A guide to mastering the 5th ICF Core Competency
This is the 5th ICF competency out of 8. It is part of the “Co-Creating the Relationship” category of competencies.
The ICF core competency co-creating the relationship competency number 5, maintains presence. Let’s understand it and identify skills and methods to make this easier to implement.
As we progress through these competencies, you’ll notice all of these need to be demonstrated and shown as evidence to be awarded an ICF credential or to pass a performance evaluation. These points are not implied; many need to be emphasized throughout the coaching session.
What’s in this guide (Across 9 articles):
- The 5 Guiding principles used to assess your coaching
- ICF Core Competency 1 Demonstrates Ethical Practice
- ICF Core Competency 2 Embodies a Coaching Mindset
- ICF Core Competency 3 Establishes and Maintains Agreements
- ICF Core Competency 4 Cultivates Trust and Safety
- ICF Core Competency 5 Maintains Presence
- ICF Core Competency 6 Listens Actively
- ICF Core Competency 7 Evokes Awareness
- ICF Core Competency 8 Facilitates Client Growth
What’s the definition of “Maintains Presence?”
“Is fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded and confident.” ICF International Coaching Federation
- Remains focused, observant, empathetic and responsive to the client.
- Demonstrates curiosity during the coaching process.
- Manages one’s emotions to stay present with the client.
- Demonstrates confidence in working with strong client emotions during the coaching process.
- Is comfortable working in a space of not knowing.
- Creates or allows space for silence, pause or reflection.
Points 1 -2 focus and curiosity.
Look at #1, “Remains focused, observant, empathetic and responsive to the client,” and #2, “Demonstrates curiosity during the coaching process.” Think about how you can prove these in a coaching session.
Are you noticing some overlapping skills and methods? Backtracking, for example (using your client’s words), boosts Competency 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.
To show curiosity, you could even say, “I’m curious about…” as a preamble or as a softening method before you lead into an inquiry or exploration. But only use the preamble once or twice, so it doesn’t become mechanical.
You can also show curiosity in your tone of voice.
Curiosity is a massive clue about the art and the science of coaching because curiosity means you are willing to discover with your clients. It also means you genuinely care; you’re genuinely interested. And that welcomes experimenting.
You’re just paddling down the river with your client, discovering what shows up next. Now, that’s not to say you don’t have a map, a clear outcome, or a contracted objective in the session; it does mean that you’re not showing up ready to perform and tap dance for your clients by being mechanical or reading from a script.
#3 Manages one’s emotions to stay present with the client.
This point is implied. You’ll hear this echoed again and again. You read all the competencies, and you may say, “Ah, that’s familiar. Didn’t they say that already?”
They probably did.
The InnerLifeSkills ABCs method and coach position become super important again and again and again. ABCs, a somatic Intuition Coaching method, helps you to manage your emotions and remain neutral. This also supports #4.
#4 Demonstrates confidence in working with strong client emotions during the coaching process.
Stay in coach position (equal to, not plus or minus), use your ABCs and make space.
Let your clients show up as they show up. No pushing against, no pulling away from, no judgment, or shrinking back; you are not trying to fix.
That’s how we create a space of sacred transformation. That’s a gift we give people.
#5 Is comfortable working in the space of not knowing.
This is possibly one of my favourite ICF descriptions.
- You trust your coaching skills.
- You trust the client.
- You trust that the answers truly are within.
- And that if you only build a wisdom well to send a bucket inwards, you’ll find a clear wealth of wisdom.
Our wisdom well is never dry.
Deep inside of us is always the inner wealth waiting for us.
The wisdom that we’re looking for, the clear seeing and being.
Being in a state of not knowing is trusting the process of not knowing what’s going to show up next in the session.
This invites your intuition and the flow of wisdom to work through and with us as coaches.
That’s trusting the paddle and the boats that we have built solidly. Yes, I know I’m endlessly mixing metaphors.
We’ve learned how to paddle, and now we go down the river. We don’t know what’s going to show up. We trust ourselves to meet it with the client in partnership.
