Category: ICF 04 Coaching Presence

3D Ideas 855: Catching the Ball

Claire writes: “We have just been camping when there are always ball games to play with our small people.  There is nothing more irritating when you’re playing a game of catch than when the other person doesn’t throw the ball back!  Everyone who is playing is an equal partner in a game of catch.

Although a coaching style is partnership, our role is keeping someone company while they think.  That means we want their processing to be flowing, and we need to ask, or observe only enough to keep them in flow.  Which means that when I keep hold of the process, I am interrupting your flow. Phrases like ‘OK’, ‘Thank you’ may be polite – and they are also saying ‘Stop thinking – it’s my turn now’.  It is more effective to lightly throw the question back with future focussed questions – like so?, and now?

The only exception to this is that there are a few occasions where I need to stop and think and make connections between what I am noticing in service of your thinking.  And they are few and far between!”

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3D Ideas 853: Connections

Claire writes: “We took Transforming Conversations to Cape Town last week to work with an organisation building capacity in local staff.  So much learning for me! Three things have happened in the space of a few days.

Firstly, as I left, they gave me a bag of gifts which included a card with this quote from Nelson Mandela: If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”  

Secondly, a delegate asked if he could dip out of the practice and read the manual. I said no! ‪It’s all about the practice‬ #ancient ‘One must learn by doing the thing; or though you think you know it you have no certainty until you try’ Sophocles 415BC‬

And then yesterday while I was pondering this at my desk, I received a text from a friend who’d just read The Thin Book of Naming Elephants “…leadership ultimately comes down to conversations and connections; asking questions; listening to responses; and ensuring that impact matches intent.”

This is why learning to work better in partnership matters a lot.  Conversations look different with different people. And we only know that when we get great feedback which is why practicing and getting feedback is terrifying… and extremely useful.”

Ⓒ 3D Coaching Ltd 2019

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3D Ideas 848: 90 Degrees

Claire writes: “Last week included a talk at the UK Conference of the International Coaching Federation as well as our annual Transforming Conversations open course.  I think that I learned as much as the delegates!

The live coaching demo was done standing up.  I always do that because everyone in the room can see, and also we know that people think faster when standing.  The nature of the stage meant that we were standing at 90 degrees to each other (think two adjacent sides of a square).  As she was talking and thinking, she was facing forward. I stood next to her watching her create some great ideas. And I only spoke when she turned to look at me.  That clear invitation to me as the facilitator of her thinking to only speak when she invited me in by looking at me meant that it was easy to wait and not interrupt her thinking.

It worked on Tuesday, so we shared it on Wednesday!  It was so effective, that Alex and I watched as someone accompanied a thinker.  The coach’s face suggested full attention and no question forming. He was simply noticing and bearing witness.  And then the thinker pointed to the floor as they moved to a new and useful insight. The coach turned and started to look at the same place on the floor.  Now there was 100 degrees between them and they were looking in the same direction. The coach scratched his chin and we watched as he got sucked into the stuff.  The edginess was gone! I walked up behind him and silently tapped his arm to encourage him to move back to a side on position. He stopped scratching his chin and the edginess was back!  Time and again over the last 48 hours we saw the value of that 90 degree position which allows us to be with someone and shifts from the kind of position where we are talking to someone and end up being seduced by the story. This is probably easier when we are standing up than sitting down.  Try it!”

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3D Ideas 847: Reverse Coaching?

Claire writes: “I have just read an interesting article on reverse mentoring.  Alex, one of our systemic team coaches, says he has seen it work well.  For example with young graduate recruits mentoring senior leaders on their use of tech.

What about reverse coaching, I wonder? My current learning is about power and partnership. Coaching only works when there is enough capacity between the two people in the conversation to work in partnership. We teach a lot about keeping the responsibility in the middle by co-creating the conversation. Interestingly, even when people are great at not taking the responsibility in a conversation, it’s another lesson altogether to notice when the thinker gives it to you. Unless you give it back and return to co-creating you will still be holding it. Which puts the power out of balance.

We notice that this shared responsibility and co-creation can work even when there is a differential in role power when the coach, or the facilitator of the conversation, pays attention to make sure they aren’t doing all the work.  Even when they are the line manager.

So why not reverse coaching? We’d be interested to hear your thoughts?

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3D Ideas 845: Freezing

Claire writes: “I will always remember running a course on how to prepare for an interview when my co-facilitator shared their worst experience with the group. ‘The interviewer’s first question was: Why have you applied for the job?… and I froze’.

Good preparation can reduce the likelihood of freezing in interviews. Many conversations, however, can’t be prepared for and it’s common for people to get a version of ‘what on earth do I say now?’ or even brain freeze. When we are in conversation with someone else and encouraging them to think, our freezing can stop them thinking because they still experience what we think we are hiding!

In the improv pilot day at the end of last year, we all experienced the external version of freezing. It was terrifying and it was funny, and the work we did together in a space of trust enabled us to overcome some of the fear that makes a momentary freeze into something that disables us.

Presence and holding space well is a skill that’s important in leadership, coaching, presenting, and training as well as in theatre. I have travelled with a question for several years about whether you can teach this. And finally we tried it out with improv and it seems you can! Join me and Stuart Reid on Friday 11th October in Central London if you think that some attention to presence will support the work you do.”

