The Quiet Coach – 5

February 7, 2023

Chemistry conversations

These are short calls where coaches and clients quiz each other on the atomic masses of elements in the periodic table. Ok fine, but it is Saturday night and I do need to entertain myself writing this.

Chemistry calls are short sessions where coaches and clients can assess if they are the right fit for each other before engaging in the formal process. They can be sometimes daunting for coaches who feel like they are under scrutiny and I’ve known more than one very competent coach who’ve reported being unlike their normal selves in order to try to impress the client.

What’s equally important is that you establish a relationship of psychological equality – I remember someone telling me about a coach who would inform his clients after the chemistry meeting that they were “selected” to work with him. Not the best place to start a coaching relationship from.

So here’s a process for the next time you need to meet a prospective client

  1. Even before you meet the person, use the preliminary mails to clearly explain what a chemistry meeting is – I would say something like “This meeting is a chance for us to get to know each other; to level set on what coaching is; what our expectations from each other are. I’d also like to use the time to discuss what could help the coaching process work and what could come in the way”
  2. Start the meeting by introducing yourself – it’s useful to model the behaviours you would like to invite the client to demonstrate so be authentic and vulnerable in your own sharing. Prepare for it so you can be deliberate about how much time you take and what you focus on. The goal is not to impress clients with the things you’ve done in your life but to give them a chance to know who you are as a person.
  3. Invite the client to introduce themselves in whatever depth they like. I find it very helpful to keep notes, both of what they’re saying and of my first impressions of them – you’re starting to understand what drives them right from this meeting.
  4. Make sure you demonstrate the behaviours you will be using in the coaching conversations – be curious; be empathetic; appropriately acknowledge the client for what they are sharing.
  5. Before launching into an explanation of coaching, ask the client “What has brought you here/what has your exposure been to coaching so far?” If they have been coached before, I always make it a point to ask them what they enjoyed and did not enjoy about the coaching process (note, not the coach but the process).
  6. Build on what the client already knows about the process; in addition to explaining where we start/how we arrive at outcomes/how we schedule sessions etc., the key points I normally focus on are these
    • That it is a developmental journey, and my job is to help the client get to where they want to go
    • That I am completely on their side/in their court/on their team (wow, that’s a lot of sporting analogies for someone who doesn’t play any sport)
    • That the content he/she shares is completely confidential
    • That my role will be to help them deepen their awareness about their internal processes and the external environment; and in the process of this deepening, they will find answers to the questions they have.
    • My role could also be to bring to their awareness how I’m experiencing them in the session (because the patterns playing out here could be what are playing out in other relationships as well) or what I’m noticing about their language/actions/intent. I clarify that this is always in the context of helping them become more aware and that it is very ok for them to disregard. (NOTE: this is a skill that one normally builds at a PCC level so please don’t stress if you’re not doing this right now).
    • That change happens as a combination of introspection (in the session) and experimentation with new behaviours (between one session and the other)

I use a lot of examples to explain these from the clients I have worked with (all identities suitably protected of course) – this is where your capacity to intelligently market yourself comes in; in the choices you make of what snippets to share.

  1. Ask them if they have any questions about coaching or your experience/coaching style
  2. Close by inviting them to think about whether coaching is right for them (I would be careful not to say “think about whether or not I’m the right coach for you” because I don’t want to emphasize the evaluative aspect of this conversation). I’m careful to point out here that there are many ways to achieve personal growth and coaching is one of them which may or may not be right, given the context and the timing – I do this so that people don’t feel under pressure to sign up for coaching to prove that they are invested in their growth.

Some additional points to reflect on:

  1. Pay attention to your own reactions to the client post the conversation – are you different in any way from how you normally are (over or under explaining; overly excited or not); could be an indicator of the unsaid/unawareness expectations that either of you have of the other. If you experience yourself as different, take the time to think through where that could be coming from and how that could impact the relationship.
  2. Feel free to say no to a client if you experience discomfort but I’d strongly recommend having a supervision conversation with a peer or a supervisor first – this is to make sure that you’re not playing out some pattern from your life.
  3. Be careful not to get into coaching in the chemistry conversation itself – yes, I know you may read other folks saying it’s a good idea to do so but here’s why I would say you shouldn’t
    • The coach could come across as over eager and wanting to please – starting coaching without a contract in place is over-doing and the client may not be ready for it
    • Getting the client to share a lot of information with you could result in the person feeling uncomfortable with saying no to you. One situation I’ve come across is where the coach started coaching; the client opened up and was vulnerable. The coach then subsequently communicated the fee structure which was more than the client could afford – the client was left feeling like she had been tricked into starting the engagement because she had already shared so much.
    • Using a coaching tool in the chemistry meeting (eg. doing a role interview) could misfire because the client forms some assumptions about what coaching is going to be based on that limited piece of work.

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    2 responses to “The Quiet Coach – 5”

    1. Archana Gupta says:

      What a lovely and insightful compilation.
      It’s indeed a gem brought by you for all of us by diving much deeper.
      Thanks alot for this Sunitha

    2. Cliff says:

      Comprehensive . You covered everything. Simple to understand

      Point no 6 and section on additional points to reflect on – are the ones I liked the most in this article
      Thank you for putting this this together

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