Humanity of Coaching

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issue06 / Matthew Q.Lesser

Coaching is a blend of art and social sciences. There is always a dimension of mystery, unknown, and unpredictable whenever humans are involved. Yes, there are ways to reduce the unpredictable, but it cannot be eliminated. It would be easy if the following graphic were true:

This graphic cannot be true since humans are not just a bundle of automatic actions and conditioned responses. Is it true some of the time? Sure, but a coach cannot rely upon this because just when you think you have coaching “down to a science,” your client acts outside of this “Stimulus→Response Formula.”


 What does the actual process look like? More like this:

What is the point? The “art” part of coaching is the “human part” of the process; the “science” part is the training, preparation, practice, and integration of skills that are all necessary for a coach to become a coach. If a coach, however, relies strictly on the

“science” part of the process, they will not only have difficulty relating to their clients, but also, they will lack effectiveness. Since the science of coaching is well known and understood, let’s focus on the “art,” or the humanity, component of coaching.

As with any form of external counsel, feedback, or guidance, the key for the person providing the guidance is to build trust and rapport with the person seeking it. Trust and rapport take interaction, investment, and relationship, which can be summed together into one word: time; however, time is often the one commodity that no one seems to have or has enough of in their lives. How do we, as coaches, embrace the “art” of coaching, elevate the human experience in coaching, and work within the constraint of time?

Two words: Story. Vulnerability.

Story. My favourite and one of the first questions I ask is, “What’s your story?” And I don’t mean the abridged or Cliff’s Notes® version; I mean the full-on, birth-to-now story. I want the other person to share their joys and sorrows; their victories and defeats; their mountaintops and valleys; and the good, bad, and ugly. I want to understand more than just the “what” of the person; I want to understand the “what,” “why,” “how,” and “who.” In turn, I have also found it helpful from a relationship and trust acceleration perspective to share my story as well. Why? Because it helps break down barriers, removes the mystery, puts both coach and person being coached on the same human experience level, and establishes greater credibility. Story helps the coach understand the human processing element from the “Stimulus-Response” graphic; the more the coach understands the person being coached, the clearer the elements of thinking, assumptions, beliefs, filters, experiences, and the like become, which better equips the coach in helping the person being coached process, grow, and make decisions.

Vulnerability. Most professionals are encouraged to maintain a professional distance from their clients. While there are boundaries that should never be crossed as regards the appropriateness of personal and relational sharing–especially of an intimate nature–when a coach is willing to share the difficulties, challenges, and even failures, the coach has experienced, it reciprocally opens the door for the person being coached to also share moments of vulnerability in their own lives. Vulnerability begets vulnerability. When a person is willing to share the difficulties and challenges, even the failures, experienced in life, it communicates a willingness and openness to discuss the same; it makes the person approachable and communicates a level of safety and trustworthiness that being guarded and closed off does not communicate.

Humans are complex. With the ability to think and feel, act rationally and irrationally, and make logical and illogical decisions, there is no guaranteed outcome or predictable way to anticipate every human’s response to a given stimulus. The more time and energy a coach intentionally invests at the beginning of the coaching relationship getting to know–really know–and understand–really understand–the person being coached, the better the experience will be. For both coach and person being coached…

The bottom line: Coaching is often sought after to learn, grow, and become better at whatever it is the person is seeking coaching for in their personal or professional life. The greater the relational bond and mutual understanding of both coach and person being coached, the greater the experience and the results, which is ultimately what both are seeking in a coaching relationship.

Final takeaway: When was the last time you asked a person you are coaching to share their story with you? How about sharing your story with them? Try it…and see what happens. If you don’t experience greater results and greater joy in coaching as a result, then I will give you your money back. Oh wait, you didn’t pay me for this!😀 Trust me. Try it. You will be grateful that you did!

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