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!
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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?