Coaching Fundamentals Part Eight: Hunches

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September 30th, 2015

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Playing a hunch. Where were you when you first heard that phrase? I remember my first time… from the lips of someone far more glamorous, far more experienced, far more knowledgeable than I was at the time. What did she mean?! Surely that’s tantamount to giving advice, or unsolicited feedback, putting your own spin on things… Surely as coaches we would never do that!

Or would we? When is a hunch not a suggestion? Or advice? Or interpretation?

Only when it stays firmly within the client’s frame of reference (see Part Six: Images). When it doesn’t interrupt their worldview and move on to ours, or tries to overlay their experience with ours.

Also, when it is offered lightly… playfully even. Offered not from the position of expert, but fellow player. Fellow fallible human learner, who has just happened to look from a different perspective, and observe something different, something shaping up or emerging.

Finally, playing a hunch also needs to include the readiness to have it refuted. To have it batted back, or thrown out of the playing field, or be told even that you’re not playing the same game! What usually follows, even in these instances, however, is a softening and an awareness that someone else is in the same field – even if they are playing a different game. And the client can choose to approach this other person – you – with curiosity and interest. Interest in your own point of view, your hunches, even – whisper it – your advice.

speechIt is this kind of hunch, suggestion, advice, that can be helpful in a coaching relationship. The kind of advice that is asked for, rather than offered, the kind that helps rather than hinders, the kind that shows there were other people playing that game that you believe you play so clumsily… and they might have done or seen or tried things that would never occur to you. And that might – or might not – be helpful.

I have seen coaches withhold advice, or opinions, even when asked, and the effect is always of a punishing parent or teacher: yes, I am bigger than you, and yes I do know, but I will not share it with you, because I want you to suffer searching for it like I did. This is the so-called “coaching stance” that is usually so clumsily played out across many team meetings or leadership interventions. One that in its rigid understanding of what constitutes coaching behaviour misses the point.

Playing a hunch is the very opposite of that attitude: it is saying – look, we’re in this boat together, and I have rowed before, and I shall do my bit, and then you do your bit, and if you decide to throw away my oars and use yours, or (better still) figure out how to use the onboard motor, then please do! But I am not going to sit here while waiting for you to figure out the instructions, all the while parroting and what do you think…