Coaching Fundamentals Part Twelve: Letting go…

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October 28th, 2015

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If this series of 12 coaching fundamentals has an ark, starting with the basic building blocks of coaching practice (listening, questions and feedback), going through the “messy” bits (multiplicity, imagery and choice), then through the “risky” bits (trust, hunches and boundaries), it seems only right to end with presence, silence and letting go… End not with a bang but a whimper. Except that I would argue that the definition of “whimper” here is a place full of potential not yet realised, a prelude to a roar, and a new beginning.

Letting go is, I believe, a rather logical follow-through from being fully present, and holding the silence; a place where we let go of certainties, of our own expertise, perhaps even of the process, and just trust that from that emptiness, something new and useful will be born. It is another way of moving beyond goal-focused coaching into the domain of personal transformation.

Arguably, not every coaching assignment needs to result in a personal transformation: sometimes clients just want a thinking partner, someone to listen, ask insightful questions and goad them on towards resolving a dilemma, or achieving a personal objective. That is coaching too, and hopefully I am not implying a value judgement that it is somehow the lesser end of the coaching spectrum.

My argument for “letting go” as a fundamental coaching skill (or rather, attitude) is that an element of it is needed even in goal-focused coaching. An element of letting go of one’s hypotheses, certainty, previous experience, insights, thoughts and feelings about a client’s situation. An element of holding the coaching process lightly and humbly, and not getting too attached to our own expertise or experience. An element of approaching each coaching assignment completely fresh and unjaded, even if it is the hundredth time we’re working with someone on time management, prioritisation or saying No!

If a key purpose of coaching – like all development – is change, no matter how big or small, there always comes a point where one is simply not sure that the change will indeed happen. In my experience, there is always a moment – usually the penultimate session – in a coaching assignment where the client just seems to revert back to their own worst habits and thoughts and behaviours… a dark night of the coaching soul that tests the limits of our patience, ability and confidence.

shutterstock_314178827When that dark night of the coaching soul first happened to me, I was so convinced that if only I had followed the model better, or applied another model, or been more perfect myself, the client would have just sailed through the sessions without a hitch! By now, I almost expect it to happen and greet it with a wry internal smile, a shrug and a knowing that “letting go” is the best thing I can do. Letting go of persuading the client to work harder, think better or feel different, letting go of my attachment to the “right kind of change”, finally letting go of my certainty that I am good enough to effect change in another human being. And paradoxically that’s when something happens, when – by our non-attachment to a single outcome – we also give the client permission to guide their own change; not change to please us (or some internalised parent figure) but change to become the best self they can be at any given moment.

And surely that is the true purpose of coaching.