Is it the client’s responsibility to create their own action plans?
Here’s a question from an InnerLifeSkills Master Coach student:
“Is it the client’s responsibility to come up with needed actions towards their goal?”
As a potential Master Coach, the student is studying how to facilitate this coaching conversation.
The client is looking at the goal and the coaching conversation is unpacking various elements and excavating various understandings, including actions that the client might need to take in order to reach their goal.
And this question is tied to a very common experience that coaches face; what if they don’t know how to get started?
The coach says to the clients: “What actions can you take or anything similar to that to achieve your goal?”
Because pure coaching, (as in ICF accredited and credentialed coaching and its core competencies) is where the coach does not give advice.
There is no advice where the coach isn’t telling the clients, “first, you do this, then I suggest you do this, or why not try this?”
The coach isn’t giving the steps – that would be mentoring, managing, teaching, et cetera.
To be accredited or assessed as a master coach or a professional coach, or even for the ICF’s credentials, (ACC, PCC or MCC) we need to hear that there was pure coaching, no advice-giving.
Action Plans through Pure Coaching or Blended Coaching:
I’m going to answer from two levels here.
The first level is that if you are offering pure coaching, you need to find another way to help your client to excavate their own actions.
And then yes, it is the client’s responsibility to come up with the needed actions towards their goals.
But if you are offering any blended coaching, which is a combination of coaching, and for example, mentoring, et cetera, then you might assist, especially if they have paid for advice and they’re expecting some kind of guidance from you.
Now, that really depends on how you have set up your practice, the expectations of the client, what you’ve communicated to them, et cetera.
So let’s assume that if you are working towards an ICF credential and you’re wanting to be assessed, for example, as an InnerLifeSkills coach, a Master Coach or Professional Coach, you need to demonstrate that you can help a client to help themselves.
This means that you are not going to tell them how to get there, and you’re not going to prescribe any solutions or actions.
Let’s unpack a couple of tips that can help you when your client gets stuck. And when they feel like they just don’t know how they don’t know how to solve a problem. They don’t know what actions to take. They feel like they’re in the dark. They feel they cannot see how to actually go forward.
And therefore you need to assist them as a coach to unlock that understanding without prescribing or telling them what to do.
Let’s go through this:
Your client is looking at their goal – whatever that goal is – because remember, as a Master Coach, as a Professional Coach, as an InnerLifeSkills coach, you can coach any topic, any goal, as long as it is within reach and has some level of realism.
But it’s really also even not up to us to question whether it’s realistic.
Now we’ve said to our clients, for example, “what actions would you like to take?” – or anything similar.
We’ve asked them a beautiful spiral-up question, which means that we’ve asked them an open question that directs their attention towards the future towards solutions.
And they’ve said the proverbial, “I don’t know”, which is quite common, right?
The first thing I need to tell you is you, as the coach need to be completely fine with this onset, you mustn’t judge it.
You mustn’t push against it. You mustn’t react in any way, other than staying in coach position and being equal to that answer so that your client feels that it’s actually okay.
It’s okay to be in the unknown.
In fact, the ICF mentioned as one of the criteria for master coaching for MCC level coaching that both the coach and the clients needs to be or demonstrate that they are comfortable in the unknown, which means that we have to be willing to be in a place of discovery in a curious, unfolding, instead of being thrown by what happens.
If my client doesn’t know the answer, we also need to follow the ICF Guidance around master coaches’ needs or don’t have a sense of performing with this, where they’re pressurized to perform. Why? Because master coaches, partner with the clients and because it’s a partnership and not the coach needing to perform and solve problems, that’s why it needs to be completed.
So even though we, as coaches, need to be okay with our clients not knowing, we still need to understand how we can guide them and help them away from the unknown and to the known.
I have four practical tips to offer you, let’s look at them.
Techniques to excavate action plans:
Now, the first tip that I suggest is that you concentrate on your softening techniques and methods – I’ll unpack that in a moment.
The second is to make sure that you have established and continue to establish trust and rapport.
The third is to use some kind of process – which we’ll unpack in a moment.
And the fourth is to remember that our role as a coach is to help our clients to walk around the mountain.
And I’ll be giving you that metaphor to finish off this tutorial.
Let’s look at the first one: softening. Now, when we ask a question in a harsh or direct way – for example, “what actions can you take?” even harsher could be, “what are you going to do about it?” – it actually closes the door in our client’s mind because they feel pressure to give us an exact answer.
Whereas if we soften the edge of our question, we’re using various techniques that are taught in InnerLifeSkills master coaching- we are essentially opening the door.
And what I mean by that is that the client now feels relaxed enough to experiment with our answers, to brainstorm various ideas and to feel comfortable, enough sharing possibilities.
One of many softening techniques is to change those questions into “what possible actions could you take?”. So now it’s possible instead of what will you or can you.
Instead of asking somebody, what actions will you take? What can you do? We can also say something like “I’d like you to think of three possible solutions or three possible actions that you possibly could take”.
Now, your client can brainstorm that is going to solve 80 to 90% of your client’s issues.
The second thing of course is to make sure that we have established so much trust and rapport with our clients, that they feel safe enough to open that door safe enough to share with us.
Besides the safety, we also want to be giving them a lot of silence and a lot of space.
All these ‘S’ words; silence, space and safety – so that they can think so that they can dream so that they can walk around the mental mountain that is necessary for brainstorming and ideas to come to our clients.
That’s why we also use tools and methods.
For example, the ‘As If NLP frame‘ or the ‘three chairs process’, we use thinking tools.
We don’t only use these thinking tools in a certain place in our session – we use them at any time.
And finally, our job as a coach is to take someone around their mental mountain.
Picture that where your client is, they can’t see the river and they want to see the river. So they say, “I can’t see the river.”
Your job is to help them to change mental perspectives, using all of the methods that I’ve suggested so that suddenly they go: “I can see the river “.
Remember that the other metaphor we use as InnerLifeSkills coaches is: we are building wells for people.
And we do this with patience and skill.
So that instead of only seeing the ground, the surface, they are able to throw that back down deeper than the surface, deeper than the surface mind to find their inner wealth.
And that takes rapport building, softening and all of the methods and techniques that we teach so that people can discover the solutions and the ideas that are going to move them forward towards their goal.
Recap the Action Plan Coaching Tips:
There are two levels to coaching actions plans.
The first level focuses on the traditional coaching technique followed by the ICF (International Coaching Federation). This is what we call “pure coaching”. This is a no advice giving coaching style.
If coaches aspire to get ICF accreditation, either ACC, PCC or MCC accreditation, they would need to give evidence they know how to put pure coaching into practice. This includes guiding clients/coachees to come up with their own action plans without advice or direct input from the coach.
The second form of coaching is blended coaching. And this can also be used to guide clients to come up with action plans. Blended coaching includes some advice giving from the coach to the clients.
And there are techniques, as mentioned above, on how to help clients come up with their actions plans.
Whether the coach adopts pure coaching or blended coaching, it’s ultimately the client’s responsibility to come up with their own action plans.
The beauty of coaching is that by guiding clients to come up with their own goals and action plans they are more likely to follow through.
Because it’s easier to resist something when we are told, as humans, to do something.
If we come up with our own solutions, we are more likely to hold ourselves accountable.
That is why a coach will guide and facilitate their clients to come up with their own action plans.
And if the client does not follow through or is unable to achieve their goal through their action plans, then it is the coaches responsibility to look back at the cause and guide the clients to find solutions. We at InnerLifeSkills provide many coaching tools, processes and techniques to do just that.