The deceptively simple competency of Presence
It is one of the competencies frequently dismissed by the less experienced coach. We are often much more curious about the intricacies of the coaching agreement, or perhaps the nuances of ethics than on the act of being present. At first, polishing the action plan or savoring that moment when a client comes to a new piece of awareness seems much more interesting and exciting. We want to believe we are always present and so, being present to our clients is a no-brainer. We got this…
And then, the more we coach and the more we delve into the process of coaching, we begin to realize the subtleties and the depth we are called to when it comes to maintaining presence. This is no simple task. It demands a level of self-awareness, humbleness, confidence and comfort that may take years to master.
The ICF defines competency 5, “Maintains Presence,” as the act of being “fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded and confident.”
This gets complicated because we cannot be fully conscious and present with our client, if we don’t truly know how to be fully conscious and present with ourselves first. That is why personal foundation work is so crucial for an effective coach. It is essential for us to be in connection with our own inner workings, strengths, insecurities, and our own humanity to be able to connect with the humanity of our client.
There is a methodology to coaching and we may be able to brilliantly articulate the coaching process, but if we are not truly in touch with who we are, we will miss the most essential part of coaching – the human-to-human connection. Regardless of what kind of coaching we do, this human connection must be the source of coaching and this only happens when we are truly present.
Presence is not just a question of filling up the space or sharing the same room. It is not simply being in front of another person and relating with them in a socially acceptable manner. Presence is not even a matter of giving someone our full attention and listening to what is being said.
The act of being present in coaching means we are here, moment, by moment, by moment – not 5 minutes ahead, not 5 minutes behind. We are not concerned with what questions to ask or what answers need to surface. Distractions are not even an issue because any possible distraction is no longer important. The person in front of us becomes the most interesting subject in the whole universe. In itself, the act of being present in a coaching conversation is the true acknowledgement of the value of that individual and WHO they truly are.
All of a sudden, there is no concern about performance, having the right answer, asking the right question or the need to provide value to the process. We are connected in the moment and we know that this is where the coaching process truly begins.
I have heard many very experienced coaches frequently say, “all competencies are crucial to coaching, but if I had to choose one, ‘Maintains Presence’ would be the most important.”
Simply put, if we are not present, nothing else can really happen. If we are not present, there is no place for listening, no sense on an agreement, no trust. Questions are empty, prescriptive and powerless. We may be able to come to some actions, and develop some tricks along the way, but in the end, it is all superficial and even meaningless.
The interesting point about presence is that we can practice it anytime, anywhere. Even right now… How aware are you of where you are in this moment? How fast is your breath? What are the noises or level of silence in the room? How does your body feel in the position you are in? I would encourage to do this level of personal check-ins two or three times a day. Ask yourself: where am I right now? There is a difference between where your body is, and where your mind is. Presence is when you, as a whole are in the same place, the same moment.
To transfer this practice to when you are working with a client, take a second to check where you truly are. How attentive are you? Where is your focus? Who is this person in front of you? Surrender to the moment and trust that together you will both find your way through this process.
A note about the New Year
It is interesting that presence is the topic for my last post of 2020. I wished I could say I planned it exactly this way, but I am way less strategic than that. It has been a year of global challenges and unimaginable losses. How wonderful would it be if we could have a 2021 where presence would be our practice?
Below a video to help us getting started... Enjoy!
Understanding the real purpose of the Coaching Agreement.
A recurring question I get at almost every practicum class or group mentor coaching program I lead is around establishing a successful agreement for each coaching session with a client. Somehow, this seems to be a Core Competency that coaches have a hard time understanding and demonstrating effectively.
I hope that by now we all agree on the crucial role the coaching agreement plays in the success of a coaching conversation. Coaching is an intentional process and without knowing what the client is truly looking for at every session, we will not be able to support them well. We may have an insightful conversation and even get to an action plan, but was this action what the client really needed, and most importantly, was our approach the most effective way of supporting the client to get here?
The PCC Markers are very specific about the assessors’ expectations regarding this competency. Four distinct points are made that help us grasp the concept of the agreement.
These are very tangible elements the ICF has identified as important to address while supporting our clients in designing the direction of the coaching conversation.
The problem here is when we start taking these points so literally that our questions become prescriptive and we are no longer present to the client and where they are in the process.
I am sure you have experienced that moment when asking the client “what do you want to have accomplished by the end of the session?”, the client stares back at you clueless of how to answer the question. This is not necessarily because the client is not prepared to engage in the coaching process. This is not even because the client does not know the answer to the question. Most likely what is happening is that the question came out of context and does not resonate with where the client is in the moment.
So, what to do?
I would suggest going deeper…
What is the real purpose of the coaching agreement?
What is the bottom line?
A successful coaching agreement is not established by asking formulaic questions simply to check the box. Coaching is an organic process. Every interaction is different. Every moment is unique. What we need as coaches is to be grounded in the intention of the process so we can artfully adapt to each situation.
The function of the coaching agreement is to give the client the opportunity to clearly identify and verbalize what they are looking for.
As coaches, we want to support the client to connect to the bottom line of their present moment. What is missing? What are you searching for? What makes it so important? How are you going to know you got there?
This process of defining the expected destination for the coaching conversation can take many turns. This will require presence, flexibility, depth of listening and complete partnership with the client so we can attend to what the client really needs in that moment.
So, next time you have a session with your client, be present, listen. Start by asking what’s in the client’s mind. What is the focus today? Let the client speak. Notice the nuances. Pick up on a few words that seem important. Build on the partnership. Eventually, see if you can bring the client to fully express what they are looking for, what they need the most in the moment. That is the coaching agreement.
No matter what, or how long it takes, remember that without knowing your destination you and your client will most likely be walking in circles, making the process harder and ineffective. At every session, aim for a clear direction and understanding of the client’s needs. This alone will set you and your client on the path for a successful coaching interaction.
As a mentor coach, I am always giving feedback to my students and mentees helping them develop their coaching skills and prepare for their certification with the ICF. ForCoaches is a place where I can publicly share some of my insights and experiences. What does it mean to be a truly effective coach?