Coaching and Client Dialogue
How Coaching is Focused on Client Dialogue

Coaching is simple.  In fact, coaching is so simple that to make it a more serious occupation, one could be tempted to make it more complex.  This may be particularly true in occidental cultures that seem to prefer experts that wield complex if not complicated methods and tools.  But it is probably coaching simplicity that makes it an original and powerful approach, so paradoxically difficult to understand and implement. 

To begin to explore the simplicity of coaching, I will share some thoughts on it’s spirit. It is the spirit of coaching that makes its originality, and differentiates it from other similar types of professions, not the multiplicity of methods and tools that we could be tempted to develop, maybe just to underline our own differences.

To position coaching simplicity and originality, it is first useful to understand the nature of a normal dialogue when it takes place without a coach.  Only after a clear comprehension of the characteristics and the results of dialogue can the role of a coach be defined as a facilitator of that type of conversation. 

« Dialogue » in general :  

A dialogue between two or more individuals is a relatively fluid and constructive verbal interaction that is respectful of the meaning of the words provided by the participating actors. Etymologically, the word « dialogue » comes from the Greek « dia » which  like "via" in Latin stands for through ». (Dia also sometimes means “separate” but not « two »). «Logos » means « word ». 

According to David Bohm, words in a dialogue are used as a vehicle to create meaning, if the dialogue is collective, the words will help create shared meaning.

We can add or point out that a dialogue does not have any objective other than to share or facilitate the emergence of new shared meaning. This new meaning gradually emerges from the shared words, and will be relatively common to the conversing partners.  Consequently, a dialogue between people permits the progressive emergence or unfolding of a new community of meaning of which the content is generally unpredictable.  

When a  dialogue takes place between two or more people, the exchange is co-created and carried by all conversing partners. At each step of the conversation, each person receives the thoughts of preceding contributors and then contributes to the progressive elaboration or emergence of new, shared meaning.  Each person in dialogue attentively listens and then adds to the shared meaning, so as to create a new relatively collective conceptual production.  A dialogue is a resolutely emergent form of interaction in as much as none of its participants have a predefined expectation or a priori as to its general direction or final destination.  

Consequently, to be productive, a dialogue is a process to share meaning without any predefined objective as to the specific content of its production.  The “final” result of a dialogue is all the more powerful and original if it is not central in the conscious expectations of the partners while they are in a dialogued conversation.  This free and respectful sharing process permits the spontaneous, sometimes surprising and relatively shared elaboration or emergence of new points of view and original shared meaning, unexpected directions or solutions.

« Dialogue » with a coach :

When clients engage in a coached process, the nature of the conversation is relatively different.  The client talks while the coach attentively listens, first to give “expanding” space for client expression and whenever possible, to validate the meaning conveyed by the client.

Indeed, the primary role of a coach consists in leaving more than enough space and time for the client to think, feel, formulate ideas, elaborate or discover a complete expression of his or her concerns.  Respectful and attentive listening by coaches provides a receptacle for their clients to gradually elaborate or evolve the meaning they carry and need to unfold. 

Much as in dialogue, the meaning developed by coached clients transforms itself and evolves to almost invariably reach a very different result from the ones that they first expected.  Facing attentive and silent coaches, clients “give form” or formulate meaning through verbalization.  In that gradual process, client meaning gradually appears and slowly, again and again evolves and remodels itself.  

As long as necessary, the coach will neither “answer” nor intervene within client dialogue or conversation, but will rather keep quiet so as to leave the latter with a large receptacle to unload, model and remodel volunteered personal thoughts, feelings and motivations.   This receptacle exists in the form of an attentive welcoming “vacuum” or silence.   Within this receptacle will then progressively emerge the essential form and practical content clients wish to give their concerns  

The coach’s silent and attentive presence offers a creative space or environment within which clients can progressively give a complete form to the deeper meaning of their unfolding reality.  Consequently, the first and foremost coaching technique or tool is to offer silence within which their clients can define, redefine and discover personal meaning.  As a result, if coaching provides a professional space that facilitates personal dialogue, it is first and foremost at the service of whatever meaning clients wish to develop, formulate or define, on their own. 

