Coaching Relationship: Opening the Space
by Sushma Sharma
Originally published in Coaching for Transformation
The coaching relationship is about co-aching for something more. What do we ache for? What is important for me is opening the space. The space becomes fertile for adventure and discovery.
The container is a safe space for all kinds of sharing to happen. A container of love and trust where I am a friend and confidante...where possibilities exist for dreams to unfold and significant differences are explored.
An example: I met a prospective client who was not very sure about coaching, but shared, "I have my 360º feedback which I don't understand. I report to two bosses. One of them rates me very open and the other one rates me closed. How can that be? I just don't get it. How can one person be experienced in two vastly different ways?"
I asked, "How are you different with these two people?"
He said, "With one I am not very open…"
"What is the block, if any, you experience with him?" I asked.
"I shut up and am not very spontaneous with him whereas with the other I just flow."
I asked, "So what is going on in this relationship?"
He told a story about a previous boss who would share his expectations and not bother him until the date of delivery. So he felt trusted. Whereas in the present situation he experienced distrust.
"Well where do you think he is operating from?"
"Anxiety I guess."
"So what are you doing to help your boss build trust with you?"
"Nothing, I don't like reporting and tom-toming about all that I am doing."
"How would he know all that you are doing as you are not even in the same city?"
"You are hitting the nail on the head. I am always wondering why he is micro-managing. I hate that. So I don't share on a regular basis. He has no clue about the progress."
"What is the real block you experience with him?" I asked.
"That he distrusts me and I can't stand it, so I keep quiet because I don't want to have a conflict."
"So coaching may help you to build new competencies to handle such conversations."
"I like what you are saying. I get suffocated, so I take recourse into silence. I need to know how to build trust with someone who is an anxious leader. You seem to understand me...how do we take it forward together?"
"My foundation as a coach is built on authentic, risky conversations. Which helps us to have new eyes and new perspectives. If you are game, I am ready to dive in with you..."
We arrived at the decision to start our coaching. The challenge was attractive to him...he felt understood and had new perspectives about his behavior. I was pushing our boundaries of exploration and reflection. Here and now, experiencing the process, the space for conversation was created, for him to share without judgment. It was like play...he laughed at his own ways of being.
Later, when the organization was going through a merger, the senior leaders were put through an assessment process, which was very anxiety provoking, as they didn't know if they'd end up in a lesser role. I said, "I can totally resonate with your anxiety. Putting myself in a similar situation brings up a lot of self-doubt and anger." These emotions were coming alive for me and I was sharing what was happening to me in the moment. He said, "I think you really understand me," and began sharing more of his anxiety. We both shared the sensations and the impact, exactly as it came, without censoring. This level of honest sharing creates a leveling partnership of equals.
In a conversation with my client and his boss, I asked the boss, "How do you see your relationship with my client?" He described it as a very good relationship, very relaxed. My client was shocked. He said, "I don't see it that way at all," and began to share all the things he'd shared privately with me. The boss got some rare insights and asked me to coach him and four other people. My intuition is a big part of how I coach, asking the questions that strike me in the moment
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