Embracing the current reality - THE crucial step to explore the way forward by Petra Macdougald (guest)

For me one particular aspect of the coaching process holds immense benefit, if I have fully explored and brought to full realisation that crucial step when the coachee completely accepts their current reality without any reservations.

By this I mean the coachee, being enabled through the coaching process, to consciously come to terms and seeing eye-to-eye with sometimes highly uncomfortable or unloved truths.

The coachees’ clear view on 'what is' and accepting this current reality is absolutely necessary as a stable launch pad to explore future options. If the 'what is' is not fully accepted and still generates back-ground noise for the client, some possible solutions to their problems might go unexplored, or may never even enter their consciousness.

So there is great value of seeking acceptance of the current situation and how one ended up there.  

What may get in the way

All coaches use some sort of coaching model, such as the TGROW model, to provide a framework to explore five key elements in the coaching conversation: the topic, the goal, the reality, the options and the will.

It may be tempting to expect that acceptance of ‘what is’ comes as a natural product of the reality exploration in our coaching conversations.  

Yet in practice it is not always as simple as that.  

  • For the coachee it is uncomfortable being made aware of possible blind spots or being invited back maybe numerous times by their coach to investigate aspects of their life that they would rather not see or take full ownership for.

  • The coach will draw on their relationship with the coachee, their coaching style as well as their experience to ‘endure’ staying for as long as necessary for a useful outcome in this more challenging part of the coaching process.

  • As owner of the process, the coach will also need to identify the appropriate moment and actions to exit this difficult space once the coachee has gained the insights that were important for the way forward.

I believe that for coaches supporting their clients in this ‘coming to terms’ with the current reality can represent a dilemma: on the one hand we are highly empathic human beings and want to be supportive to the coachee, which could imply thoughts of being gentle and always by their side. On the other hand we are also aware that this part alone can often not be usefully explored without serious challenging, probing and insisting. And this may indeed bear the risk that for a particular part of the conversation we are leading the coachee to a difficult place, and we know it.  

This requires the coach to strike a balance between safeguarding the relationship with the coachee while and staying sufficiently long or deeply engaged in a challenging matter.

Challenging and pausing to become fully aware of the current reality

Bringing a coachee into a situation where we support them to see those difficult aspects and help him/her to embrace them is something that needs to be done in the right circumstances. If we are to support the client in building a stable platform they can explore a wide variety of options from there.    

I personally will only do it when I believe that my relationship with the client is sufficiently established and strong, so certainly not in the first and maybe not even in the second session.

This is mainly for two reasons:

  • I first want to build rapport and understand the coachee's personal preferred communication style before I may bring them to a more difficult spot. This is to ensure that they will not take a more challenging approach from me as an affront, but will sufficiently trust me that anything I do in the coaching intervention is in their best interest.

  • I need to collect and fully understand the information they perceive in their reality.

In a situation where I am comfortable with the above two elements and I have identified possible contradictions or inconsistencies in the information they discuss, I have taken to very openly challenging my coachee to confront their reality.

The purpose of this is to make them aware of a blind spot or that they are talking themselves into some rosier kind of reality. I will ask some very direct questions about the information they have provided. I will highlight where it does not add up for me. I obviously do this in a non-judgmental way and only with the information received. This often then leads to a deep reflection with the client and have learned about the value to stay and pause in this uncomfortable spot with the coachee for a while. I will be gentle in my approach, but bring them back to the subject repeatedly if I have the impression that they have arranged their thought patterns in such a way that some important element is being avoided.

Really accepting where my client is today may be upsetting for the client as admitting to themselves that they have maybe not achieved certain things they meant to achieve by now or that they are not as performing as the target they had set for themselves.  

In essence this acceptance of all facets of 'what is now' can mean the end of a long harboured dream.

Obviously I am looking in my coaching practice always for the best result for my client and I have noticed that at the end of this usually more uncomfortable and emotional part of the coaching process the client is more resourceful in exploring options. I believe that this is due to the fact that they have made inner peace by allowing something into their consciousness that behind the scenes held them back.  

A practical illustration
Recently I worked with a client who is very experienced in their job and was looking for their next challenge. Their initial belief was that this challenge was to come from a complete change of career. However, as we explored the reality first it became apparent that there were important aspects of their job that they actually enjoyed very much. Furthermore, and to illustrate what I have been outlining on acceptance, I asked them if they are not using the idea of a complete career change to run away from some less attractive aspect of their job. I had also sensed that the coachee had some certain fears relating to the inherent risk of taking on a completely new position that I brought out in the open for them to face.
This led to a long reflection and coming to terms with the fact that indeed the idea of 'running away' from the situation was attractive, but it would never happen as they were not in a position to take certain risks linked to a complete change. Once the coachee understood this, they had the freedom of mind to explore other options than the unrealistic complete change of position. In the end the coachee took action with their management to change their current role in such a way that the aspects of the job they were really good at (and enjoyed) were increased. Also because the client had accepted that leaving the current position was not an option, they took a conscious decision to stay, which felt much better for them at an emotional level.

In conclusion

Accepting difficult aspects of their current reality and closing a chapter can set our clients free and channels the energy that was used on the unaccepted situation onto something new and maybe previously unexplored.

This is fantastic news for the client and rewarding for me as a coach who has faced the challenge of sufficiently challenging my client.

For it to work well for me the following elements need to be present:

  • A strong, trusting relationship with the client, where challenging or confrontation is not perceived as personal attack

  • The coaches willingness to go into this less comfortable space (giving themselves permission to become maybe more directive than they would otherwise be)

  • The stamina of coach and coachee to stay there for the time it takes to ensure the best outcome for the client

  • The coach as guardian of the process needs to identify when the opportune moment to move on

  • The work on the inconsistencies in the client's reality is strictly non- judgmental and only conducted on the information provided by the client

Now that you know my views, I would really like to know more about your experiences and perspectives on this topic. I am looking forward to your comments!

Please note that everything I have expressed in this blog is my personal view and I am not representing Euroclear as a company.

If you want to connect with Petra, please send an email to: petra.macdougald@euroclear.com

Petra is internal Cross Divisional Lead Coach in Euroclear Bank, Brussels. She provides individual, team and group coaching at all levels of the company and is also responsible for the internal Job+ coach programme, the training of new coaches as well as supporting leadership development programmes.

Her business career of 30 years in the finance industry prior to her full time coaching appointment mainly focused on roles relating to relationship management and strategy and included managing and developing teams.

Petra's passion for personal development increased over the years in line with her involvement in people management. This interest led her to become involved in coaching and in 2012 she became an accredited business coach. Petra is an active member of the Belgian Internal Coaching Network and a Member of the Association for Coaching.