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Identify the key features of non-directive coaching, and critically compare these against other coaching approaches. Reflect on your own coaching style and compare your approach with non-directive coaching, and identify the actions you intend to take to further develop your coaching practice.
Key Features of Non-Directive Coaching
Non directive coaching can be defined as ‘Coaching is a relationship of rapport and trust in which the coach uses their ability to listen, to ask questions and to play back what has been communicated in order to help the client to clarify what matters to them and to work out what to do to achieve their aspirations’ Thomson (2008)
The main benefit of this approach is it will provide a platform for the client to explore their challenges in a comfortable environment. Listening is fundamental to this process and through playing back to the client demonstrates the coach’s ability to listen actively and provides confidence to the coachee that the coach is there for them and in the moment. It will provide that clarity the coachee needs to move forward and discuss their goals and aspirations.
Adapted from Michael Hoppe’s Book ‘A guidebook to active listening’ the following skills are required to contribute to active listening:
- Pay Attention – be in the moment
- Withhold judgement – a coach needs to have an open mind, even with a strong view they need to suspend judgement, hold back from any criticism and avoid an argument or pushing their point.
- Reflect – the coach can mirror the client, paraphrase what has been said and even use clean language
- Clarify – open, clarifying questions can be a useful tool to probe during a coaching conversation
- Summarise – important to ensure both parties are on the same page, demonstrates your understanding. Can also be useful to ask the client to summarise to ensure their understanding and responsibilities.
- Share – It is first about understanding the other person and then about being understood. Once you understand the clients perspective with permission you may then offer your ideas if it is in the interests of the client
As well as these key skills being able to listen with empathy will enhance and develop the rapport and relationship between a coach and client. Alison Hardingham says in her book ‘The Coach’s Coach’ that her view of active listening:
‘is the single most important skill for a coach. It is what enables the coach to understand the coachee and her world. Every other intervention the coach makes has to be based on that understanding, and the more complete that understanding is, the more effectively the coach will intervene.’ (Hardingham 2004)
Ensuring listening and putting the person at the heart of the conversation links to a very popular model and ideas that were developed by Carl Rogers ‘A Client-centered/Person-centered Approach to Therapy.
‘It is that the individual has within himself or herself vast resources for self-understanding, for altering his or her self-concept, attitudes, and self-directed behavior – and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided.’ (Quoted in Kirschenbaum and Henderson, 1989)
Rogers believed that the facilitator needed to demonstrate to the other person three things:
– Genuineness, realness, or congruence
– Acceptance, or caring, or prizing
– Empathetic understanding
The benefits of applying Rogers’ approach here is it’s about being in the moment, showing genuine feelings to what is presented, and a willingness for the client to be whatever immediate feeling is going on and as a coach demonstrating this acceptance and understanding to the client.
Other coaching approaches
To compare non-directive with a more direct approach is where the coach has more input than the client, they may use more closed questions to focus the client to a conclusion. They are more likely to provide their own ideas based on their own thoughts and experiences. This may be useful if the client is less experienced perhaps, or is really struggling with what they would like to achieve. This approach is often used more in mentoring.
‘Mentoring is a relationship in which the mentor draws on their experience, expertise and knowledge to advise and guide a less experienced person in order to enhance their performance or support their development.’ Thomson (2013)
Behaviours likely to be seen during a more directive approach would be instructing, giving advice and making suggestions. A challenge with this approach in coaching may be that the client hasn’t come to this conclusion by themselves and therefore may not take it to heart or is not ready to make the change, or it may not be the best solution for them personally. In contrast to a non-directive approach where the emphasis is placed back to the coachee to make suggestions and come to their own conclusions.
Erik De Haan had a very interesting approach in his concept of Relational Coaching, this was an alternative in many ways to the many models on coaching as his view was to solely focus on the coachee and that actually the specific approach by the coach makes little or no difference to the coachee. The focus here was all about the relationship from the perspective of the coachee, something possibly which many coaches would find difficult to accept.
‘The development of a relationship does not depend so much on the specific things done or said – a relationship is defined by greater things, such as a certain ‘chemistry’ between personalities, and whether or not it engenders feelings of well-being, recognition or solidarity between equal partners. De Haan (2008) ‘
A challenge with De Haan’s view may be the time it takes to build this chemistry, coaching sessions are normally time bound. The benefit here of the GROW model is that there is a specific approach to work through and if followed well will result in the coachee reviewing their options and making a commitment to what they are going to do following the session. This is likely to be perceived positively by the client as they have a ‘take home’, although this may be fragile if not discovered in the best interests of the coachee.
Ian Day and John Blakey (online 2018) offer a more direct approach to coaching through their FACTS model
‘We detail our unique FACTS coaching model, which provides a practical and pragmatic approach focusing on Feedback, Accountability, Courageous goals, Tension, and Systems thinking. ‘
This approach has a focus on high support and high challenge, I see the high support in a very similar way to the other approaches of the importance of relationship between coach and coachee, the significance of building rapport and trust, summarising/playing back and showing genuine concern for the coachee. The difference and where the directive approach is significant is the high challenge, this is where a coach will challenge assumptions, provide feedback and will hold the coachee to account. This can lead to confrontation and seen as provocative but Blakey and Day argue that the workplace is changing and businesses and employees needs are also. They encourage the coach to come out of the comfort zone into the ‘zone of uncomfortable debate’. In contrast to non-directive where the coach is merely playing back what has been said, the emphasis here is on the coach to give their own thoughts and words and provide challenge. The benefit here to the coachee may be that they were seeking feedback or required help to move on and that possibly they needed to also move into the ‘zone of uncomfortable debate’.
