What mentors are thinking. A real e-coaching session part 1

This is a word for word dialogue of a real session I ran with a new manager we are calling Jane. It shows some of the ways that the e-coaching training can be used to reveal and understand the client’s inner world and then how the inner world can be used to guide the client to a solution. The session was run using our coaching software CoachMaster® and I tried as much as possible to use the built in questions but, as you will see, conventional coaching skills were also necessary. For convenience of reading I have divided the session into two halves. This is the first part and I will be posting the second in a week or two. The whole session took about 1 hour and 15 minutes. I have put my commentary in italics below the conversation.

Bob Hi Jane. What would you like to work on this session?

It is always important to establish rapport before a coaching session but I knew Jane already so I dived right in.

Jane seemed very aware of what she wanted to work on.

Jane I’ve been given more responsibilities at work which requires me to be more of a leader. I’m finding I am having trouble with the mentoring aspect of it.

Bob Ok thanks. Can you say more about what aspect of mentoring causes your problem?

I asked a clarifying question to determine in more detail what she wanted to work on.

Jane Well, I’m not comfortable telling people what to do and also think people question whether or not I know what I’m talking about.

Jane immediately starts giving the information about why she finds telling people what to do difficult. In psychological terms she is projecting on to them what she believes they will be thinking. This could be true but is more often a projection of the client’s internal world and how she judges herself. She is telling me that she is concerned about how people perceive her

Bob If you did feel comfortable doing those things what would somebody watching the scene from outside actually be seeing and hearing that would indicate that you have succeeded?

I use one of the built in questions in CoachMaster to try and help her become clearer about her overall objective.

This particular type of question is often very useful as it helps the client to be in a ‘third position’ and therefor more objective

Bob Or is it more an internal experience? Internal to you that is!

Probably not good coaching to asking another question before I got an answer to the first one but I was interested in how Jane was perceiving her discomfort.

Jane I do think a lot of it is in my own head. I suppose if someone were to see successful mentoring in action, they would see someone who is confident, know what they are talking about and person being mentor would be receptive.

I noted that Jane had an idea that a successful mentor would always be confident and know what he/she is talking about. And always get a positive reaction from the mentee.

I knew this was often not realistic in mentoring relationships. But it did not seem the right time to challenge it at this point. This is an interesting point for the coach to decide whether to address a particular issue that comes up in a session. What Jane was describing seemed very unrealistic to me but rather than break the momentum of the session I find a goal that Jane could sign up to and make it more realistic later.

So I summarized for Jane.

Bob So the goal is to be confident while mentoring and have the other people be receptive?

Jane Yes I suppose it is. I also have this negative internal dialog about all the judgments I think the other person is making. I worry that the person will not like me if I’m “telling them what to do” or that they do not think I’m smart.

This was very useful information as it told me a great deal about Jane’s state of mind as she was attempting to coach/mentor the other person. It is easy to imagine that with a negative internal dialogue like this it is very difficult to be focused on the client and determine what they needed.

As a side note I find these types of sessions really useful as a coach trainer. As the client writes down their issue almost every sentence is an opportunity to understand their inner world which is invaluable if you are going to coach them on an issue. It is really no different from reading a novel and seeing how the characters develop and noticing by what they say do and think what sort of people they are.

The next question I tried is one of the standard coaching questions built into CoachMaster which is popularly known as ‘The miracle question’. It comes from brief therapy.

Bob Thanks Jane. If you woke up tomorrow and the problem had magically disappeared. How would you know?

Jane I would have a good working relationship with all my colleagues and no negative thoughts regarding what they think of me.

Jane’s answer is good in terms of being clear what she would like but unrealistic in terms of normal human relationship.

I then try and focus Jane on a goal that might be more in her control. Because one thing we can’t control all the time is what others think of us.

Bob Could we focus on the negative thoughts about what they might be thinking about you. How about a goal to give mentoring and not be overly affected by what they are thinking? You can focus on the other parts if you wish – the positive working relationships.

So I suggest a goal which should be more in Jane’s control. You might see that it is not completely SMART. This is something we actively encourage on our training as we have discovered with text coaching it is easier to get distracted trying to get a perfectly SMART goal when the real value is further on in the process. But I do give Jane a choice and I ask her for a date to keep focus

Jane The first goal works for me

Bob By what date do you want to achieve your goal(s)?

Jane By the end of the month Goal Statement updated -: to give mentoring to my colleagues and not be overly affected by what they are thinking by the end of the month. Stage changed to Session Goal

We now come to the session Goal which is what the client wants to have accomplished by the end of the session. Some coaches do not bother with it but we find it useful to focus the coach and client on what they want to have achieved by the end of the session.

Bob What would you like to gain from this session? A plan of how to achieve your goal or something else?

Jane Yes a plan

Session Goal Statement updated – Yes, a plan

The current reality is defined in GROW terms as how far the client is from achieving their goal defined in the same terms. Or to put it another way what progress the client has already made.

Stage changed to Current Reality

Bob What is currently happening in respect of negative thoughts when you give feedback to colleagues?

This is a standard awareness raising question in coaching.

Jane Sometime I would give advice on a particular problem and if they don’t agree with what I say then I start thinking they think I’m stupid or shouldn’t be in the position that I am in

Again Jane is indicating that she is setting herself impossible targets i.e. To give the right response to each person every time or end up feeling stupid or incompetent. We can see from the text that Jane is expecting herself to come up with perfect answer each time and control what others are thinking about her. The question for a coach is how to challenge it in a way that is empowering for her and frees her from the trap she has created for herself.

Jane It has the same effect if they see something that I have done and don’t agree with how I have done it

Bob Thanks Jane. Does that always happen?

I chose another standard awareness raising question from CoachMaster to look for any exceptions to the rule Jane has set up for herself.

Jane No

Bob What is the difference between the times it does happen and the times it does not?

When she answers no I go on to try and explore when the exceptions occur to see if we can build on them.

Jane When it happens, It’s usually because I know the solution is not the best, but as I see it there is no better solution or I don’t know a better solution.

Jane explains that the projection starts when she feels she does not have a perfect solution. In retrospect if might have been useful to explore with Jane the times when she felt that she was not being criticized. And what made them different.

Bob So are you telling yourself you have to have a perfect solution every time or people will think negative thoughts about you?

I challenge the assumption that she has to know the perfect solution every time.

Jane Yes I think that is right.

Current Reality Statement updated – You tell yourself you have to have a perfect solution every time or people will think negative thoughts about you.

Rather than take it any further at this stage I simply use the summary feature in CoachMaster® to share the summary with Jane

It is always a moot point when we are coaching is how much to explore a particular point in the process and when we have enough to move on to the next stage. There is a danger of ‘paralysis by analysis’ if you push a point too far.

In the next blog we will see how the situation develops and how Jane manages to deal with the expectations that are blighting her.