Presencing – Enabling Deeper Coaching Conversations
By Audrey BurkeMcCarthy, Celia Sikorski, Christine Scordato, Erin Whitehead, Henry Kahn, Jaspal Bajwa, Keyaunoosh Kassauei, Nancy Glynn, Pamela Helwig – Fellows at the IOC – Institute of Coaching
This blog is based on a series of conversations had by a group of Institute Fellows following a wonderful discussion led by Alison Whitmire, President of Learning in Action (and a Fellow herself) and Jeff Hull, Director of Education, Institute of Coaching, on Coaching for Blind Spots – In Ourselves and Our Clients. Encouraged by Allison and Jeff, we began to explore a new concept, Presencing, that we share here. Whitmire’s focus on self-awareness and working on the ”edge” of our blind spots to become facile and effective at helping our clients uncover and work through their own, adds a new dimension for us as coaches.
We have a follow-up blog which additionally incorporates the concepts of Cultural Intelligence (CQ) and compassionate listening all in the service of helping our clients achieve deeper insights and lasting change through Presencing.
- Working the edge of our blind spots leads to greater insight and clarity.
- Intuit, Trust, Verify – Staying playfully curious and creating a judgment-free space for ‘Aha’ moments to happen.
- Calling out emergent themes and patterns provides coachees the chance to choose a different course.
What Is Presencing?
Presencing plays an essential role in fostering and nurturing powerful coaching conversations. It is a way of honoring, receiving and attending to what a coachee is experiencing. Empathetic listening and connecting with the head, the heart, and the gut (intuition) – ensures the coach takes in the full range of pertinent information relevant to their client. Accessing data emanating from deeply felt emotions is key for coachees to gain traction for deep and sustained change.
Presencing ability requires cultivating interrelated skills that many great coaches have and that we can all continue to develop – Emotional Intelligence(EI) and self-awareness. Most of us have a good understanding of emotional intelligence – the capacity to be aware of, regulate and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships empathetically.
Self awareness gives us the ability to recognize and understand our emotions and behavioral tendencies, and can influence and shape how we think, feel, and connect with others. Cultivating self-awareness has many benefits including deepening our senses of curiosity and empathy and increasing our levels of gratitude and our presence in our coaching practices
“Blind spots, reveal thyselves!”
There are a number of effective strategies to foster knowledge of our deep rooted thought and behavior patterns as well as our blind spots. Powerful ones include: self-reflection, daily journaling and mindfulness – the cultivation of what Freud called “evenly hovering attention.” Each of these practices create the space we need to reflect upon our experiences so as to nurture and re-energize us for our coaching practice. Fully utilizing coaching supervision sessions to discuss challenging cases is another way to direct our lens inwards, reflecting and learning from our patterns and experiences.
Whitmire encourages coaches to explore our own blind spots to understand the role they play in the activation of our own triggers and reactivity and then use this knowledge in service of our clients.
Using relational intelligence is Alison Whitmire’s technique to avoid the trap of doing either too little or too much by being present with AND a witness to the totality of the situation. Coaches remain sensitive to the dynamic of relationships at play, across three levels:
- Relationship with ourselves. As coaches we must remain grounded. To acknowledge and give ourselves and our coachees the Permission to accept reality ‘As Is’. In Positive Psychology, ‘Perfectionism’ has often been called a disease.
- Relationship with our coachee. This is rooted in trust and credibility. Presencing ensures our coachees feel that we are there for them, in the moment, as a champion and challenger who raises thought-provoking questions in a judgement-free space.
- Relationship with the emergent field of awareness & energy. This is being co-created during the coaching-conversation. Given the deep impact coaching has – this new awareness, associated with changed attitudes and behaviors, has the potential to deeply ripple through the client’s circle of key stakeholder relationships, helping create a veritable tsunami of positive change.
