Of all the questions I hear about what I do, the one most often asked is “What’s creativity coaching like?” It’s hard to answer that question, because coaching is an experience, not a product. It’s easy to describe a banana because it’s a physical thing. It’s hard to describe what a banana tastes like, because it is a personal experience.
Life coaching, or creativity coaching for that matter, are about improving your experience of day to day living. Here are three things that I try to bring to my coaching clients:
Listening at a deep level is vital. In our work culture, we are trained to have answers, so we listen until we can say something back. It may be tangential, but it shows we are listening. In coaching, deep listening means not thinking about anything but what the client means, rather than what the client is saying. That means listening with your whole body.
Because coaching is done on the phone, I often close my eyes to concentrate completely on the client’s emphasis, voice timbre, inflections. Those qualities often tell a different story than the words the client speaks. When I ask a client how the week went, and I hear a catch in the voice, a sigh, and “OK,” I can ask, “What’s wrong?” Often clients think I’m highly intuitive. It’s really just deep listening.
2. Not knowing
Each time a client says something important, it’s easy to think I know what it means. But that’s my conclusion, and not theirs. So when a client says, “I don’t have time to work on my art,” I’ll ask, “Tell me how you work,” or “Tell me about how you feel the instant you decide not to work one day.” The answer brings rich information the client knew but I didn’t. “Tell me more about that,” or, “Tell me what X means to you,” or “How did you know that?” or, “Where did that decision come from?” opens many more possibilities than my saying, “I know what you mean.” I usually don’t, till I ask.
There are times I think that the only time a client gets listened to fully is in coaching. At work, as employees, you have to posture and always know. Failure is bad. Not knowing is dangerous. At home, parents must always have a schedule, an answer, a solution. In coaching, clients get listened to and don’t have to know. A simple acknowledgement—“Are you noticing how you are making progress in finding time to write?” can have amazing results. I try to fit one acknowledgment into each session. It has built many a bridge to trust and honesty, and the client knows I’m listening and I care.
Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2007 All rights reserved.