potential solutions. Nearing resolution? Ask the client what would multiply the impact of the results they’re anticipating.
Here’s a key: at each stage of the story, the coach has an opportunity to ask the client about things that are not easy to see. You can dig deeper, and get at the core of the issue—whatever that issue actually is—and help the client develop long term results, and not just band aids for whatever presenting symptoms happen to be in front of them.
Question for you: How can you take the time to listen to your client’s story? What are you listening for? What’s your best strategy to dig beneath the surface of what you’re working on with you client(s)? Please put your thoughts in the comments!