There is no shortage of different coaching techniques and methodologies in the world of executive coaching today. While certain ideas and creative ways of approaching coaching situations are undeniably useful, the bedrock of all effective coaching is the coach’s ability to hold the space for the individual. By this I mean creating a safe, non-judgemental and open environment, where the coachee feels completely at ease to explore their issue.
It can sometimes happen that this all important aspect of holding the space is neglected. While there is no panacea here, I have found that focusing on three particular areas have been particularly useful to me.
1) Not Trying too Hard
Almost every coach I have spoken to will acknowledge the existence of the gremlin that lives in the coach’s mind that occasionally wonders : “Are you adding enough value? Are you moving the coachee forward?”. While a perfectly valid question, there is a danger that it can become derailing if it creeps into sessions. The danger is that such thoughts begin to affect the quality of the coach’s attention during the session.
“The quality of your attention determines the quality
of other people’s thinking” – Nancy Kline
Any anxiety that we bring into the session as coaches because we want to “get it right” is going to be felt by the coachee, consciously or unconsciously. Rather than trying to get it right then, it is far more useful to approach the session with curiosity and interest. And, to trust that our intention to support the coachee the best we can, is enough.
It then becomes about being one hundred percent (or to the extent humanly possible) in the moment with coachee. About being really tuned into what’s going on during the session. This brings me to the next related area of focus.
2) Awareness is Fundamental
Being fully in the moment with the client requires a high degree of awareness not only of the client, but also of what’s going on for you as the coach. Thoughts and ideas will enter our minds like ripples in water. This is entirely natural ― what is key however is maintaining an awareness of the ripples and their relevance to the coaching session.
Awareness in the moment also includes noticing our own feelings and physical sensations as coaches. At times, these may be triggered by what’s happening during the session and could become very useful insights for the client. At other times, these feelings could be triggered by things entirely unrelated to the coaching. Sometimes, it is difficult to know, and that’s okay.
We are not superhuman as coaches and you are allowed to be unsure about what’s triggering the way you feel. It is awareness of these thoughts and feelings that is crucial.
3) Physical Environment
The influence of the physical environment on the effectiveness of the session should not be underestimated. A quiet, comfortable space with natural light where the coachee can feel completely at ease is ideal. Sometimes, we can find ourselves having to coach in environments that are less than ideal. Where possible it is always better to find an alternative or reschedule if the coachee has selected somewhere unsuitable.
I for example will not coach in any sort of public space, such as a cafe, or in meeting rooms that do not receive any natural light. Difficulties in this area are easily managed however by being upfront with the client about how you work and by contracting in advance to arrange a suitable location for the coaching.
Bedrock of effective coaching
Remembering to not try too hard, being fully present and paying attention to the physical environment are three things that can support us to hold the space for our clients. Holding the space is the foundation for all effective coaching. It is the cradle for everything we have to offer as coaches and something we must always remember, no matter how advanced or creative we get with our coaching.
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and coach supervisor based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.