What is (and isn't) coaching
Coaching is huge these days — everyone has heard of it and has some idea about what it means. (That's how it seems to me, anyway, although I might be experiencing that fallacy where once you start paying attention to something, it's everywhere.) But often, people's idea about what coaching is is not quite right.
It doesn't help that the dictionary definition for coaching directly contradicts the International Coach Federation's definition. The dictionary says coaching is variously training, teaching, or prompting with instructions. ICF coaching is specifically none of those.
(Really, we need a different word for this activity, but that's beyond my remit, so we'll have to make do with this overloaded word, "coaching".)
Also, once you start being a coach, people like to catch you at it in social settings. "Oooh!" they say, "you're doing coaching!" Except when they catch me, I'm almost never doing coaching — usually I'm being judgmental about someone's parenting, or doing some kind of armchair psychology diagnosis about "projecting" or "being in denial".
Neither of those things are coaching.
Actually, in social situations, coaching shows up when I listen intently, ask genuinely curious questions, and acknowledge your strengths and struggles. (It looks a lot like being a good conversationalist. I'm great at dinner parties.)
Of course, there's a lot more to coaching than being a good conversationalist. The ICF has a list of Things Which Are Coaching, called the core competencies. There's a bunch of them, but lately I've had the image of a vacuum on my mind. Bear with me.
A vacuum is a space entirely devoid of matter, as I'm sure you know. The thing about vacuums is that they're hard to come by here in the Earth's atmosphere. It's possible to create a vacuum on Earth, but it takes effort — all that air and stuff wants to rush in and fill up the empty space. But it's worth the effort: vacuums are useful for all kinds of things in research and industry. Sometimes you just need nothing.
Coaching serves to create a kind of vacuum — an empty space, made by listening and questions and even silence — where your thoughts can expand and roam in a way that they can't when they're bombarded by the atmosphere of other people's needs and requests and ideas and priorities.
In the vacuum of space, it's theoretically possible to unfurl a sail so large and so light that it can be moved by photons. In coaching, we create a vacuum which allows your awareness to be moved by questions, by introspection, or by observations.
Try this at home
How do you like this vacuum metaphor? I'm digging it but it might just be me. If works for you, think about how you could create some space for your thoughts to roam. Where would your thoughts go if they weren't crowded, if they had some space?