We’ve received several candid questions from our corporate clients recently. There’s undoubtedly some mystery to the coaching process and experience for people who haven’t been through it yet. With permission, we captured some of these questions to explore for the benefit of a wider audience.
Our Coach Business Partner Lead, Beth Henry, caught up with several of our highest performing BOLDLY Coaches to discuss how they’ve worked with these themes in their practices. This is a recent conversation based on their professional observations of the enduring foundations of a good coaching engagement.
This is a good and honest question. It’s not uncommon for professionals to ‘stumble’ on surprising things - words, people, situations, sounds, events, and even smells at work - that they respond to automatically, and in unexpected ways. We might also call this ‘pushing a button’ or ‘touching a nerve’ - you can find yourself speaking or acting in reaction faster than you can think.
In coaching terms, we talk about triggers as being anything that brings on a deep memory and automatic response. Triggers very personal, and differ from one individual to the next, because they’re built on the experiences you’ve had and how you make meaning of those experiences.
Triggers can absolutely be positive - think of the smell of lunch coming from the common area reminding you of the team catch-ups you’ve benefited from, which makes you feel fond of your Colleagues and like you belong at your office. Or consider a situation where you get recognition from your boss at a team meeting giving you a sense of pride in a job well done, which you carry home and share with your family over the dinner table. However triggers can also be negative, and most of us are unconsciously avoiding these kinds of situations, because the result is often a sense of being out of control, emotionally aroused, or even embarrassed. Think about a more senior colleague seeing you arrive late to a meeting, and giving you a sideways glare, which somehow reminds you of your school teacher scolding you and rousing on you to your parents. Something like this could make you feel patronized, and trigger poor performance through the meeting and an ongoing negative conversation in your mind for days to come. And yet, for another person receiving the same sideways glance, they might not give it a second thought - after all, they had never been in trouble at school!
Identifying triggering events is a key aspect of the coaching relationship. As a confidential and safe space, you can explore your personal triggers, bring them into the light to observe them, and ‘practice’ different responses when they arise. Only by naming them and practising alternative ways of acting and thinking can you take control of your triggers, rather than letting them control you.
Beth: We hear a lot about coaching triggers - those instances that spark all kinds of reactions in counterparts. How do you see your role in exploring and shedding light on triggers?
Coach Laura: Working with triggers - and how we make meaning from them - is actually some of the most important work that Coaches can do...our ability to navigate them - in ourselves and others - is only going to increase going forward.
Coach Lenny: Often the trigger event needs unpacking - by nature they’re sensitive spots, and even if we as a Coach can see them clearly, we need to be gentle in raising them to the awareness of the Counterpart. Triggers I often hear about - being questioned about some work in front of peers, getting feedback, or even just the mannerisms of a colleague. It’s different for each person because a trigger is usually hooked to something in their past.
Beth: And why are they so valuable?
Coach Lenny: triggers are the things that tell a counterpart what’s important for them, even though they’re a bit painful - they don’t want to be surprised by them when they pop up in a work performance situation, so we explore triggers in coaching so the Counterpart can experience and work on them in a safe space.
Right now, more and more coaching engagements are moving online. This is not only safer in the post-COVID world, but it also means you now have access to a bigger pool of Coaches. Depending on your personal development area, you need to find a Coach with the right chemistry and background for you - not ‘the same’ as you, because you might find yourself in an echo chamber with no diversity for new thinking, but also no ‘polar opposite’ to you, so much so that you can’t find a rhythm together. You’re looking for a goldy-locks Coach: just right! Your Talent Partner, or Coach Business Partner can help you with this if you need, however the important thing to remember is that digital coaching gives you more options to work with when getting this fit right.
Once you have the coaching match in place, then there’s the question of building rapport and establishing the relationship between you in an online format. Ensuring you ask lots of questions of each other, continue to speak ‘face to face’ (even through video) and showing up for each other reliably - these aspects still go a long way towards building a productive relationship. If you’re getting ‘zoom fatigue’, you might suggest going for a digital walk together, so long as you’re safe from traffic, the internet is strong, and you’re not going to be overheard by other people. Try to think creatively so the screen relationship doesn’t become more than it needs to be!
If you’re using the BOLDLY platform, activities and media are designed to keep you in dialogue with your Coach in between meetings, and chat enables ongoing connectivity. These are the added advantages of a digital relationship - you get to continue snacking on your coaching conversations in between your bigger meals, which ensures your development is more sustainable.
