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Annie Hayes

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Extracts of a Life Coach: New perspectives

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Emma Ranson Bellamy, fledgling Life Coach is amazed at the potential listening can offer to even the most mundane of conversations and uses her new techniques to help a nervous presenter find some much needed confidence.


Last week I promised that I would make more effort with listening. And boy what an impact it has had on both my personal relationships and learning. By trying just that bit harder and holding back from interjecting with amusing anecdotes and stories I’ve learned to appreciate the conversations I am having much more.

Listening is empowering to both the speaker and the listener. The speaker feels empowered because they are being focused on and they can impart what they need while the listener is empowered by the information being imparted.

In an every day scenario the ‘good’ listener will be considered to be ‘great company’ mainly because they listen and by listening are interested, and of course, if you listen you understand and we all want to be understood, right? And in a coaching scenario if I, as coach, am really listening with my ears, my eyes and my intuition I will know exactly what to ask next to move my client further towards their goal.

It’s the questions which are the tools of the coach. The question is the chisel that chips away revealing the unconscious thoughts of the client which in turn helps them to see clearly and achieve their goals. The coach doesn’t offer the answers but which one came first the answer or the question? It’s a chicken and egg argument.

Marcel Proust said, “We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves.” And it’s this that is the basis of coaching. The coach is a facilitator helping clients to find those answers within themselves by asking the right questions. Of course you don’t need a coach, you can do it yourself, or you could find a willing friend who will listen and ask those questions. However, as we discussed last week listening at this deep level rarely takes place in ‘normal’ conversation. Most questions have an ‘agenda’. Will you marry me? Where is this relationship going? How can I earn more money? for example.

As a sales person the tools of my trade were also questions. But the big difference was I knew what I was going to ask before the meeting began. I knew how I would ‘engineer’ the conversation around to my sales pitch.

As a trainer I teach people the art of questioning technique. Pushing relevant questions through a funnel we help the client to realise what they need. It’s not a question and answer process, it’s a needs analysis. I analyse your needs so I have a basis to put my sales points across.

Not so in coaching. Coming from my background I have found this very difficult. I wanted to solve the problems. I’m a 30 plus single mother of two young boys, I have a pretty good idea of the world corporate or otherwise and I like to think I have a good problem solving head.

I quickly found out, however, that no one is interested at how I will do it as I really have no idea what’s really going on in someone’s head, heart past or present. As soon as I came up with ‘the perfect solution’ I got the ‘yeah but’s’.

For example an individual I was coaching wanted to be more confident at making business pitches. I’m a pretty good, confident business pitcher. I can walk into most rooms and secure the business if there is some to be had. Bully for me!

I could tell the client to walk tall, give a firm hand shake, look them in the eye, do some background research, mention their FTSE index, I could give them the ‘people buy people first and they like those that are like them’ speech. That all works for me.

But this doesn’t work when the coachee is not like you. In this instance she was short, so nervous that her palms sweated making her too nervous to shake her client’s hands, the company wasn’t FTSE registered and she didn’t feel at all like the people she was pitching to.

As I continued to recite all my tips to the coachee, I felt her becoming even less confident and was sure she was now more unlikely to do what I had suggested. Time was ticking on and we were getting no where fast. I felt frustrated and wanted to wade in and offer to do the pitch for her.

But who would that have helped? Not the client, she wants to be a good pitcher. Not me, I want to be a good coach. This conversation was making her feel less, not more empowered. I felt less like a coach and more like a freelance ‘door opener’. I needed to get her to come up with ways based on her own strengths that she would feel comfortable with. And then I realized what I was doing wrong, I paused and asked her, “If you were your best friend what advice would you give yourself?” This question made her think and she was then able to answer her own question from her own perspective bearing in mind all her strengths and challenges.

Because she had done it from her own standpoint she had the beginnings of a plan, and one that she felt comfortable with and which she could commit to. It was her own agenda and her own initiative. She was the only person who could have asked this question and she did it herself. Was it a light-bulb moment? It was for her as she now had the makings of a strategy to reach her goal of how to be more confident in business pitches.

It never ceases to amaze me the way powerful questions challenge the mind to look at old information in a different way. It’s similar to changing the colour of a room. The room and the furniture are the same but just by making a small change the light is reflected in a different way and it feels different. The same can be true of powerful questions. They help you to see a problem in a different light.

You are changing your own ‘movie’ from cassette, to DVD and suddenly you’re getting all the ‘extras’ in technicolour surround sound.

We use open and closed questions to extract the information we are looking for. Powerful questions add another dimension. This week I will look at how I can work on my questioning technique by the use of visualization to encourage clarity of understanding. If you knew you would receive great insight, what question would you ask yourself?

Top ten question learning points:

  • 1. I listen to the answers

  • 2. I don’t know the next question I will ask until the client has finished with the previous one.

  • 3. I avoid ‘why’ questions like: “Why are you wearing that hat?”

  • 4. I never ask a question that might get a no.

  • 5. How, what and when are the questioning trinity

  • 6. If I didn’t understand the answer I ask for clarification, the chances are the thinking is muddled and the client could do with another bash to clarify the point.

  • 7. I use questions to open up new areas of thinking between sessions.

  • 8. I reverse a question to challenge the thinking.

  • 9. I use visualization to spur the sub conscious in order to see the question differently.

  • 10. I practice my questioning technique on everyone and at every opportunity and am constantly amazed at the power a well worded question can have.

Emma can be contacted at [email protected]

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