As with so many things it can be easier to start with what coaching isn’t and put it into context with other learning activities.

Coaching isn’t teaching but is a learning experience. In teaching, the teacher, tutor, lecturer is seen as the expert, communicating and sharing knowledge. Teachers help the learner to develop skills and knowledge needed to meet assessment criteria set by a qualification body.

When someone wants to work with a mentor, they usually choose someone more experienced than themselves, someone with the knowledge sets they want to tap into. The agenda and focus is set by the mentee but the mentor may have some suggestions to make; topics, subjects and / or approaches the mentee is not aware of yet. The most beneficial mentoring takes place when mentor and mentee work in the same field so knowledge can be again shared. Both mentor and mentee will be able to evaluate if the mentoring is working or producing the desired effects.

In coaching the agenda is completely set by the coachee; they decide on the topics and subjects and through open questioning from the coach the coachee works towards identifying a goal to work towards. The coachee holds the ‘expert’ position and as such the coach does not need to understand the topic, profession or goal of the coachee. This may sound rather unusual, but as the coach will not be offering advice (only in exceptional circumstances) they don’t need to hold any relevant knowledge other than of the coaching process itself. The coach holds and facilitates a space where focused thinking can happen.

So what can you expect in a coaching session?

A coaching session or series of sessions can be in person, via telephone or Skype. In the first part of the session the coach will cover a basic introduction:

  • Time: What time is allocated to the coaching session. This can vary depending on what the coach and coachee have agreed. Up to an hour is a common time frame, but also shorter sessions can be useful.
  • Comfortable: Are you sitting comfortably, do you need / have a drink of water. If working via Skype is the internet connection good and the audio levels OK?
  • Contract: How many sessions are there and which session this is e.g session 4 of 6. Payment details: how much the session costs and when and how payment is expected.
  • Choice: As coachee you are reminded you can say no to any question you don’t want to answer or to ask for a different question. You can also call a pause or a stop to a session.
  • Confidentiality: Sessions are confidential, exceptions to this will be explained. Supervision will also be briefly covered.

There is always an opportunity to ask questions after the introduction. It may feel repetitive to hear this information at the start of each session but it can be a useful reminder and also helps with the transition between everyday life and the coaching session itself.

Coaching then starts with ‘What would you like to get out of the session? The coach uses a series of open questions which help the coachee to explore and visualise a future goal. Coaching is focused on “how would I like it to be” or future visioning. If it’s a second or subsequent session the coach will use the start of the session to invite the coachee to review previous actions they said they would do. It may be the coachee hasn’t completed the actions, the coach will explore this with the coachee without judgement.

One approach used in coaching is the GROW model devised by John Whitmore. There are 4 sets of questions which can help a coachee to:

  • identify a goal(s) to work towards
  • talk about the reality of the situation / in relation to the goal(s)
  • explore the options open to them
  • what they will do to help themselves to achieve their goal(s).

It’s worth re-stating the coach isn’t there to give advice. The difficulty with advice is that when it given we can never know the full circumstances of the person we are giving advice to and therefore it can be difficult to assess its relevance.

In today’s world of busy schedules and multitasking lives, having a space to think, and importantly time to say things out loud and be heard has great value. The best coaches are expert at deep listening, so when you speak you really are being heard. When a coach reflects back what you have been saying we hear ourselves. This can make for a powerful experience as we hear the things we have said about topics or goals we might never have spoken about before. Coaching isn’t like a conversation we might have with a friend or colleague at work. It’s one sided in many ways, with all the content and focus comes from the coachee; they are after all expert in their own lives.


Identifying success is easier if we know what we are aiming for in the first place. Having a direction, a goal, an idea of how we would like something to be is important within coaching. Having a destination will help us to evaluate when we are making progress and to know if and when we have arrived. Coaching is future focused; what next, what is desired, what would be the ideal outcome in a situation or scenario. Celebrating progress towards how we would like things to be is equally as important as celebrating an outcome. Coaching is an active process and as such a coachee may work towards a goal which through time and space may change and develop as fresh thinking is located. Marking steps along a pathway is one way to heighten our awareness of the headway we are making.

Celebrating may be public or private or a combination of the two. Congruent with coaching, the coachee will know best how they would like to celebrate, it may be a short acknowledgement to themselves, a meeting up with friends, or a flamboyant extended event or series of events. For some, getting round to celebrating successes can be difficult, delayed gratification turns into a postponement which evolves into an event which is permanent shelved. Unfortunately there are some negative associations around celebrating one’s own successes, a perception that you may be ‘blowing your own trumpet’, be viewed as a ‘bighead’ or as a ‘somebody’, when in fact you are just being you. In celebrating successes what ever they may be charges up our psychological batteries, fills us up with positive feelings which help us to acknowledge the progress we have made, contributing to a memory bank on which to draw upon in the future.  Celebrating boosts our confidence and helps us hold ourselves in positive self regard, to value ourselves, enabling us to develop agency in our lives, work, families, communities and beyond.



