By the end of this session:
- You will be able to appreciate the disempowering nature of fixing and empowering nature of coaching.
- You will be challenged to become a vulnerable encourager of mastery.
Often when we see people struggling, we feel it is a compassionate response to help them. However, in this session we are going to be considering how help in the traditional sense can sometimes be damaging and disempowering for the individual. Sometimes in coaching this is referred to as being fixer or understander.
Both fixer and understander have their place, but in coaching the balance is heavily weighted toward being an understander. Here’s why:
- When we fix a problem for someone:
- They don’t get the opportunity to develop new knowledge and skills.
- They are confirmed as someone unable to solve problems.
- The individual becomes more and not less dependent on you for things going well.
- When we support someone to fix a problem for themselves:
- We build their confidence that they can make good decisions.
- We encourage people to become self-reliant and self-directing.
- We become less needed for future issues.
In essence, being fixer or understander is often about empowerment. Are we giving away our power to empower someone else, or are we making a role for ourselves and empowering ourselves by disempowering others?
Being an understander is far from a passive role. Indeed, it is a role which can be more difficult for the understander or coach as they might feel they know the answer the person is seeking which can lead to frustration. Further, they often must let go of control or their feeling of knowledge so the coachee can discover solutions for themselves.
One of my coachees once put it like this: They had taken a picture they had painted to their counsellor. The picture was of a river and the coachee placed themselves beside the river. The counsellor looked at the picture and asked, ‘what would it take for you to cross the bridge and join me over here on this side of the river?’ My coachee felt distressed at the suggestion as they perceived the comment as summarising the counsellor’s position as being better than them. As we discussed the picture in our coaching session, we talked about walking along the water together and deciding together whether the bridge was a good crossing point.
The point is the role of the understander is to be there to equip the person to make decisions for themselves rather than to make the decisions for them. We walk with rather than do for.
Walking with someone is about supporting them to come to their own decision in their own way and in their own time. We become a resource for the person in their self-directed solutions. This implies:
- We become vulnerable as we are both giving away power and opening ourselves to the individual asking us questions that we might not want to answer.
- The individual might seek the view of others, including possibly ours, but sharing is not about advising, rather opening doors for further exploration by the individual.
- Our role is to encourage the individual in the progress they are making and to help them make informed choices for which they can be accountable.
- We might prompt the person to look for a greater number of alternatives in coming to a solution or interpretation.
- We will act in a way which gives the individual mastery over their own situation and potentially mastery over new skills and ideas which they can share with others.
- Our commitment is to the individual rather than the resolution of a specific issue.
Our main tool learning to walk with people is that of communication. We will return to this in the second module. However, we might also encourage the person to use techniques such as:
- Alternative solution generation – encouraging the individual to think beyond their initial answers.
- Cost-benefit analysis – what will be the impact of their choices for self and others?
In doing this you will be engaged in hearing the individual’s ‘story’ which is something we will consider in the next session.