Contracting during Coaching – with its real ‘beating heart’ by Jeremy Ridge

Lobo2ffs: Sun sequence (sine wave)

Lobo2ffs: Sun sequence (sine wave)

We know how important our heart is to our life. Similarly, Coaching can also be seen as having a ‘heart'; playing a rhythmic beat just below the radar during coaching until it’s time to be measured. Coaching must involve reactions to those invisible behaviours that are so much in the moment. Any behaviour has so many elements to it …  because it is more than words – posture tone of voice, facial expression, eye contact, timing of words spoken, etc. etc.

Coaching needs a quality of attention given to the Coachee that is moment by moment; and every moment – for quite a long period especially when you measure it as events every second.  Similar to the way our heart beats – every second – providing what our body process needs.

An underpinning at the heart of coaching is “contracting”. Why call it contracting? Contracting is one of those words that is very formal, of course. But it is a generally accepted idea, and word. It is understood generally to involve an agreed, and required, standard of attention by one party to another. It is important as a term as it is established and accepted. It is even part of normal legal systems. For example a more precise definition is:

“ The elements of a contract are "offer" and "acceptance" by "competent persons" having appropriate capacity who exchange "consideration" to create "mutuality of obligation."

Of course, there is a great deal of contracting that already takes place as an explicit formal part of the coaching process; especially with Executive Coaching. Normally this in undertaken at the start of a coaching contract. ‘Outcomes' is the word usually used to describe outputs from coaching, defined in terms of developments of coachee behaviour outside of the coaching session. A regular check on explicit, desired and achieved outcomes will be under continuous review as part of the evolving, and growing, contract of connectedness between coach and coachee throughout the life of the assignment.

In addition, there will be other explicit contracting conditions for the coaching sessions that are set – from frequency, and duration, through to ethics and non-disclosure about the contents of the process. There may well be a condition of formal review of progress – for example, after three sessions; and at the conclusion.

But do we also include contracting during the small moments, and events, that create this connectedness. It can even seem they can be still difficult to be fully aware of.

The ‘ chemistry ‘ contracting meeting is a good example for how the small events can matter, where a Coachee is given a quick meeting with different coaches to see which Coach they prefer. The way this contracting takes place is often quite invisible. So there must be a gap in identifying what exactly the approach needed is – as we can’t specify it. And then what happens at the Chemistry session is so invisible a form ofcontracting that we have to use a metaphor like ‘ chemistry ‘, like ‘ alchemy ‘ to describe it, as it is often difficult to describe, and track. It can also be very unpredictable.

For the Coachee may respond, unexpectedly, to a wide range of Coach behaviours. The Coachee may have undisclosed expectations of the Coaching process that are still difficult to predict in any contracting. And a great deal depends on how the Coachee may interpret the signals given out by the Coach. This is where we need to contract effectively. If we are not aware of these small moments of behaviour signals, between both parties, the whole process can be undermined.

The really important part of coaching starts right from the very first ‘ chemistry ‘ of meeting. Expectations can be created from even before the first ‘hello'. Events can happen very fast. But every event can count significantly.

Every moment by moment event.

We need awareness of all such small events. Happening second by second. Checking that we are on a healthy path. This is the real heart of coaching that has to keep beating. When the heart beat stops before time… it can be dangerous!

We must become more attuned to this moment by moment experience in Coaching.  For example - there are those subtle moments where the Coachee starts to give subtle signals … eye contact suddenly changes; when a tightness in expression can suddenly show; a shift in how someone is sitting; and when a comment may have various meanings, and needs to be clarified … are you noticing these subtle moments? And how are you finding a way to engage with them?

It can be as simple as riding a bicycle, of course – when you have learned to ride. We know we are doing all of this intuitively, and may not stop to think about just how we are managing this important moment by moment detail. We just do it. We don’t think about how to stay upright, the instinctive adjustments we make, and all that balance requires, and how we do it.

As you have been reading this, I would assume all manner of reactions, and thoughts, may have come to you. Now, how do I contract to hear about them, that is the question!

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