How to Develop Your Coaching Presence

How to Develop Your Coaching Presence

I have been asked if there are common themes in coaching supervision, and indeed there is one  that stands out: coaching presence. I can’t recall any supervision client with whom I did not work on coaching presence in one way or another. In fact, I would say that presence during coaching sessions is the number one skill that almost every coach needs to build to become a better coach. Interestingly, though, the perceived need to develop presence seems to increase with coaching experience.

Beginner coaches are often more concerned with a particular coaching method or coaching model. Initially, they want to make sure they are asking the right questions. Being overly occupied with doing things right, rookie coaches may not even notice how this prevents them from being fully present during their coaching sessions.

This has to do with coach development, beautifully described by Clutterbuck & Megginson in their article on “Coach Maturity.” [1] According to the authors, the typical development of a coach proceeds through four stages: models-based, process-based, philosophy or discipline-based, and systemic eclectic.

Beginners usually start as models-based coaches. A defined approach which they can use in any situation gives them a sense of security. They try to navigate the inherent uncertainties of coaching by sticking to a fixed format. Subjectively, that may increase their confidence as it gives them a feeling of control or doing the right thing. However, as Clutterbuck and Megginson state, “this type of coaching is characterised by mechanistic conversations, where following the model is more important than exploring the client’s world.”

The process-based approach is “considered as a structured linking of related techniques and models” and, therefore, allows for more flexibility. The process-based coach has access to more tools than the models-based coach. However, their set of tools is limited and the coach still relies on the tools.

As the name indicates, philosophy- or discipline-based coaches follow a particular philosophy/discipline in their coaching. As a result, they become less dependent on tools, models, and processes. This allows for more presence and more variable responses to the client’s needs.

In the fourth and final stage, the systemic eclectic coach has an understanding of the wider system that they and their clients operate in. (cf. Lawrence [2] ) Eclectic refers to deriving ideas from a broad and diverse range of sources. (cf. Wikipedia [3] ) The coach at this stage has studied various models and theories and is, therefore, better equipped to be present in a coaching session  than coaches at earlier stages.

The broad knowledge base combined with years of experience and continuous professional development allow systemic eclectic coaches to be more comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty and respond resourcefully to any coaching situation. 

Presence can be defined as being fully in the here and now. Presence helps you attune to your client and become more sensitive to registering non-verbal signals — including the signals from your own body as a reaction to your interaction with your client. Presence allows you to be more in tune with your gut feelings, and over time, you will find that gut feeling and intuition can be so much more potent than all the tools and methods you were taught in coaching school.

You may have heard that coaching is more about being than doing. This may sound esoteric, but it is essentially biology. Daniel Siegel, for instance, proposes that the mind operates like a complex system and that it regulates the flow of energy and information — not only in the brain but throughout the body (inner) and within our relationships with others and our environment (inter). [4], [5]

Our embodied brains constantly scan the environment for potential danger. Also, in our interactions with others, your brain is continuously asking, “am I safe or not?” If there is any perceived danger — this can be in verbal and non-verbal cues such as tone of voice or facial expressions — the brain prepares the whole body for the ancient fear response: fight, flight, freeze, or faint. These processes take place within milliseconds and often without conscious awareness. Therefore, such non-conscious processes are often overlooked in a world that focuses too much on cognition. 

When we feel safe with another person, we can create new meaning together, our brains can literally make new connections. This is where the magic happens in coaching: clients can gain new insights and find solutions that were inaccessible before. The magic wand is often in the coach’s presence and attunement to their client, not the coaching tools and processes. 

Coaching Supervision Reflection Questions:

What is getting into your way of being fully present during your coaching sessions?

Is it different with different clients? How? Are there patterns?

How do you actually notice whether you are present or not?

How does your thinking impact your presence?

What behaviors of your client, including verbal and non-verbal expressions, impact your presence?

What activities right before your coaching session either increase or decrease your presence?

Coaching Supervision Tips for Better Coaching Presence

Each person is different, and you need to find out for yourself which of the tips below work for you:

Reserve sufficient time before each coaching session. This goes beyond just avoiding back-to-back appointments. Make sure you have enough time to quiet your mind and get into a state of calm and clarity. 10-20 minutes of meditation before a coaching session can work wonders.

Before a coaching session, avoid anything that could occupy your mind. This can include reading emails or just getting something done.

Avoid distractions during the session. Besides the obvious, like turning off your phone, this includes the choice of the location. E.g., a quiet private office is better than a coffee shop or your client’s office. For remote sessions, ensure everyone has proper audio and, eventually, video equipment and a fast and stable Internet connection. Nothing is worse than having to guess what your client says.

Set time aside for self-reflection after each session. How present have you been? What, if anything, kept you from being fully present? What could you do differently next time? Eventually, discuss with your coach supervisor.

Coaching supervision can support you in taking your coaching skills to the next level. If you would like to explore how coaching supervision might help you increase your presence as a coach and help your clients get better results, contact me now via email or through the contact form below.

[1] David Clutterbuck, David Megginson: Coach Maturity: An Emerging Concept; in The Handbook of Knowledge-Based Coaching: From theory to practice; eds. Leni Wildflower, Diane Brennan; John Wiley & Sons, 2011
[2] Paul Lawrence, Coaching Systemically, Routledge, 2021
[3] According to Wikipedia, “Eclecticism is a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or ideas to gain complementary insights into a subject, or applies different theories in particular cases.”
[4] Siegel, Daniel J.: Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology: An Integrative Handbook of the Mind. W. W. Norton & Company, 2012
[5] Siegel, Daniel J.: The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are, The Guilford Press, 3rd edition, 2020

Author: Gerrit Pelzer

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