1 commemorate, observe, honour, mark, salute, recognize, acknowledge, remember, memorialize, keep, drink to, toast, drink a toast to.

2 enjoy oneself, make merry, have fun, have a good/wild time, rave, party, have a party, {eat, drink, and be merry}, revel, roister, carouse, kill the fatted calf, put the flag(s) out; N. Amer. step out; informal go out on the town, paint the town red, whoop it up, make whoopee, junket, have a night on the tiles, live it up, have a ball; Brit. informal push the boat out; S. African informal jol; dated spree, go on a spree; rare rollick.

3 perform, observe, officiate at, preside at, solemnize, ceremonialize.

4 praise, laud, extol, glorify, eulogize, reverence, honour, pay tribute to, pay homage to, salute, hymn, sing; archaic emblazon.

This blog post is dedicated with grateful appreciation to the RD1st participants and Deb Barnard and Rivca Rubin for such skillful and artful facilitation.

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Trust is at the center of coaching, without trust coaching isn’t possible. Trust between coach and coachee allows the coachee the opportunity of exploration, the expression of fears or doubts, the communication of new ideas and excitement and much more. When a trusting relationship develops between the coach and the coachee it allows the coachee to progressively develop a sense of trust in their own ideas and goals. Coaching works from a understanding that the coachee has all the resources they need to identify goals, consider realities and issues related to the goal, locate options which suit them best and decide on which ones to take forward and when. Learning to trust oneself comes easily for some, for others it can be more difficult to access, accept or allows to happen. When we are trusting we connect with our instinct or intuition. There may be an absence of conscious reasoning but nevertheless a gut feeling persists. The origin of the word trust comes from the Old Norse traust, from traustr meaning ‘strong’. When we are strong we are able to perform our chosen thinking or action well and powerfully, holding firm in our reasons for taking a particular course of action.

1 confidence, belief, faith, freedom from suspicion/doubt, sureness, certainty, certitude, assurance, conviction, credence, reliance.

2 responsibility, duty, obligation.

3 safe keeping, keeping, protection, charge, care, custody; trusteeship, guardianship.

1 have faith in, put/place one’s trust in, have (every) confidence in, believe in, pin one’s hopes/faith on; rely on, depend on, bank on, count on, be sure of, be convinced by, swear by; confide in.

2  hope, expect, think likely, dare say, imagine, believe, assume, presume, suppose, take it; informal guess.

3 entrust, put in the hands of, allow to look after/use.

4 consign, commit, give, hand over, turn over, assign, commend.


The third set of coaching practice sessions were completed alongside the second module of the course last week. My thinking has been directed to attention / paying attention. There are many draws on our attention in contemporary living and there are suggestions circulating that the length of time we can concentrate on a particular activity or subject is contracting. Perhaps this can be attributed to how information can be accessed in small bites through twitter, facebook or website headlines. Coaching offers a dedicated space and period of time when the coachee can notice, consider and contemplate in an expansive manner. The coach pays attention through high level listening, being attentive, concentrating on hearing what the coachee is specifically saying, reflecting back and then asking open questions. This type of attention has the potential to be transformational, in a time when uninterrupted time to speak is rare, coaching offers a space to be heard and importantly to hear oneself.

1 observation, attentiveness, intentness, notice, concentration, heed, heedfulness, mindfulness, regard, scrutiny; contemplation, consideration, deliberation, thought, thinking, studying, investigation, action.

2 awareness, notice, observation, consciousness, heed, recognition, regard, scrutiny, surveillance, attentiveness; curiosity, inquisitiveness.

3 care, treatment, therapy, ministration, succour, relief, support, aid, help, assistance, service.

4 courtesy, civility, politeness, respect, gallantry, urbanity, deference; compliment, flattery, blandishment; overture, suggestion, approach, suit, pass, wooing, courting.


Second day of module two and another day packed with information, different coaching models, discussing and practicing. The learning space is exciting, invigorating and safe. The physical space where the coaching takes place is important, but when a coach talks about holding the space they are referring to holding the coaching framework / the coaching method(s);  focused listening, paying attention, being comfortable with silences, reflecting back accurately. The coaching space is one where there is psychological headroom, legroom, elbow room allowing the coachee to metaphorically stretch into the space facilitating the location of ideas and supporting the discovery of insights.

1 room, expanse, extent, capacity, area, volume, spaciousness, scope, latitude, expansion, margin, leeway, play, clearance; headroom, legroom, elbow room.

2 area, open space, open area, unoccupied area, empty area, expanse, footprint, stretch, sweep, tract.

3 gap, interval, opening, aperture, gulf, cavity, cranny, fissure, rift, crack, breach, break, split, flaw, crevasse, interstice, lacuna.

4 blank, empty space, gap.

5 period, span, time, duration, stretch, course, interval, season, term.

6 outer space, deep space, the universe, the cosmos, the galaxy, the solar system, infinity.