What Coaching Clients Are Really Telling Us


Parts of a Whole

As a coach supervisor and coach, I know that I do not only engage with my clients cognitively. It is my job to engage my client as a whole person, with their permission. If the valuable work of coaching or supervision only happened at the cognitive level, there would be little use for helping professionals, people would solve their problems as soon as they thought about doing so.

We are useful to our clients because something within them can override their own cognitive abilities and this something is difficult to observe in oneself. This “something” may take many forms. It may be what or how the client is thinking, it may be what lies below the thinking, the sub-conscious. Clients can also get in the way of themselves when thinking is their only space for problem solving and being. Part of being a whole person is the capacity to experience the emotional and physical self and to use this as a tool for problem solving. A powerful means of connecting to other people, animals and the world is through emotional experience. When feeling is entirely or partly excluded from experience, a person will be limited in how they relate to themselves, others and the world.

Feeling is a magnificent phenomenon and one which can be employed skilfully by the practitioner too! In addition to allowing a complete experience of self, our own feelings can give us a lot of information about what another is experiencing. In practice, paying attention to what our own gut is telling us can give important clues to the client’s inner experience.

The Nature of Relationship

Using Stephen Karpman’s Drama Triangle (Fig 1) as a reference model, one can see that when the practitioner experiences feelings of wanting to Rescue their client for example, it is possible the client has invited this by assuming the psychological role of Victim. This would be conveyed explicitly (on a social level/in the client’s words) or implicitly (on a psychological level/evoking feelings in the practitioner). When these engagements happen between positions of Persecutor, Rescuer or Victim, they are inauthentic, manipulative and disempowering of both parties. These messages are communicated between individuals by means of what transactional analysis calls transactions.

However, being mindful of their own feelings the skilled practitioner may choose to respond to the client in a way which positively complements the inauthentic invitation with one which is truly valuable, in this instance showing authentic care by having a conversation around the practitioner’s and client’s responsibilities within the coaching space as well as regarding the client’s life circumstances. As this is an authentic and empowering response, it is not referenced in the paradigm of the Drama Triangle. Instead we use another model/paradigm to illustrate the transaction not coming from the Rescuer position, but a position of Caring and responsibility as in Acey Choy’s Winner’s Triangle (Fig 2).

In this case, from a position of vulnerability, the client can own their experience (without expecting or manipulating a rescue from the practitioner) and design ways of accepting and taking responsibility for themselves.This is one way a coaching or supervising practitioner reads between the lines to figure out their client’s authentic need and then responds as such. It may take some time for a client to respond positively to the practitioner’s authentic engagement and it may even happen that the client does not respond authentically, perhaps preventing any progress at this point. When a stickiness or impasse is noticed between practitioner and client, it is useful to seek resolution to these issues in supervision.

In Summary

  • Client and practitioner engage with each other explicitly (social level transactions) and implicitly (psychological level transactions)
  • It is useful for the practitioner to be mindful of their own experience, as a potential indicator of the client’s experience and the relational dynamic in the session
  • The dynamic between client and practitioner in the session often mirrors the dynamic between client and others in their lives (the problem they bring to coaching/supervision)
  • The practitioner’s authentic and empowering response in the session invites resolution to the client’s dilemma and models to them how to resolve the same dynamic in their personal/professional lives

Remember, as coaches or supervisors our job is not to provide answers to our client’s problems because we know everything. In a coaching and supervision space we do not train our clients. We are just as human as they are. However, it is our skill in self-awareness, inter-subjectivity and mindfulness of human experience that is itself a vehicle for resolving client issues.

We can use our own human-being to transform other human beings.

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