Sometimes we can seem to do very little work as coaches. This may challenge our sense of giving value, but it can be of great value for a client who needs to reflect.

I was working with “Simon”, a senior executive, who was experiencing some real challenges around his career. He was facing a difficult decision about whether to change jobs. Simon admitted that he hated change and was filled with huge fear at the thought of moving into a completely new organisation. He was very deeply reflective and there were long silences – and I became aware during the first couple of sessions that I seemed to be doing little other than asking one or two questions. I have to be honest and say that I really felt as if I was doing very little to earn my fee and I had considerable concerns about the effectiveness of the coaching.

At the same time, I was aware that this feeling had been mirrored in a couple of recent group supervision sessions that I’d been facilitating. A number of coaches in the groups had talked about the challenges of ‘sticking to goals’, ‘how to make sure the actions were being completed’ and so on. Interesting discussions had followed around just how much responsibility do we, as coaches, have to take for achieving the outcomes we assume are important.

I went into my third session with Simon feeling concerned. I was asking myself how I could move things on faster? Simon showed up looking pale and worried. He said he’d had a really difficult couple of weeks, with real anxiety about his impending decision. He’d been looking forward to our coaching session and was keen to explore his potential decision further. I asked him: “So what’s the impact of getting this decision right or wrong?” This seemed to get Simon going and he spent at least 20 minutes thinking out loud.

I asked him one other question: “How could you use your fear to find a way forward?” This led to a further half an hour of extraordinary reflection. I said nothing except the odd “aha” or something similar and the time sped by. At the end of the session, once again, I felt as if I had done so little to be of use. With great trepidation I asked Simon what value he had found in the session. He looked at me amazed and said “You’ve no idea how useful these sessions are. I have no one I can talk to about this, and you’ve provided a listening space for me that is invaluable. I don’t know how I could get through this time without the coaching.”

I’ve been coaching for a long time, and I know, in my head, that as coaches we ‘should’ only need to ask a very few questions in our sessions, yet even after all these years I still need this type of experience with a client like Simon to remind me that some of the most important work we do is creating space – just by listening.

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