“Managing Self.” Is this a competency I can master?

One of the Association for Coaching competencies is ‘Managing Self and maintaining coaching presence. I want to consider just the first half of this statement: Managing Self. Such a deceptively short and simple statement. There was a time in my coaching career when I would have said that I manage my Self really well when coaching. Now I wonder whether I will ever truly master this competency.

Every time I coach it seems that something of my Self manages to inveigle itself into my coaching interventions or presence. Even when I am certain I have my Self firmly under control something manages to make an appearance that is outside of my awareness. The potential for the ‘Self’ to influence or impact coaching interventions or presence is huge, and I realise now that I am only just peeling back the outer layers of these potential influences through my ongoing learning, my reflective practice and supervision.

So what is Self? And on the basis that we can only manage that which we are aware of, what are we aware of that needs managing? I invite you to consider what might be showing up in your coaching that may be currently outside of your awareness and might need managing. Think about the factors that have influenced the person that you are today. Genes, upbringing, education, life experiences. Our brain has taken on board a lifetime of learning and experiences and is using this to inform and shape our thinking, feeling and behaving. These things that have shaped who we are can’t be removed temporarily, so it makes sense to me that these are going to be present in our coaching. It’s not good or bad, right or wrong, it just is. Sometimes it will benefit our clients. Sometimes it might limit the benefit of the coaching for the client.

Some of the things I have noticed of my Self include things like values, beliefs, assumptions, judgements, personality, my culture, my upbringing, worries, concerns, life events and the list goes on. Some influences are really easy to spot, for example when I start thinking about what to have for tea, it’s quite easy to notice and manage my Self and get back to paying attention to the client. However other aspects can be very deep rooted and sometimes requires third party assistance, for example a coaching supervisor, to help recognise them. For example, I found myself judging a client quite critically which I noticed and managed in the moment. However it wasn’t until reflecting with my supervisor that I realised that I had made an assumption about this client even before we met. She did not live up to this assumption and I had judged her harshly for it. All of this happened outside of my awareness. Once uncovered, the judgements eased and I could pay more attention to the coaching and not waste valuable reflection time managing my own thinking.

Whilst some aspects can only be uncovered through reflection other aspects can be identified using various tools. Consider personality as an example. There are a wide variety of diagnostic tools available that can help us to identify aspects of our Self, how our mind works, our personality type, preferences or traits etc. Examples include: Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) (Briggs Myers & Myers 1980), Belbin’s team role theory (Belbin), Honey & Mumford’s (1986) learning styles. They offer the opportunity to view ourselves from different perspectives. We can assess the information provided in these diagnostic tools, learn something about our Self, perhaps how and why we act in certain ways in certain contexts, and then consider how this might be influencing or impacting on our coaching.

Take some time to consider what you have learned about your personality preferences in the context of your coaching. Identify some characteristics that you know about yourself and consider how this might be influencing or impacting on your coaching in theory. Then pay attention to this in your coaching and reflective practice.Below are just a few examples of how aspects of personality may influence your coaching.

  • Do you prefer to take a well planned, disciplined approach to things? You may adopt a similar approach in your coaching. This might show up by you always using a specific structure to guide your client through the exploration.
  • If you have a preference for spontaneity and flexibility you might prefer to have no structure in your coaching
  • If you need to understand how everything fits together, and all the whys and wherefores of a job before you do it, you might spend a lot of time in the coaching helping the client to work out and understand all the connections in a particular situation.
  • If you like to take time to consider things from every angle and perspective before drawing any conclusions, it is likely that you will encourage the client to do this in the coaching.
  • If you tend to think as you speak, rather than before you speak, you may start an intervention and change your mind as you work through it.
  • If you don’t like ‘waffle’ or become easily bored by the minutiae you might encourage your client to skip through this so that they get to the point quicker in their exploration.
  • If you prefer to think things through in a logical way you may avoid helping your client to explore feelings. Or vice versa.
  • What is your approach to risk? If you like to take chances you may encourage your client to do the same. If you are more cautious this may cause you to steer your clients towards safer options.
  • If you love new ideas and trying out new things you may steer your client towards new ideas rather than the tried and trusted.
  • How are you with managing time? Do your coaching sessions always finish on time? Or do they often overrun?

Do any of these resonate with you?

For one client the element of Self that shows up may be coincidentally beneficial, for another client that same element may cause a hindrance. When the latter we need to adapt and change our behaviour to meet the client’s needs. Easier said than done when trying to adapt something that is ingrained into our being.

Will I ever master this competency? I don’t know yet, but what I will do is keep on working at it. Through continued learning, reflective practice and supervision I will focus on surfacing the elements of my Self that influence or impact on my coaching outside of my awareness until I am in a position to manage these elements in the moment.

Article first published by the Association for Coaching Bulletin January 2014

This entry was posted on January 8, 2016

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