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Coaches: What do we notice just before we don't know what to do?

Posted By Ian Saunders, 01 July 2017
When coaching, we inevitably discover that at times we don’t know what to do. How quickly we notice and what we then do in many ways defines the more experienced coach.

Over the past year or so Ray and I have been exploring this question on our own and with groups of coaches. Whilst we have some ideas to share here we have found that drawing on each coach’s individual experience provides a richer picture than hearing ideas presented in lecture or input form. It is from exploring and sharing these individual reflections that much learning is possible.

So, our starting point is to ask two questions to reflect on:

  • “When did you notice that you did not know what to do?”
  • “What did you do then?”

and next to consider: “what are the signals that you have noticed about ‘not knowing’; and what sort of awareness did you have and might you need?”

As soon as coaches begin to share such experiences they quickly realise that individual issues and concerns are shared quite widely between them, however experienced. What differs is how they dealt with the challenges which not knowing presented. We have encouraged sharing and further reflection in small groups using these questions:

  • “What have you learned that you could do, when you notice you don’t know what to do?”
  • “What might hinder you doing this?”
  • “What resources might you need to enable you to do this successfully?”

We conclude by encouraging participants to explore:

  • “What might be good about not knowing…?”

We believe that by following these questions yourself (and in supervision) you can identify your own behavioural patterns, raise your awareness and develop new or different responses.

We have grouped some of the many ideas shared by the coaches we have worked with, under three headings:

  • circumstances (when I don’t know what to do) - e.g. poorly prepared, different expectations
  • the signals that indicate or precede my not knowing - e.g. anxiety, loss of concentration
  • some tips - e.g. manage own state of attention, share not knowing, ask the client

Two consistent insights have emerged from all our investigations:                                                          

not knowing (what to do...) is OK; and have confidence in the silence (that might occur).


Ian Saunders and Ray Charlton

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