Coaching Fundamentals Part Ten: Presence

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October 15th, 2015

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Presence: one of those words that looks easy to use and difficult to define. On my library shelf, I have got two books of that name, both of which have been hugely influential in my development as a coach, counsellor and OD practitioner. But what does it mean to be fully present in life, one’s work and with another human being? What does it mean to pay attention, without judgement, solution or conclusion? Without jumping to action, task or advice? And how easy is it?

RP0037When I first started training as a coach, literally the hardest thing I had to do was to shut up: externally, by listening; but even more importantly, internally, by stopping the clamour of ideas, suggestions and insights in my head. Surely some of them would really be useful to share with my client? Now… right now… regardless of the fact that they’re still in the middle of their sentence, their experience, their thought process. Surely that constitutes presence: presence of mind?

Surely not.

In the same way that our mind is only one – relatively small but hugely influential – part of our being, our mental presence forms only one – small but influential – part of our overall presence and being.

In order to give somebody our full presence, we need to firstly be fully present to our self. Fully aware of, accepting and attentive to, one’s internal processes of thought, emotion and energy. Wherever and however we feel them in our body, not just above the shoulders. And then extend the same courtesy to our clients, by seeing them and accepting them as whole, and not just a vehicle for their words.

It is often said that a good coach offers a mirror to the client. But, in my experience, a mirror is a cold and reflective surface, which gives back a reflection of what the client thinks of themselves, and not of how they really come across. A true coach is not a mirror, but rather an equal partner, a partner who – by knowing and accepting what it is to truly be oneself – can offer the same potential to the client. A partner who will challenge, support, cheer-lead, annoy, question and ultimately facilitate the development of another human being into all they can truly be, beyond what they are now, or what their previous experiences or choices have led them to be.

True coaching presence starts with, but goes beyond, Rogers’ unconditional positive regard… It accepts who the client is at any given moment, but also holds the potential of their further development and growth, growth that will often surprise both the coach and the client. True presence accepts the client and the coach as fallible human beings, beings who will both make mistakes, but ultimately stay connected and learning together. True presence acknowledges humility, complexity and a non-linear path to development and growth; a path that is strewn with false starts, blind alleys and experiments gone wrong. A path that may not end where we’d imagined we’d be, but always ends exactly where we need to be!