Balancing support and challenge in coaching

This week it has been great to hear how others are experimenting with their own balance of support and challenge in their coaching work. After all, it is one thing to write a book but it is even better to have an interesting conversation! Judy Walker came to the NHS coaching summit where we presented the other week and wrote to say that she had been ‘a lot more challenging’ in her coaching this past week ‘with good results’  – and she hasn’t even read the book yet 🙂 I asked her what had worked for her and she spoke of a session where the client’s goal was to be more assertive and it sounded like Judy modelled this behaviour for the client by adopting a more challenging style herself and moving quickly in the first coaching session to challenge the client to generate new ways of responding and to assess the emotional impact of these different options. The client’s feedback at the end of the session was ‘It was pretty challenging but I can see it will make a real difference’. It made me wonder how many of us have got to the end of a session and asked for the client’s feedback and heard them say ‘That was way too challenging. You need to back off a bit buddy because this is just freaking me out’. If anyone has had this experience then please let us know because we never have.

Meanwhile, in response to our first feature for the Training Zone web site we had an interesting observation from Sally Bernham who said ‘Thanks for this interesting article which made me reflect on some feedback I’ve just received from a new client who reports feeling confused after our coaching sessions. This led to a really useful conversation about challenge in coaching sometimes leading to what I call ‘positive’ confusion’ whereby a client may be encouraged to look afresh at a viewpoint or value which may initially lead to discomfort but ultimately new learning and insight.‘ That’s not a phrase I’ve heard before – ‘positive confusion’ – but I like it because it challenges our normal assumption that confusion is always a negative outcome. Confusion can often result from a healthy challenge because traditional thinking has been upset. It can then take time for this confusion to be processed and for new clarity to emerge. This has just triggered in me the image of one of those snow globes we were all fascinated by as children. You tipped them up and all the snowflakes rushed around and created a scene of pure confusion. Then as time passed the snowflakes settled again and a clear picture was revealed once more. Maybe we are all like snow globes and occasionally we need tipping upside down and shaking up a bit?

Finally, we had another interesting comment from Anji Marychurch in response to the Training Zone article. Anji said ‘I can see that I spend a lot of time in courageous goals and systems thinking as I need to work with both the smaller and big picture simultaneously but for me the really important skill is in learning how to get the balance right within tension.’ It was obvious from the rest of Anji’s comments that she intuitively ‘gets’ the FACTS approach and is already practicing the skills in different ways. Often all we are doing in creating models and concepts is validating what is already happening out there and giving it a legitimate frame of reference. This ‘permission granting’ aspect of sharing experience and knowledge should not be underestimated since it generates confidence and …. better conversations.

[ First posted on ]