Compare that to trying to figure out what to ask and what to say next while listening and being spontaneous. Amateur coaches do that. They prepare too much. The best preparation you need as a coach is to train your skills and competencies, get expert feedback from mentors, practice with fellow learning coaches, and repeat and rinse as often as you can until mastery.
Then you trust yourself to meet your clients at their place of need spontaneously and intuitively in that moment.
Prajna – spontaneous insight
One of my favourite words, totally unrelated to ICF, is Prajna.
Prajna is a Sanskrit word, Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages in the world.
I love the word; I love the richness of its meaning. Prajna is used in the zen and other ancient traditions. It means spontaneous wisdom arising in the moment.
It’s that moment of sending our bucket into the well where we find an aha moment with clarity that meets the thirst of that moment. It’s not stale, stagnant water that’s been sitting there untouched for weeks. It’s spontaneous; it’s fresh.
Now, we can’t easily invite Prajna unless we’re comfortable with not knowing.
A zen teaching says, “The only mind that can be enlightened is the, I don’t know mind.”
Now, if you want to take coaching to real depth, you make peace with, I don’t know, so that when your client answers, “I don’t know,” you celebrate.
You welcome it; you include it.
You don’t shrink back with, “Oh my gosh, what am I gonna do? I’m not coaching well; my client hasn’t got the answer.”
Excellent. That means the bucket was dragging on the sand, and when your client says, “I don’t know,” it’s time to dig.
#6 Creates or allows space for silence, pause or reflection.
This is also echoed throughout other competencies. If you don’t make space for silence and welcome silence to encourage reflection, you are dragging the buckets through the surface sand. Space and silence invite wisdom and depth of seeing and being.
This is where powerful, empowering coaching happens.
I keep emphasizing the 3 critical InnerLifeSkills skill sets: rapport building, questioning, and coach position skills taught in our “Coach 101” Coaching Skills Certification. Those 3 work hand in hand; they’re going to help you to demonstrate that you have compassion for your clients and to show active support.
Now, remember, caring is different from carrying.
We’re caring, not caring, not fixing or performing.
Stay in coach position.
Combine backtracking active listening (weaving your client’s words into the conversation) with a tone of curiosity and encourage discovery. Asking rather than telling. Being comfortable and equal to not knowing. Backtracking is using your client’s words, not assuming and not substituting your words, and softening the way you ask questions.
So instead of, for example, “What’s the solution?” you soften that with “What are some possible solutions?” to invite exploration, experimentation, and discovery.
Remove the habit of silence-fillers.
This is super important, especially at PCC and MCC levels. Remove all those little habitual, ‘um, okay, great, okays.’ They interfere with your client’s ability to think.
Instead, we create a slightly uncomfortable but very helpful pressure cooker, an incubator of silence. Not awkward or “I’m not interested,” silence. Rather, that beautiful sacred cave of silence that we create for our clients.
Slowly remove positive and negative judgments.
This is different from acknowledging and noticing our client’s strengths. This is about being patronizing and also creating carrots in sessions. If you’re saying, “great, wonderful, okay.”
A more impressionable client starts to cater to what they’re saying to get more carrots. A strong independent client starts to get irritated, and feeling patronized.
- A warm tone of voice,
- Coach position,
- Spiral up relevant questions (that point to the future, possibilities, insights, growth and progress).
Balance what the ICF calls exploring the who with the what.
The what is the practical solution? Like how do I tidy my garage? The who is the person, your clients, their values.
It’s placing awareness above the solution.
- “Why do I want to tidy my garage?”
- “What is that clutter about?
- “Is it symbolic of something about my value system?”
- “What can I bring of myself to this practical, tidy garage goal?”
Yes, you want your client’s input, even with decision-making.
Guide your CLIENTS to CHOOSE:
- The CONTRACT (what they want from the session).
- The CHANGES they want to make to the session and their life.
- The CO-CREATED session. Why not ask your client how they like to be coached? Do they want guided meditation-visualization style thinking exercises, or do they want, let’s put on our hard hats and get it done, bullet point, action planning?
You can co-create with your client.
It’s just astonishing what can be done when you know this. So I hope that is super helpful.
See you on the other side of the next core competency.