What Does Coaching Feel Like? Here’s how you can visualise the coaching relationship

What Does Coaching Feel Like?

Here’s how you can visualise the coaching relationship 

When you’re thinking about starting a coaching engagement, if you’ve never had coaching before it can feel a bit mysterious. What does it look and feel like inside that relationship?

As we’re getting started, we’ll be focused on building our working rhythm and understanding your context. Typically my clients spend the first part of our initial session sharing the background context of their issue. We don’t need to go into the minor details, but likewise we don’t want to rush to set a goal or start solving for the issue too fast - we just want to spend time here exploring the themes and understanding what it all means to you.

In this phase, my job is to hear you, reflect back what I’m understanding, challenge and probe your thinking, but also let you talk. This part of coaching might include some venting! That’s totally OK - so long as you know we won't always be in this space. The opportunity to vent and be understood is sometimes really important, but with coaching we want to make sure we’re moving forward to solutions and different ways of thinking and acting, so we can get past that issue. 

Below is a snippet of a coaching engagement I did a few years ago as part of my ICF accreditation. This was a one-off session, so it’s a little more tactical than my usual coaching engagements, however it gives you a flavour of the typical challenges being brought to coaching, and the role I play.

Alex (00:05):

All right, so welcome Chris. Good to have you today.

Chris (00:09):

Thank you.

Alex (00:10):

And, I just wanted to mention before we get started, of course, we're being recorded, so this will be completely anonymous and I'm submitting it to the ICF, and they're here to observe me. So you can be as yourself as you want to. It's still here to add value to you, but, thank you again for being willing.

Chris (00:28):

Cool. I'm excited.

Alex (00:31):

So I know from our previous conversations, you'd had some thinking about what you wanted to see from today's conversation. What do you want to get out of this?

Chris (00:46):

Yeah, for sure. So I am currently looking for my next role. I recently just left the bank, which I was there for about twelve and a half years. And my experience there was exciting and fast, and I got to do a lot of different jobs and work all over the world and do a lot of different things, across different industries that we're in as well as different roles, like functions between marketing and product, and managing teams and businesses. I took a redundancy, which I kind-of knew was coming, but has been a really big shift for me. An opportunity I’d say, but pretty shocking too. And now I'm at the point where I need to figure out what's next after an experience like that. I'm having a really hard time picking something or focusing in my attention on even an industry or a type of role I want next because I've had this amazingly broad experience and the ability to do ops and do brand and do digital transformation and internal program management and all kinds of things. I feel I can do anything because I have the experience in so many things, which is great, but not great when you need to find your next thing-

Alex (02:02):

Be targeted.

Chris (02:03):

... and you look... yeah. And you look at the market and you're like, well, I could be good at doing multiple things or be interested for a short time in a lot of these things, but what should I really be focusing in on next? Even things like startup versus large company, in-house versus consulting. Like I said, function, marketing, ops, leading people, doing my own thing, like just being a consultant on my own for small companies that are trying to build...

Chris (02:35):

It's exciting to have the options, but it's also a little bit crippling when it comes to decision making, because it's hard to focus on which avenue I should explore first, and what I actually want to do. Because under the umbrella of the bank, I didn't have to think about long term, what I wanted to do, because there were so many options on the go. I’d be like: that project's interesting, let me get into that. Or that team looks like they need some help, let me explore that. It was exciting doing that, but now it put me in a really weird position. And I know-

Alex (03:16):

It's the blessing and the curse of options.

Chris (03:19):

Oh my gosh, yeah.

Alex (03:22):

But the question is: ‘what do I want’ as opposed to ‘where am I pulled’ or ‘where do I see the opportunity’?

Chris (03:32):

I think it's what I want … and just what would also be valuable too. Like what would be a good next step in rounding out-

Alex (03:40):

Valuable to who?

Chris (03:41):

To me. Just like rounding out my experience and what would add another layer and push me forward. But I am currently trying to figure out where to go next and I'm having a little bit of a hard time figuring it out.

Alex (04:07):

If I reflect back to you, you've got this juncture and it feels like an opportunity to make a purposeful next step as opposed to going with the gravitational pull of other forces. So you want to be intentional, but you’re a bit disconcerted because you don’t know ‘what’ yet.  

Chris (04:25):


This 4.5 minutes shows you just how the conversation gets underway. Hopefully you notice Chris is doing most of the talking - so you should come to coaching expecting to speak your mind! From this starting point, we moved on to how Chris wanted to go forward with their next role, with intentionality and purpose in their next career choice. We explored what had made them reactive and responsive to opportunities in the past, what the benefits and downsides of that responsiveness is, and what hurdles might be in their way as they take a more proactive career planning approach. As you might expect, we also took some time to explore the loss of their job - although Chris saw the sudden change as an opportunity that they might not otherwise have pushed themselves to take, it was still a sad moment of losing connections with colleagues and an identity with the bank that they’d had for so many years. 

It’s impossible to show in this first 4 minutes of a relationship where it goes to - but I hope you can see we’re building a baseline where Chris is steering, setting the agenda and sharing what’s important to them, and I’m bringing myself to the table to help new ways of thinking come to the forefront, to open up insight. It’s a relationship where you’ll be empowered, but sometimes challenged, confused, and even frustrated. I’ve seen so many people grow and develop in their self awareness through this interplay of our mental models, and it all starts right here - from the moment we set out in coaching as we intend to continue.

Here’s some other great posts you can read on getting started with a coach: