Generally, people looking for a coach already have something in mind that they want to work on. Using this as a starting point, we will don our detective caps and get to work, identifying the factors related to your goal. These might include strategies that support you in attaining it, circumstances that hinder you, or perhaps insights into things that will make your accomplishments more sustainable. Sometimes, we might talk through situations, other times, we’ll get creative and design experiments that allow you to discover unknown, maybe even unexpected, things about yourself.
While learning to use curiosity, you will be guided in uncovering different strategies, practices and processes that you can apply in other areas of life.
In order to give you a better idea about how Coaching with Curiosity works, I have written up three scenarios of how I have used it in the past. Pick the area that seems to fit your situation best for an overview of how we might proceed, or read all three to get inspired about how Coaching with Curiosity might fit into your life.
Mark, a computer programmer, is frustrated by years of weight gain. He is tired of feeling bad about himself and feeling too ashamed to eat in front of other people. He wants to lose weight and start feeling good about himself. Mark knows how he should eat, and sometimes manages to lose some weight, but then something always happens and he gains it back and then some! Mark is not a fan of video chats or face-to-face sessions so he opts for email correspondence as our preferred communication.
To start with I ask Mark to complete my usual intake survey, so that I can get a better idea of who Mark is and what things we might need to take into consideration. After receiving the completed survey, I review it and formulate the basis for our first exchange.
In this case, I ask Mark to tell me what he thinks his problem is. Mark is stumped and is unable to generate any ideas. I provide him with a couple of approaches we can use to help uncover some of the contributing factors. Being keenly aware that we all learn differently, I suggest a variety of ways to do so:
"Would you feel okay documenting what you are eating these days, either in writing or with photos? Or would you prefer to describe to me your typical day e.g., when you wake up, what you eat, what your favourite past times are etc.? Or, can you think back to the last time you tried to lose weight and tell me what things you felt you did really well?"
Mark felt most comfortable telling me about his last attempts to lose weight. He felt he did a great job of choosing well-balanced meals and not eating too much of them, but in the end he gave up because life without burgers and fries just sucked.
Seeing I could completely relate to Mark's comment about the burgers and fries, it seemed like a great place for us to start. I asked him if he made them at home, or whether he always went out for them and what he liked best about burgers and fries? Did the bun actually do something for him, or was he like me and more interested in the actual meat and toppings? I told him how I used to laugh at Germans who ate burgers with a knife and fork, but then realized that since the bun did nothing for me and wasn't giving me any real nutrients, I could as well forgo it and just eat the part I loved without feeling guilty about it.
Through our email exchange Mark finally identified a couple of ways he could 'upgrade' his burger experience and decided to experiment with those ways over the next few weeks. He realized that without the bun, he paid more attention to the quality of the meat and had stopped going to his favourite fast food restaurant, opting instead for a nice restaurant not too far from work. Not only that, he found that by not having the burger in his hands, he ate slower and was much more relaxed during the meal. He found himself noticing the garlic the cook had put in the meat and the sweetness of the tomato - oh yeah, that was something too, he realized he actually liked tomato more than ketchup. Who knew!?
One day after work, a colleague of his saw him walking to the restaurant and asked where he was going. Mark found himself, saying the name of the restaurant and was surprized when his colleague asked if he could join him. Mark hesitated at first, but then realized he didn't mind eating that burger in front of others because he knew he was actually happy with that food choice. With his colleague there, Mark went to order his burger, but then feeling slightly self-conscious about the fries decided to try the hand-cut sweet potato fries we had previously discussed as a way to upgrade his usual pre-cut curly fries. Again to his surprize, he actually enjoyed them greatly. What's more, he found he ate even slower, because he and his colleague were chatting so much about a film they both enjoyed. By the end of the meal, he actually felt like he ate too much, despite not finishing all his fries. Next time, he thought, he could try eating a few less.
With the success of this experience, Mark decided to experiment further with other meals. Over the next months that we worked together, Mark found himself gaining more insights about what he enjoyed and didn't enjoy about foods, being more social, slowly, slowly losing weight, and having more and more good days. He still has challenges mind you, but is increasingly independent and confident about figuring out tiny steps he can take to tackle them.
By the end of the meal, he actually felt like he ate too much, despite not finishing all his fries. Next time, he thought, he could try eating a few less.
Patricia contacted me after over-hearing me tell a mutual friend that I thought I had found a way to cure a writer's block. Over a coffee at a local café, Patricia told me how she was an academic, currently agonizing over a month-long writing block. She had to get this last chapter done because her publishers had been hounding her, but all the pressure got to her and now she couldn’t "write a single word". If there was ever a perfect set-up for me to jump in, this was it. I quickly asked Patricia if she could write her sister an email. The look on her face told me she saw exactly where I was headed, with a laugh and a wink I said, "See, writer's block gone!"
Of course we both knew it wasn't that easy, but it gave us a place to start figuring out what was really going on. I thus began asking her about the project she was working on. As she spoke about her work she became more relaxed and animated. It was clear Patricia was excited about her book and the thoughts she was developing. I then asked her about the chapter that was giving her the trouble. The grimace on her face reflected the block she felt in her head.
I took out a piece of paper and asked her to jot down in the middle of the paper the points she knew she wanted to make, so we could see what might be causing her to feel blocked. There were three main thoughts for that chapter. I then took the pen and circled each of them, while asking her if she could think of them as three different seeds. What would the seeds need to grow? Were they needing a bit of space to grow? Was there a key thought that still had to be fleshed out? A missing link? Try as she did, Patricia still felt stuck. This made me realize we needed another approach.
I decided to switch things up completely and asked her to set aside some time in the next couple of days to write me a story about a seed. The next morning, I found an email with a story she had written. Without further ado, I opened the file and added to the story, aiming to loosen it up and have fun with her. After saving the file, I sent it back to her and invited her to continue. Over the day, the story was sent back and forth a number of times, each time taking on new life. The seed was teased by a worm and dreamt of blue skies and big leaves. I wasn't too sure where we were going with this exchange, but somehow it felt good for us both. At the end of the day I asked Patricia just to leave it like that for now and to give me a few days to figure out the next step.
Three days later, I was surprized to find an email from Patricia, saying she had an idea for the chapter and thought that maybe a book she had just ordered at the local bookshop, might hold a critical piece of the puzzle. We decided to leave it at that, with the understanding that she would get back to me if that didn't help.
A few weeks later, I bumped into Patricia on the street. She told me her writing was progressing. There were still kinks to work out, but our 'seed story' had reminded her of grad school and how all those nights of stressing out at home were not helping her. In fact, back then she had discovered taking a few days off and going hiking often helped her loosen up her thoughts and gave her a new start with her writing. She decided to try a variation of that and was now going on long walks at least 3 times a week. It seemed to be working and what's more, her back was not as tight from sitting at the computer for such long periods.
Three days later, I was surprized to find an email from Patricia, saying she had an idea for the chapter and thought that maybe a book she had just ordered at the local bookshop, might hold a critical piece of the puzzle.
Molly approached me this spring asking for some assistance because she was having a difficult time figuring out where to go with a client. This was a first for Molly since she had taken an impressive number of certifications before opening her own business. Not only had she studied kinesiology, was a certified personal trainer, certified dietician and had was currently doing a masters in sports psychology. She prided herself on being able to help her clients meet their every goal.
After Molly had told me why she was interested in working with me, I asked her to describe how she usually conducted an intake. She told me that with each course she had taken, not only had her confidence grown, but also her array of assessment forms and tools. Thus, based on the goals her clients express, she selects the questionnaires she thinks are best suited and takes it from there. This process had never failed her before, but this time she felt things were just not lining up.
Molly said she also maintained meticulous records including audio files of her initial conversations with clients. I thus suggested she ask her client if they would mind her sharing the file with me. Molly was a bit uncertain as she didn’t want her client to think she could not do the job she was hired to do.
Seeing Molly had played college volleyball, I asked her how she would have felt if one of her coaches had asked another coach to help her with her serve. Molly laughed and told me that was exactly why she had taken all the certifications she had! She wanted to be the coach who knew it all. I challenged her there, wondering aloud if "knowing when to ask for help, was part of knowing it all?"
Molly and I spent a bit more time trying to figure out how she would feel most comfortable pursuing the situation. Could she maybe go ahead with a tentative plan and adapt it from there? Or maybe, let the client know that she was trying to up her own coaching skills by working with a coach and give them the choice about how they wanted to proceed?
I encouraged Molly to take time and think about it; there was no rush on my side.
A few days later, Molly called to let me know that since she often challenged her clients to do difficult things, she had decided to take the more challenging path herself and had asked her client. They had agreed on one condition: we record our conversation. Fair enough, I thought, I preach an experimental approach so I had better be prepared to practice it. We agreed that Molly would send me the recording and that we would meet in person a couple of days later at my office so we could ensure her client would receive good quality audio. In addition, Molly would bring the notes she had made, so we could compare them with any I made and see if we found any clues there.
As I listened to the recording of her intake the next day, my respect for Molly grew.
When Molly arrived, she set up her recording device and we each got out our notes. She was eager to hear my thoughts and so I told her how I thought she was an excellent interviewer and I could definitely understand why she was feeling like things were not lining up with this client. At the same time, I thought I heard her client saying something that she might have missed, so I suggested we listen to a few parts of the intake again and see if she heard it as well. Molly looked surprized and said she was curious now and wondering what she could have missed, so I hit play:
Molly: you said that, you were really happy with how you ate breakfast but found around 11:30 in the morning, you would begin eating and couldn’t stop. Since you don’t seem to think it has to do with not eating enough, I am wondering what happens at that time. Is that when things start to get stressful at work?
Client: No, quite the opposite! By then I’ve done all my work and there’s nothing else to do.
Molly: How do the rest of your flat mates eat? Are they always leaving things out like sweets etc.?
Client: No way, nothing exciting like that - they all eat super healthy!
Molly: Are you feeling like you drink enough?
Client: No, not really, but I don’t like juices and pop and water are just so boring.
I hit stop.
The lines wrapping across Molly’s forehead told me she was thinking hard, trying to find the connection I obviously saw. She tapped her pen on her pad of paper and studied her notes:
stress → opposite
flat mates →super healthy
drinking enough →no, water/juice boring
She looked up at me, “The opposite of stress is relaxed, the flatmates are healthy, and water and juice are boring; I’m just not seeing it”.
“That’s one way of looking at it, but let’s try another way. Here’s what I wrote:
stress →work is all done/nothing else to do →bored?
flatmates sweets →nothing exciting like that/healthy →sweets = exciting/healthy = boring
drinking enough →water/pop boring
"Sounds to me like your client might be bored and needing some excitement in life, perhaps a new challenge?"
Molly looked at me with confusion, "how did I not see that?" We talked a bit more about doing assessments and I asked her what she thought the advantages and disadvantages of intake forms were. She was able to list off a number of upsides, but had a difficult time finding downsides. I asked her if she thought maybe some of the upsides could also be downsides, e.g., that as useful as assessment forms were at focusing us, maybe sometimes a narrower field of vision was not what we needed.
Again, I could feel the intensity of Molly’s processing as she told me this was not something she had really questioned before. All of her trainings had always stressed the importance of a thorough intake and as she had told me before, they had never failed her before. I reassured Molly, that they had in fact not failed her here, she had gotten the information she needed, she had simply missed a possibility this time because her focus had been directed elsewhere. I then suggested it might be fun to experiment with her intakes and maybe have a face-to-face conversation with a client before deciding which forms to give them; to just see where her own instincts would take her in a conversation. Molly’s excitement at the idea was palpable as she stood up from her chair – eager to get back to work and test the fruits of our conversation. I couldn’t help but smile at her reaction as I got up to follow her to the door.
Before she reached it though, she stopped suddenly and turned back towards me, "so does that mean you’re my coach now? I mean do you want to meet with me again and hear how it goes?" I laughed and told her it would be a pleasure to coach her, if that’s what she’d like and then said, "but there’s one more thing to do today." She looked at me with a question mark written across her face, so I raised my right hand from my side and hit stop on her recorder, "you almost forgot this", I said with a wink…