Another more directive form of coaching is Cognitive Behavioural Coaching, this was developed by Windy Dryden and following on from founders Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The essence is to help the coachee become their own coach. It’s progressive with the coach attempting to help the coachee achieve their goals and set actions. It is non-directive in the sense the approach is not to give the coachee the answer but to assist them to make their own conclusions. A positive aspect is that this approach looks to support the coachee to be more self-aware, emotionally intelligent and resilient which are key attributes in life and in the workplace. This is summarised well by Neenan (2018):
Distinguish between what you can and cannot change
• If the situation can be changed, then take steps to do so (task focused)
• If the situation cannot be changed, then work on changing your emotional reaction to the situation (emotion focused)
• If the situation can be changed but your current level of emotional distress stops you from seeing this, moderate this distress before undertaking problems (emotion and task focused)
I believe this to be an important aspect, if the coachee can take control or at least feel like they are in control of the situation and their emotions they will be reassured and empowered. This will help them to see more clearly and make positive steps to move forward.
Reflection on own coaching style and the actions I intend to take
Applying Thomson’s Directive and non-directive coaching behaviours I scored myself between 6 and 7. During my practice I find it difficult to ask strong open questions, I still feel the tendency to offer advice and can, at times struggle to stay in the moment as I start looking for solutions or conclusions.
My questioning at times can be leading, this is perhaps for my own motivation to understand or to problem solve and not always in the interest of the client, which is very much supported by Rogers’ thoughts on congruence. To ensure I am acting in a non-directive way I would not normally give my thoughts or feelings, however if asked by the coachee or if I am being true to myself and the best interests to the coachee, I may well listen to my gut and give an opinion or answer to a question and I would still be acting congruently.
I would like to start using clean language more and encourage the use of metaphors during my coaching practice. Clean language was a concept developed by David Grove in the early 1980’s, the idea being that the coach would use the exact words and even expressions used by the coachee. It is argued that even non-directive coaching can be distorted, as at times a coach even when playing back what has been said is selective in which bits to play back. Grove explained that when a client is helped to explore their metaphors, they often go on to develop other metaphors that provide the solution to their problem Thomson (2008). I would see this being really beneficial particularly if the coaching conversation gets a little stuck or the client is struggling to explain the situation. If used correctly this could help the coachee to appreciate how this could support a change in behaviour also, this could be extremely powerful exercise and can be summarised by Tompkins and Lawley who write that:
‘some clients benefit just from having their metaphors developed with a few clean questions. For some the process leads to a reorganisation of their existing symbolic perceptions, while for others nothing short of a transformation of their entire landscape of metaphors will suffice. As a result clients report that they are more self-aware, more at peace with themselves, have a more defined sense of their place in the world and are more able to enrich the lives of others.’ (Lawley and Tompkins, 2000)
I would like to score myself between 2 and 3 on Thomson model, I believe there is a place to be directive if it is genuinely in the best interests of the client. A positive approach to this would be to ask the client if I could provide some advice from my experience which I believe will be helpful to the conversation – this way I have their approval and provided them with a choice.
My aspiration as a coach is to approach as much as possible on the theory of De Haan and ensure the coachee is at the centre of any coaching session. ‘The relational approach is not eclecticism or relativism, but means having the courage to put the coachee truly at the centre of the coaching, rising above all of those models and philosophies for the coach’. De Haan (2008). I take the word courage from this quote and hope I will continue to remember the reason I am coaching people is to help them.
I can see the benefits of coaching in a non-directive way and how this may lead to more sustainability in that the coachee comes to the conclusions by themselves and by asking open questions can raise their own awareness.
Thomson’s approach to trust is another element I would like to take forward and he summarised this as:
Trust in the client to know what is right for them and how they can achieve this.
Trust in yourself as the coach to draw on your experience and intuition to say or do what is required.
Trust in the coaching process – to let go of the desire to push for a solution or to fix things and instead to be open to what is unfolding in the conversation Thomson (2008)
In my professional and personal life I have always been strong at and enjoyed building rapport with people, I communicate well and I will ensure this is continued into my coaching practice. If I can build rapport and demonstrate to the coachee I understand their world it will hopefully lead to a better relationship, it will help the coachee to share more with me. I would also look to use body language and mirror the coachee and try out some NLP practices. Thomson suggested Neuro-linguistic programming is an approach to personal change based on the premise that there are crucial connections between:
- What is happening in a person’s brain and body (“neuro”)
- How they are communicating (“linguistic”) – both verbally and non-verbally, and;
- The patterns of behaviour they have learnt from their experiences (“programming”)
Carry out a deeper review of the FACTS model, complete the questionnaire and look to test this out in practice, I’m at early stage of my coaching and want to ensure I am open to various approaches as I continue to evolve, reflect and improve my practice.
In summary I plan to take the following actions to develop my own coaching practice:
- Practice open questions
- Be in the moment
- Seek regular feedback from clients on how non-directive I have been
- Practice using clean language and metaphor
- Ensure I ask myself regularly – ‘Is this question in the benefit of the client?’ – congruence
- Continue to read up on different coaching approaches and bring into my sessions to explore effectiveness
- Apply Kolb’s learning cycle whereby I will have a coaching session (concrete experience), then reflect on this session (reflective observation) I will then identify key learning outcomes from this (abstract conceptualisation) and introduce these to my next coaching session (Active experimentation) and repeat as the cycle continues.
- This will all be captured in a reflective coaching journal
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