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3D Ideas 841: Everything is Disposable

RitaE / Pixabay

Claire writes: “This week in Transforming Conversations we will be exploring the value of changing the medium to have better conversations. Instead of talking through a situation, people will draw it and their colleague will simply notice what they see. I always tell delegates that 80% of what they will notice is useless and 20% is useful. And the the things we notice – without judgement – often transform… when we offer lightly.

Exactly the same learning came when we were learning about presence with Stuart Reid. We spent a whole day doing theatre improvisation. There was so much deep learning (and laughter) that he will be running it again (11th October 2019 in Central London only 12 spaces). In coaching we offer questions. In improv we simply make an offer. And one of the principles of improv is that everything is disposable. 80% goes nowhere. The skill, of course, is to notice quickly and work out what to do next!”

© 2019 3D Coaching Ltd
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3D Ideas 830: What If There Were No Experts?

This week’s blog comes from our friend Val Hastings. He and Claire co-hosted some webinars about challenge and radical candour. There was lots of learning and this is some (longer than usual and useful!)

Val writes: “On a recent training call with coaches, we got on to the topic of the word coaching. They didn’t like it, and that prompted some good discussion. If we weren’t called coaches, what else could we be called? A few alternatives came up, including apprentice.

Yes, we can see how a coaching client is like an apprentice, seeking to gain some insights from the previous experience of the coach – particularly when the coach has dealt with similar work challenges or lifestyle situations as the client is facing now.

But where the conversation really took a fascinating turn was when we looked at the coach as apprentice, and what would happen if we did. Instead of an expert-apprentice dynamic, what if there were two apprentices? What if coach and client are in apprenticeship together?

Part of what the student coaches didn’t like about the term coach was that it implies, “I’m the expert; I’m the wise one.” If we’re all in apprenticeship, on the other hand, we’re all in continual learning, continual honing of our skills and strengths. “I don’t have the answer, but here’s what works for me.”

As coaches we are always learning from our clients; that’s the curiosity piece that is so essential to the relationship. If we’re all in apprenticeship, it opens up permission and opportunity for this to happen even more.

When it’s just two apprentices in the room and no expert, there is a sense of freedom that can unlock all sorts of new ideas and possibilities. A mutual sharing occurs, and a combined wisdom emerges. None of us have the answer, and yet the answer shows up.

A 2014 series of experiments at Harvard Business School looked at how getting into a “beginner’s mind” helps break what is called “the curse of knowledge.” They asked one group of expert guitarists to flip their guitar around so they’d be strumming with their left hand and forming chords with their right hand. The other group played normally.

Then both groups were asked to comment on videos of beginner guitar players who were struggling. The expert guitarists who played backwards and were forced to learn a new way to play were more encouraging to beginner guitarists, and gave specific and actionable advice. Those who’d played their guitar normally had less empathy for the beginners and tended to point out their errors or flaws instead of helping them get better.

That’s a good reminder for when we as coaches are tempted to slip into advice-giving mode. We’re much more empathetic and useful when we can see ourselves as novices. Coaching as apprenticeship levels the power in the relationship and I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of that power dynamic.

The apprentice is not starting from scratch, and neither are our coaching clients. Each party – coach and client, apprentice and expert, brings important learning. As an apprentice, I’m not trying to solve a problem or convey expert advice; I’m trying to stimulate you and be a catalyst to get your thinking going. This is the difference between solving the problem, and developing the person. I don’t know the answers but I’m curious about what you already know.

In coaching as apprenticeship, it’s like we are trying to flip the guitar around and look at how learning happens, not just bestow an expert answer. It’s about turning clients into beginners, and we as coaches being willing to go there with them and be beginners as well.” For more blogs like this, please check out Val’s website

Coaching Presence

As Stuart and Claire are preparing Neither From nor Towards – a day on coaching presence some of their inspiration is coming from blogs like:

And Stuart has inspired Claire to start reading Edgar Shein’s Humble Inquiry

3D Ideas: 823 Managers Say That

Claire writes: ‘If we want to have a different kind of conversation sometimes we need to use different language. I think that’s because we learn how to respond without fully listening. For example many managers say ‘Do you want to explore that?’ when they actually mean tell me. ‘Is it useful to explore that?’ might be a more useful question.

It might be useful to notice in the next couple of days if things don’t land as you expect where you could change the language.’

And if you’ve heard me talk about my dislike of why questions, you might be interested in this blog

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3D Ideas 819: Neither From Nor Towards

Claire writes: “Holding space, or presence, is one of the greatest gifts of leadership – and an essential in coaching. TS Eliot describes it as
‘At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is’

Presence is intangible, hard to describe and obvious when it’s missing from a conversation. The only way to develop it is in an embodied way. A while ago, we invited a musical conductor to teach us how to conduct. Conducting requires presence. Something needs to happen in the space between the conductor and the orchestra to make the music happen. The conductor can’t make it happen. The music is co-created.

And so it is with improv where something happens between the audience and the performer. So on the basis that you can only develop presence experientially, we are delighted to be offering a workshop in Luton in December with Claire and Stuart Reid, who is a coach and has a lot of experience in improv. We’d love you to come!”

© 2018 3D Coaching Ltd
May be distributed freely. Please retain contact details: and send a copy/ link to Register here to receive our blog posts every Monday by email