The Quiet Coach – 12

April 18, 2023

Continuing to be naturally therapeutic

If you’ve missed the first part of this post, first please take a look here and then hurry back to this post.

Two more traits that Jacquelyn Small describes in her lovely book “Becoming naturally therapeutic” are respect and concreteness.


Consider this coaching exchange

Client I feel like I’m stagnating in my career; I just want to move on and start something new. But I can’t. My manager put in a lot of effort to get me this promotion and if I leave, I’ll be letting her down.

I’ve been thinking about this for months – the whole thing has got me so stuck. What do you think I should do…should I quit?

Coach (concerned tone) It sounds like you’re really torn in two about this decision. Feels like there’s a part of you that needs to stay but another part that wants to get out for good.
Client Yes!
Coach Could you go on and talk a little bit about the part of you that wants to get out? What does that part of you want?

What’s happening here? The coach has not responded to the request to give the client an answer; and in doing so is helping the client challenge the idea that he’s powerless to decide for himself.

Notice the careful choice of words on the coach’s part. The client begins by saying “I can’t” and the “whole thing has got me so stuck” – is communicating that the power lies elsewhere and that he is helpless.

Now, all of our work as coaches hinges on the adoption of an attitude on which all subsequent technique must rest. Which is that all of us need to assume responsibility for the situation that we are in.

So when the coach, in her paraphrasing, says “a part of you needs to stay and another wants to get out”, it isn’t just fancy verbal footwork. It is communicating back to the client the reality that he is creating these feelings and that he owns them and the decisions he chooses to make with them.

This is what Ms Small means when she’s talking about respect – that attitude of the coach that enables the client to discover both his own power and his own responsibility for his decisions.

When as coaches, we offer solutions or leading questions that communicate that we know the right answer, we are not respecting them. We are telling them that they aren’t smart enough to handle their own lives.


This is the art of keeping communication specific – not going off on tangents or getting into generalisations or abstract discussions. Clients can demonstrate these behaviours (and others including elaborate story telling) when they wish to avoid exploring something that is painful or difficult for them.

It is our job as coaches to pay attention to these avoidance behaviours and gently bring them back to concrete reality.

For example

Client About the meeting that went badly; I felt betrayed…….well you know how all development and testing teams always have disagreements with each other.
Coach I’m interested in hearing more about what you started to say about feeling let down…could you tell me more?

Or another

Client I should have stood up for myself in that meeting. But you know how Vivek has been contradicting me all the time. It’s been that way since he joined – did you know that I was the one who got him that job? He was working in a dead end role and he reached out to me out of the blue and invited me for lunch. And when we met, he sounded so sad about his work that…
Coach (interrupting) hey I’m wondering what connection this has with how you’re feeling about not standing up for yourself in that meeting?

In both cases, the client unconsciously wants to avoid some unpleasant feeling – of disappointment in a key relationship; of self-blame and is escaping into generalities that are much easier and safer to talk about. The coach pulls her back to her experience of the moment by being concrete and that creates an opportunity for growth.

It’s important to remember that sometimes, even with invitation to be more concrete, the client persists in avoiding something and that need should be respected. Our role is to gently present the client with their here-and-now reality – the client can decide whether they want to confront that or continue to avoid it till the time is right.

It also happens sometimes that coaches invite the generalisation by asking too many “how do you define that” questions. For example when a client says “I feel I’m not being challenged enough” and the coach says “how do you define challenge?”, this can result in the discussion staying at a safe, cognitive level. Questions like these could invite more concreteness and hence more movement:

    – Tell me more about that feeling – what happens to you?
    – When was the last time you felt challenged enough?
    – Who needs to be challenging you more?
    – What would it look like if you were challenging yourself sufficiently?

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