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A Step into the Forest

Posted By Ken Smith, 01 July 2017

A new supervisee today.  The universe currently sends me internal coaches who are quite new to coaching.  It’s an invitation to put on the expert hat.  I resist this to an extent, partly holding to the principle that supervision is a reflective process, partly to rein in my need for expert strokes.  I’ve learned that with many new coaches only so much deeper reflection, only so much modelling of their process is helpful.  

So I’ve been allowing myself to be a bit more discursive, offer a little information and ask a few more straightforward questions: “so what’s the contract … what’s the client come to you for … what else have you tried …?”  Today’s supervisee talks about a garrulous, unfocussed client who seems to keep slipping out from under her questions.  It leaves her wondering about whether she’s getting it right; is it enough just to be a sounding board for her client, she asks.  I say that coaching is about something changing and that yes, while, people come to coaching to be seen and heard, there’s an expectation that, as a result of it, they can make a clearer choice about doing something differently - or at least be clearer on whether they are ready to make a change.  Is your client ready, I ask.  We talk about goals, their importance and the need to set and carry them lightly, allowing whatever needs to emerge to do so.

Getting it right, to add value, has been a theme for so many of the coaches I’ve supervised.  So we talk a little about who is responsible for what in a coaching conversation.  All coaches want to do right by their clients but during our own conversation a few hints emerge that my supervisee has a bit of “be perfect” pattern.  We’re just over the hour and the session’s been positive with a fair amount of laughter, enough for me to be a touch bold and, attempting a small glint in my eye and half a smile, ask “how long have you been a perfectionist?” She finds the supplementary question “how do you know when you are getting it right in other places?” intriguing and we spend a little time on where her reference points for her rightness in a couple of other contexts.   More laughter and more reflections and, after this brief paddling it slightly deeper waters, we find our way back to the importance of contracting and using the contract as the anchor point for conversations that keep going off on tangents.  

We review what she’s learned and, among other things, it seems she’s written down a question I suggested she might like to consider asking her client.  Funny how some of those passing, brief thoughts can be the most pregnant ones.  

It’s been an enjoyable session.  Supervision can be transformational but there surely are degrees of transformation.  I’m pleased because I think I’ve gone to where my supervisee is and then just taken a helpful half a step ahead – which seems today to be enough.

Ken Smith

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Philippa Thomas, BBC Training & Development says...
Posted 02 March 2018
Dear Ken, I’ve enjoyed your post, as one of those internal coaches who are new to coaching. It’s made me reflect on the patterns I may exhibit already , and the potential clumsiness of the beginner coach who feels a need to ‘get it right’. I particularly appreciate your comment on carrying goals “lightly”, allowing underlying needs to emerge. Thanks, Philippa
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