Written by: Jennifer Kumar (Managing Director, head Coach of Authentic Journeys)
Note: In the new model to be rolled out for the ICF CKA starting in January 2021, this competency will be retitled to “Evoking Awareness.” It will be the seventh of eight competencies, and listed under section C (Communicating Effectively).
When discussing the [current ICF Competency #8] Creating Awareness especially at the ACC level of coaching and sometimes at the PCC level, some coaches who are still worried about the process or being able to draw insights out of the client may think they need to do more investigatory work to truly understand the problem (or gain awareness of the problem) to help to coach the client to the solution.
Of course, the more experience a coach has, the more the coach knows this is a fallacy.
It is not necessary for a client to expose every single detail about the ‘problem’ in the spotlight.
As coaches, it is not our responsibility to dig up the past. We are not therapists or psychologists that work on overcoming past issues. As coaches, our responsibility is to the here, now and creating change in the now and into the future. Through coaching presence, we facilitate our clients on their own learning journey to widen their view of what they are experiencing. By aiding them to uncover their own interpretation of the situation, their own ways to solve their problems and create their own accountability structures, we also partner to co-create the coaching outcomes with the clients.
As I am reflecting on this competency and its application in Authentic Journeys’ coaching approach, there are three areas that call out to me:
Of course, it is argued, coaching is client centered and not coach centered. While the coach needs to be in the know about the issue to initiate or ignite powerful questions and share insights through direct communication, it’s the coach’s responsibility to build awareness not only in the situation but in how to design actions and change for the client, while remembering and being fully aware that he or she is not personally attached to their observations or impressions.
Some may then wonder why I have added this into this section as this seems coach centered and not client centered. Though, in my estimation, it goes without being said that the session is for the client, there are other coaches that do stress that
It is through this sharing, and the trust the coach has in the client to be open to the process and the coach’s trust of themselves in their own coaching skill and ability (see more in the post on ICF Core Competency Area B: Co-Creating the Relationship), that the awareness truly unfolds. When a coach is confident in their skill, working within coaching presence and working in the present moment with the client, the coach is aware how to facilitate the session. The right questions will come at the right moment. Questions that will help the client open their perspective, or see new, deeper perspectives or questions that help move the client into a different frame of reference. The coach, should be careful to not only rely on the use of questions, or the conversation may start to feel like an inquisition or an interview, but should rely on providing observations through direct communication, acknowledgements, or other statements that demonstrate listening and understanding in addition to only asking questions. In rare cases, sometimes a question turned into a statement may work. An example could be,
“It sounds that by the sound of your voice just now, you have shifted your feeling about this topic. In fact, I hear a smile in your voice now. I’m interested to hear how you are feeling now than earlier in our conversation.”
This kind of response sums up why many coaches who have written about this competency believe it embodies so many qualities of other competencies. It is the layering of competencies which allows this competency to come to life, so to speak.
While some argue it is this competency that is the essence of coaching, it is impossible without the other competencies!
It is the client that needs to gain awareness during the session. Hands down. The client gains awareness in many ways:
Bryan Hart of Corporate Sponsored Coaching also calls out 5 Markers of Success in Creating Awareness during a coaching session as noted in the image below. Learn more this, and listen to Bryan’s insights in his video entitled “Awareness and Presence 101: Awareness Markers of Success.” (Thank you, Bryan for allowing us to share your wisdom here.)
To illustrate many of these levels of awareness and success markers, I’ll share an example from a cross-cultural language fluency coaching session I had with a professional in India learning to use English in a culturally fluent and understandable way with US Americans.
How many levels of awareness and/or Bryan’s success markers can you call out?
Coaching Conversation: A Case Study in Creating Awareness in Client Conversations
Client: I have learned this week some good techniques to influence my US client. I often have to talk about changing of deadlines with my client. Until recently, I did not speak very frequently during these meetings as my manager took charge, but my manager was out last week. After our mock sessions and building awareness around how to do this, I had no choice but to do it on my own.
Coach (me): What were your learnings?
Client: Well, firstly I was impressed that I did it all on my own!!
Coach (me): I hear relief in your voice.
Client: Yes, I am relieved, and confident. I did not realize I could do it all on my own. I think you have heard recordings of my client meetings in the past. Usually, my manager may repeat what I just said or talk on my behalf. I did not get a lot of chance to express myself.
Coach (me): I do remember hearing those recordings. I wish I could have heard your most recent meeting where you did all the talking! You should be proud of yourself! I’m so proud of you! What made this meeting stand out for you?
Client: Well, it was my first meeting with the client where I was there all by myself. I had no one to rely on but me. Also, no one was there repeating me or talking for me. I remembered all the mock session we did, and all the awareness exercises I did for the last few months. I was able to use the correct language in the right setting.
Coach (me): How did your client respond?
Client: Well, I was amazed- we had a very fluent conversation, just like talking with you! I was not nervous or anxious. I felt at ease. I was impressed with myself. Also, the client understood me fine. He did not ask me once to repeat! This is such an amazing feeling for me!
[I let the client sit with that feeling a little bit.]
Coach (me): Wow!! I am so happy to hear this! You made my day! Maybe even my week! This is the best news I have heard in a long time!
