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 they should be able to sort themselves and not need ‘that’ kind of help. 

Changing Perception

Whilst the world is working to change the perception and understanding of mental health, I think we need much clearer signposts about what kind of help is available. 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.

Coaching; counselling, therapy and talking to friends but do you know why they work and when to ask.

Mostly people are working their way through the many options randomly and they each work for a certain period of time, with a certain person with a particular problem. I encourage you to try them all and then evaluate for yourself what works best for you. But how can you do that if you have no idea of the options.

I have had many coaches over the years. Some formally trained others such as my managers were great coaches and mentors. What they all had in common is that I felt like they had my back. They believed in me and they gave me feedback on my performance that really helped me to work at my best. I have worked with some coaches for one session and others that I have worked with many times for 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.

Counselling

They each gave me insight and awareness of myself that I could not have got on my own. 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 12 months later when I was sick of the story I was telling, I stopped. I was ready for solutions now.

Coaching

I am very much a solution focused person and so coaching felt right. 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. 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.

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.

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 sound baths (I can’t explain what this is so I will leave you to look it up and do your own research) but I do know it all worked for me. They all gave me space to be with myself without having to fix or do or make anything happen and afterwards I felt better.

How I know they worked is based on how I felt.

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). A good coach or perhaps I should say a more experienced coach that commits to developing their coaching skills, will 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 good coach will 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.

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 version of events and the impact on you which can and does create change

Coaching is solution focused listening that trains your attention to 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 required to manage yourself through change that I talk about in my book: Do, Delegate or Ditch – Developing the confidence to ask for help without fear of failure or guilt.

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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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