Whitmire goes on to explain “The frame we use is all about relationships. We frame relationships as providing the finger that points to our own development – our relationship with self, others, life, world. We look at our patterns. How do these things rub against each other? Tapping into intuition is very powerful as we co-create in a relationship.” She asks “How can we spot the common denominator in the issues our clients bring?”
Intuit, Trust and Verify
As coaches and leaders, when we develop the subtle art of ‘evenly hovering attention’ we are better able to explore all aspects of a situation with playful curiosity. Relying on intuition helps toggle between trusting AND Verifying all relevant data-points. Not falling prey to selective cognitive bias (blind spots) – either our own, or the coachee’s.
More often than not, intuition creeps up spontaneously for a client during a coaching session. As an advocate for our clients, we help our coachee balance their spontaneous intuition with analytic reasoning, moving closer to exposing their unbiased creative mind. In doing so, our client reaps the joys and benefits of its fruition not only as an agent but also as a recipient.
“My medical student’s patient was a 59 year old woman who was trembling and acting paranoid. He began by asking her, “What brings you into the clinic today?,” She responded, “I don’t know you well enough to answer.” He was eventually able to ascertain she had a psychiatrist who prescribed medication but she refused to let him contact her psychiatrist or tell him which medications she was taking.
This patient had a history of prior visits with the exact pattern that my student experienced. No trainee or faculty member had ever been able to establish enough trust to complete her evaluation.
Guided by my intuition, I introduced myself and then said, “Tell me about your life” (a coaching technique). She immediately started talking about her landlord refusing to fix problems including rodents, cockroaches, and lack of heat. When she mentioned that her friends in her building came to her with their shared frustrations, I interrupted her by saying, “Oh. So you are the leader.” She asked, “What do you mean?” I responded, “If they are coming to see you, they must see you as a good listener and a leader.” At that moment, she stopped trembling. I then said, “Let me walk you through an exercise I just learned. It will take 1-2 minutes.” I asked her to close her eyes and guided her through the three steps of heart focus, slow paced deep breathing, and the intentional positive emotion refocusing. When I said, “Remember something you associate with feeling good, and feel that throughout your body,” she began to smile. At two minutes, I said “It looks like you are really enjoying yourself. How was that?” She responded, “That was amazing! I always loved those gold stars school teachers used to reward us. In the exercise, I could see thousands of stars raining down on me. It felt so good. So I started sharing these stars with my friends, and they also felt good. I have an idea. I’m going to call a meeting with my friends, vote on the one thing we think is most important to fix and then all go to see the landlord together. Once we get this one thing fixed, we can work on the rest of the list one at a time.”
As Whitmire shares “The real-estate of coaching is invisible. It is largely going on inside – i.e. the ‘internal operating system’ of the client. We help create a map of what is going on … the coachee’s thinking (head), feeling (heart) desires (gut) & sensations (somatic information). The more we can have a language for this – the more traction our coaching can generate.”
As coaches we must keep our ‘internal coaching supervisor’ switched on. Blind-spots, preconceived ideas and biases tend to disrupt the free-flow of awareness and of reality, replacing it instead with a fractured or hardened version. By remaining centered and remaining fluid, as each coaching-conversation gets co-created like a dance in the emergent ‘Now’, we help our coachees see with clarity what they are not able to see on their own. By focusing on the relationship, as Whitmire referenced in the work by Carl Rogers, MD (enabling a space from which his patients began organically to heal themselves) we enable our clients to develop a capacity to “Self-Illuminate” or “Self-Heal”.
Alison Whitmire – President at Learning In Action | Elevating Awareness | Enhancing Emotional and Relational Intelligence https://www.linkedin.com/in/alisonwhitmire/
Jeffrey Hull, Ph.D. BCC – Author, Harvard Faculty, CEO/C-suite Coach, 100 Coaches; Navigating the New Landscape of Leadership: CEO and Founder at Leadershift, Inc. https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffrey-hull-ph-d-bcc-062b09/