Sheryl Andrews
Sheryl Andrews

The Listening Detective

What Is Coaching?

Dictionary definition of coach:

“A large comfortable vehicle for a long journey”

I am still bemused how coaching has been in the UK for 30 plus years and yet the dictionary online or offline still does not formally acknowledge or support my own experience of it. Instead it still refers to coaching and a coach as a large comfortable vehicle for long journeys. 

In this article I aim to share my experience because I feel that many are not able to ask for help because they don’t understand what coaching is and how it works. Some have perhaps experienced one coaching session and assume that all coaching is the same.

Others assume coaching is like counselling and talking therapy and as such think decide that it is not for them.  

Chatting with purpose 

Whilst the world is working to change the perception and understanding of mental health, and we are encourage to talk, I think we need much clearer signposts about what kind of talking works and why so that we can access the appropriate help when we need it. 

When you are stuck in your own head and you know your own thinking is getting in your own way there are many processes that work. From coaching; counselling, therapy and talking to friends to taking time out to reflect and think, but do you know why they work and when?

Mostly become overwhelmed at the options and take no action whilst others can try lots of them and lose hope when nothing seems to be working.

I have personally had many coaches over the years. Some paid for and others in the form of managers and mentors in my role as a manager. What they all had in common is that I trusted them. I believed they had my back and what I said was safe with them. 

They demonstrated that they believed in me and they gave me feedback on my performance that really helped me to make changes, grow and learn. I have worked with some for just one session and others I have worked with many times over a number of years. I have also had counselling for a year and one-off sessions with a hypnotherapist; gone on yoga retreats and experienced sound baths and they all work.

So this is not about one thing being better than another. They all work and your job is to understand what will work for you right now. And even when you narrow it down to what service you want you will also need to interview and evaluate who you think you could work best with. Let’s start with an overview of what worked for me and my definitions. 

Counselling

Counselling gave me space and time to talk about the shame of my marriage ending and not being the wife I had hoped to be. It gave me space and time to talk about the frustrations of my relationship with my mum and my own daughter. It gave me a space to be heard and not judged and it was liberating. I was given tools and practical ways to think about things. Then after 12 months of weekly sessions I had had enough. I had got sick of repeating myself and I was ready for change. Now some might argue that counselling did not work, but the reality is that our pain often needs to be witnessed and we have to be willing to listen and honour what was before we can let it go and be ready to move forward. The fact I got sick of the story was for me an indication that counselling had worked and now I was ready for something else. 

Coaching

This is solution and outcome focused listening. Asking question with the assumption that what you have now is not what you want and that you want something else. Coaching is my go-to tool when I am in overwhelm and frustrated, but I also know now that when I am really hurting on a deep emotional level, that I often need to talk about the pain. (now I might talk to my coach about the pain but most likely I would confide in a friend or record it and listen back to it until I have had enough of it) 

I am lucky now to understand what kind of listening I need and to be able to ask friends and family to listen when I am upset. Thanks to coaching I know my process and I know I am grieving and I can reassure them that this too will pass and that all I need is for them to bear witness to what is in order for me to let it go and create space for what could be. 

That allows them to listen without judging or worrying about me. If I didn’t have friends and family that were resourced to listen in this way then I would hire a counsellor again.

Then I am more resourced to work with my coach and talk about what I want and map out what needs to happen to make it happen. 

Solution focused listening

A coach is someone that will ask questions that train your attention on the solution. They will listen to what is not working and how much it hurts with compassion and care but they won’t stay there too long, if at all. Instead they will ask,  and when all that what would you like to have happen?

We generally don’t spend lots of time talking about the problem unless that is the only way to discover the solution.

A coach can be with you for an hour to make a decision or a life-time building a business and a network of support. They repeat back your thoughts, feelings and patterns to help ascertain what you want and what works for you. They also track progress and help you establish processes that work for you.

I am not sure I would describe coaching as “a comfortable vehicle for long journeys” but coaching has got me and my clients through some of the most uncomfortable parts of our lives.

It is not easy to have your patterns repeated back to you or to have lots of questions asked that challenge your current thinking and status quo but it is powerful.

It can be transformational, when you allow yourself to trust the process and you have the confidence to really look and see yourself as others do.

Coaching is unlike any conversation. It is very one sided; the focus is on you the client and what you want and need to talk about. Coaching questions are designed to train your attention on what you want (solutions) and what works for you (strengths& resources ). 

A more experienced coach that commits to developing their coaching skills, will also be able to listen and observe the whole of you. They will notice if you get more excited about one thing than another. They will notice if your shoulders slump at the thought of something else. You, your language and your body are communicating all the time and a coach can help you track this and reflect it back without judgment so that you can evaluate what it means and make informed decisions. You will often get access to information you could not get on your own.

The more I work with clients to explore their process, the more resourced they become to listen to and manage themselves and others through change.

Power of silence

Sometimes I don’t want to talk I just want to feel better and I have learned that silent therapy works as well. Walks in nature; yoga and meditation have helped. What they all have in common is that they give us space and time to listen to ourselves. 

To summarise:

Counselling is often used to talk about the past and what is not working with the purpose of honouring and bearing witness to your experience which usually enables us to heal and move on from a change or trauma that impacted us. 

Coaching is solution focused listening that trains your attention on the future and helps you notice your patterns, process and progress, so that you can get to know yourself better, make informed decisions and do more of what works for you.

Coaching and counselling are two of the 8 kinds of listening and I talk more about them in my first book Manage your critic – From overwhelm to clarity in 7 steps. To order your copy of the book click here:

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About The Author

Sheryl Andrews (aka The Listening Detective)

Founder of Step by Step Listening, Sheryl Andrews has always been keen to create space where other people felt safe to speak their truth no matter what that was. She is well known for her ability to motivate, manage and mentor others through change and loves nothing more than helping others feel heard and understood. She soon discovered there were 8 different kinds of listening and often people started talking without knowing which they needed. At Step by Step Listening they create space to explore what kind of listening works to ensure individuals are resourced to work, learn and live at their best with others and on their own. .

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