Client: The meeting was a success. Even the client did agree to my plan when I talked about the new timeline for the product demo and release schedule.
Coach (me): This is incredible! I see you put together all the tips and tricks we talked about and were able to use them in this one conversation! Did it take you a lot of time to prepare for the meeting?
Client: Maybe. Since I have been doing the awareness exercises between our sessions for the last few weeks, it really helped me feel confident. I also had a meeting with my manager a few days before the meeting to discuss the new workflow schedule, so that gave me a good place to practice how to say it. However, there is something that came to my mind after the call I wanted to discuss with you……
Coach (me): I’m all ears…
Client: Well… I was thinking that some of those English strategies I learned and used that worked well with my client may not work with my colleagues…..
Coach (me): Oh….?
Client: Well, as you know, in our office, though we are striving for an English only speaking office environment, since almost everyone speaks Malayalam, we often do many of our planning meetings in Malayalam. My manager, though she speaks Malayalam, she only talks in English in the office, so she’s kind of like the exception. So, I was thinking if I use some of those phrases in English I used with my US client with my local colleagues, they will get offended. That type of English with my colleagues is considered rude. It’s weird, because that type of English with the US colleague is considered respectful…….
Coach (me): Thank you for sharing this. May I share a term us cross-cultural experts use to describe this?
Client: There’s a term for this? Oh yes, I’d like to know a little about it….
Coach (me): We call it code-switching or style switching. Usually, when adapting to another culture and taking up new behaviors some of us find it a bit of a struggle to move between the behaviors and find fluency. The interesting part is that you are experiencing this without even leaving your own native country.
Client: Wow, that’s interesting. I learned this new term today… yes, I am experiencing this code switching problem. Though we want to speak in English in the office, maybe I need to use more of our local English rules or our local language than the US English strategies I used with my client. What do you think?
Coach (me): Well… that’s really for you to decide what works best for you and in the situation itself. What do you think works best?
[The client was quiet for several minutes thinking…]
Client: I think, for now, I will continue speaking in Malayalam with my colleagues unless we are in a meeting with a US client. In this case, code switching will become a big problem for me. I will have to use the English to influence the client. That is the same English my colleagues may find offensive, even if I am not using it directly to them. Also, now that I am gaining more confidence in Spoken English, they may find I am being too overconfident.
Coach (me): It sounds like you are on the path to a solution… but you are still identifying a few values or beliefs that you are struggling to resolve. Would you like to work on identifying these values or beliefs and tie them to your ideal situation?
Client: It seems like a big job!! Can we work on this in the next session? I will think on it in my native language between sessions, then we can talk about it in English next time. Would that be ok with you?
Coach (me): Of course, I understand. It is a big topic to consider. And, I think we are near the end of our session….
Client: Yes, true, so, maybe we can wind up by me identifying a few things for me to work on until next time?
As it was articulated by the client as we wound up the session, he started to identify his own action steps to work on in between sessions. This is an ideal. By the time I have about 2-4 sessions with a client, he or she has understood that I do not give them things to ponder in between sessions, that it will be their own responsibility to identify these, what I call “awareness exercises” to work on in between sessions.
Typically, designing actions can take place anytime during a session, however, if we have not done it by the time about 5-10 minutes remain, we start co-designing the awareness exercises which can include hands-on exercises (like, in the case of this client, writing work flow documents or practicing client facing communication with a colleague), or awareness building exercises (like identifying situations where he uses the incorrect language and learns ways to adapt it on the spot, or understanding what kind of situations cause his speech to speed up and then identify techniques to naturally slow it down). The client will write these down on our progress tracker (which is created with the input of management and other stakeholders, especially when working with sponsored clients), along with accountability structures and progress markers (for example, “I will work on my work flow document for 10 minutes every day until it is done.” Or “When talking with the US client, I will also observe my local colleagues to see how they respond to my new language. After the session, I will note this down to discuss it in the next session, or if I feel comfortable I will talk directly with my colleague about my observations and talk about code-switching”).
Creating awareness in between sessions like this was defined articulately by The Center for Coach Certification as:
“Creating awareness also happens outside of the coaching sessions. For example, a coach will work with their client to plan experiential learning, to reflect through journaling, or to be observant during their regular activities. Then in coaching, this awareness is explored to maximize the learning and the benefit.”
Ideally, as noted above, if the client can find individuals within their own social arena to discuss their insights with, this will build more confidence in building their own networks, relationships and accountability structures. Also, in the case of the client noted above (as well as other clients), the client will start to understand how others in his life see him, which could rid of certain notions he has that may or may not be true about how others perceive us. A good tool to use in these cases is the Johari Window. The Johari Window is a great tool to use with a colleague, friend, family member or partner to try to see where our gaps are in terms of how we see ourselves, other others see us and what preconceived ideas we have about each other (what ones could be right, and what ones may not be so right). It’s a good baseline for starting discussions to learn and get insight into ourselves and others. Learn more at The Minds Journal – The Johari Window.
I hope you have some new ideas or have ‘created awareness’ about this competency of Creating Awareness in reading this blog. If you’re interested to discuss the competencies or schedule a coaching session, get in touch with me.