As a coach, it may be hard to accept that when our coachee achieves their goals it wasn’t us who did the work. It may have felt like it, but the truth is that without the coachee’s buy in and work that goal can never be achieved; we are simply a tool (hopefully a good quality one) that facilitates the achievement of that goal.
This leads me to one of the most important traits I believe is needed in a coach – the ability to truly believe in their client. I’d like to use a personal experience to demonstrate this. For a couple of years I worked with long-term unemployed people in order to try to get them back into employment and, from an emotional point of view, it was the most challenging position I’ve held. I encountered challenging people, threats and horrendous circumstances but I also saw some successes and those were the parts that got me through each day.
I was running a three week, obligatory course for some of the clients who were further away from work. On the first morning the group walked in and filed into seats, very few looking enthusiastic to be there – I was used to that. During the introduction part of the course I noticed one person in particular, for the purpose of this article I will call her Suzie.
Suzie was extremely challenging; she questioned absolutely everything I said; she questioned my experience to run this course and she believed this was not going to help her. It would have been very easy for me to ask her to leave the training (this was of course what she was hoping for) but had I made that decision I would have let both of us fail in that situation. Instead, I answered Suzie’s questions respectfully and if I felt things were becoming too disruptive I agreed to discuss them during the breaks or activities. On handing out some paperwork to complete Suzie became very agitated so I approached her for a quiet conversation. The first thing that struck me was the smell of alcohol permeating so strong it gave me a headache. I knelt down by Suzie to speak with her. I didn’t challenge her on why she was not completing the paperwork, I simply had a chat to her and during this time realised the most likely reason was that she was unable to read or write; I later found out this was correct. Whatever the reason, I knew attempting to force her would be unsuccessful therefore I agreed that we’d leave the paperwork for now and when we had finished the course for the day her and I would stay behind and complete it together, just the two of us. That afternoon once everyone had left the room Suzie and I took the paperwork out again and began to work through it. During this process she began to disclose a little more to me about her very difficult life. I knew this was someone who needed someone else to believe in her, because, at this point in time, she didn’t. I made up my mind I was going to be that person.
During the three weeks I worked with Suzie, helping her but not doing for her, she disclosed more and more about herself. I always respected her for the person she was, questioned in an encouraging way and found ways to display my belief in her ability to achieve this, the first qualification she would ever gain.
It was fascinating for me to watch the change in Suzie over this time. First, she began to speak with me more respectfully and openly, then with other clients, then with other staff members. She began to take care of her physical appearance, washing each day and dressing in clean clothes. I still remember the day she walked in with her hair brushed and some make up on, greeting both me and the receptionist on the way; he just looked at me in shock and said he couldn’t believe how she’d changed.
In the last week of the course Suzie cooked some food and bought it in for the whole group to have with their lunch. This was a big gesture for someone living on a social benefit.
The point of this story is the main thing I did in this time with Suzie is have belief in her ability to achieve what she wanted to. It was Suzie who did the hard work and made the changes in her life – reducing how much she drunk, improving her personal hygiene, her approach to others and most importantly her confidence in herself to achieve goals.
My time with Suzie was one of the experiences that got me through my time in that role.
Meridee Walter qualified from AUT with a Degree in Communication. She has put this to good use working with people in primarily training and development roles in the UK. Meridee returned to her native New Zealand in 2016. You can follow Meridee on thrillspillsandaheadscarf.blogspot.com