Beth: We often get requests from coaching Counterparts who have a clear preference for meeting face to face, but there’s a big trend towards online coaching too. What are you finding?
Coach Laura: I suspect almost everyone prefers face-to-face, especially for building trust and psychological safety. But online coaching can definitely work.
Beth: What makes it work in your view?
Coach Laura: I have two recommendations. Firstly, it's really important to use a video interface. Much of our ability to understand others is not just conveyed through tone of voice and word choice, but also by means of somatic movements produced by the hands, head, and especially the face. Second, it is a good practice to disable the self-view video function. Research clearly shows that humans are hard-wired to focus on their own faces rather than the faces of other people.
Coach Felicia: I see online coaching has opened a whole new world for a lot of people - Coaches and Counterparts alike. We have access to more combinations of chemistry than what we did when we were limited to coaching relationships in our city. While you can’t beat the rapport you build in person, the new online world means all coaching relationships can be global and the highest performing for the needs of the Counterpart.
Coaching can sometimes get underway because you have behaviours you want to work on, but all actions start with thoughts - values, motivations, opinions, self-talk, beliefs etc. Sometimes your ways of thinking are benefitting you - for example, if you have a strong thought process for solving problems, and you trust you can revert back to this mental model to get out of any sticky situation you might find yourself in at work. This is a strength that you Coach would help you identify and define, to ensure you’re using it effectively whenever possible. However, you might have other thoughts that are hindering you - for example, if your self-talk says ‘I can’t do that… I’ll look silly… I’ll fail… I’ll probably get fired…’ this kind of negative thinking could only hold you back. A Coach is there to help you bring those thoughts into your awareness, analyse them, and choose whether you want to keep them or retire them, and replace them with something else. So ‘how’ a Coach might help you to change your way of thinking depends on who you are, what you’re thinking, and what your development goals are! This will change from person to person, and that’s the beauty of coaching - it’s tailored just for you.
The Coach themselves is there to use their own mental models and ways of thinking as a ‘reflection’ or mirror to hold up to you. In essence, when you’re selecting a Coach, you’re choosing to work with their thinking patterns so you can ‘dance’ with your reflective partner to get the development outcomes and insights you need. A great Coach has done the work on themselves, honing their own thinking patterns in terms of empathy, perspective-taking, and recognising unconscious themes through language and actions to ensure they’re showing up for you as a thought partner.
Beth: Whether online or face to face, our BOLDLY Coaches work with a lot of themes of mindset and attitude. What do you typically see come through your meetings that really impacts the success of your coaching?
Coach Tommy: The best coaching outcomes typically come from an optimistic attitude shared both by the coaching dyad, as fostered by the Coach. The mindset that would enable positive coaching outcome is believing that executive strengths are often laden and could be activated by the coaching process.
Beth: Right - and what about the mindset you hold as a Coach for a great outcome?
Coach Tommy: Excellent Coach colleagues express high belief of their Clients’ resourcefulness based on good reflection of past accomplishments and mistakes, or challenges at hand.
Coach Lenny: To add to that, in my mind as a Coach I need to always have a positive outlook, and assume positive intent in the Counterpart. When I hold them in the highest regards, I create the space for them in the room to impress and tune into themselves.
Beth: And on the other hand, what mindsets do you see that hinder the coaching outcomes?
Coach Tommy: Fear and unclear priorities are often some of the common factors that hinder both the Coaches and Coachees to maximize coaching outcomes.
Beth: Can you explain a bit more?
Coach Tommy: Yes, to stretch one’s thinking with new actions often requires overcoming fear by taking risks. Coaches who are aware of these dynamics refine their coaching approach by “powerful questioning,” including confronting coachees’ blind spots, and offering support appropriately. And when it comes to dismantling unclear goals and priorities, good coaching will help define coaching objectives, monitor progress systematically and hold coachees’ accountable.
Coach Felicia: I agree, even as a Coach we have fear some times, but our training enables us to lean into the energy of the coaching engagement. Often our emotions are reflecting or tuning into the feeling of the Counterpart, so it’s a valuable insight to bring to the surface in ourselves for the service of the engagement.
Coaching is a rich, personal experience, with a Coach as your guide and companion. There’s so much more you can expect - best to start the conversation with your Coach and chart the course for yourself!