Only later and if needed, by subtly adopting other carefully chosen and respectfully proposed coaching techniques will coaches help their clients move forward a little further. Consequently, other coaching tools and competencies will also serve the complementary purpose of giving clients a few different occasions to confront themselves with questioning and growth options. 

To offer these occasions for growth and exploration, a coach can ask questions that are chosen for the sole purpose to help clients reframe themselves to further explore or develop their own meaning or purpose.  Through questions and other reformulating and communication techniques, a coach helps clients uncover or discover for themselves what they hold as their deepest beliefs, attitudes, motivations and ambitions. 

To help clients meander on their own personal search for meaning, a coach may also occasionally and sparingly participate more actively in the elaboration of client dialogue, but never by giving any importance to his or her own personal contributions.  These must be volunteered at the sole service of each client’s self-defined progress. 

In the midst of this search and development process at the sole service of emerging client meaning, there can never be a conscious or unconscious attempt for a coach to influence or direct the dialogue.  Any response, attempt to redirect the dialogue or to convince the client would risk transforming the latter’s personal dialogue into a discussion with the coach.

  • BEWARE: The word « discussion » is indeed synonymous to “agitation”.  It particularly concerns an arguing relationship where each displays efforts to impose a personal point of view or to convince the other or the environment.  Discussions increase the risk for poor listening, and can provoke a real loss in the development of client meaning, which would result in the exact opposite of a dialogue or a coaching objective.

Consequently, much unlike an expert who is paid to have and sell if not impose “productive” answers, a coach is specifically trained in skills to professionally accompany individual and collective client dialogue so as to permit the spontaneous apparition or emergence of their own solutions.

  • EXAMPLE :  Coached clients can quite often gradually work to achieve a conclusion they consider luminous and which completely suit their needs, and which escapes the coach's comprehension. 

A coach’s need to really comprehend the client’s problem is often irrelevant to the success of the coaching process.  This reveals that a client can be quite performing in reaching their objectives even when they are searching for meaning and resolution in realms that are completely stranger to their coach’s areas of competency.

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The accompaniment of client dialogue permits their « re-centering » or « realignment ».

When formulated to a coach, client dialogue becomes a personal form of meditation, structured by words which gradually creates and conveys new meaning and new perceptions of reality.   When clients verbally express their personal and professional concerns within a personal dialogue, they gradually become conscious of their own complexity, their own human dimension, their pwn depth of soul.  Step by step they give their own frame of reference a new form if not a new coherence.  Ultimately, the emergence of this new personal paradigm or world view will permit each client to reposition the effectiveness of their own actions within their everyday activity.

That is how coaching clients gradually develop conscience and awareness and tune into their senses.  They discover deeper aspirations and motivations.  As they deploy or unfold their accompanied personal dialogue, they discover and implement a finer capacity to discern, a keener intuition.  Little by little they discover themselves a much deeper and quicker competency to listen and understand others, a more ample capacity to transmit, a more powerful motivation to act, a larger and more comprehensive vision of their own potential.   In short, through their accompanied dialogue, coaching clients gradually operate their own transformation and deploy their own development.  

It becomes apparent that through a skill set which mainly rests on “accompanied dialogue”, coaching is an original and performing technique to develop human and more complex collective or “system” potential.

We can also take note that the detailed content of client concerns in coaching can be relatively irrelevant to the coach.  Whether the client is focused on personal, sports, economic, health, or other issues does not really matter much.  Whichever can be the relatively passing focus of client concerns, it is the “accompanied dialogue” process that is important and which will help clients gradually develop power, breadth and transform.  This client transformation will almost naturally carry consequences in all the facets of their personal and professional lives. 

This reinforces the affirmation that in coaching there are no different domains of expertise. The only real realm of expertise of coaching is in the coach’s professional capacity to accompany the development of the individual or collective client’s general breadth through the unfolding process of their own personal dialogue.  

Copyright 2008.  Alain Cardon