6 Common Pitfalls In Coaching And How To Prevent Them

By Femke Mortimore

It put a smile on my face. If only coaching was that simple! Coaching doesn’t have much to do with life experience. For one, we might draw conclusions from our life experiences that aren’t as empowering as they could be. And secondly, solutions that work for us might not work for our clients. The most powerful thing we can do for our clients is to help them find their own answers. That’s not always that easy. As you coach, you probably know this very well.

Here’s a few things to focus on if you are struggling in your coaching sessions.

Do you have a preference for thinking in global terms?

“Details are boring”.

In NLP we have the so-called meta-programs. These are filters through which we process information, sometimes also referred to as thinking style. When our preferred thinking style is global, then we look at the big picture and we delete the details. In fact, we can even despise details.

This means we miss a lot of important details that our client is sharing with us, and at the same time we can get overwhelmed by the amount of information our client is sharing with us.

There’s another option to thinking either in global terms or in details: Meta-detailing. What you do here is use a larger frame (your client’s outcome) to filter details through. This way you only scan for details that are important and need to stand out. It stops you from being overwhelmed by the details whilst at the same time getting the valuable information you need to ask powerful questions.

Do you prefer options over following procedures?

Sometimes it cracks me up how many NLP coaches are so averse to following structure, because it limits their choices. You might recognize yourself in that? I certainly was guilty of that in the past!

What’s funny about it, is that NLP is founded on modeling the structure of excellence. And the beauty, as I learnt over time, is that structure and following procedures doesn’t actually limit options or takes away our freedom. It’s actually quite the opposite: we are able to be far more flexible inside the framework AND at the same time we get to experience the thrill of getting results.

The preference for options doesn’t only limit us in our coaching conversations. It also stops us from building a successful business. We want to keep our options open and be able to help everyone. Choosing a niche feels oppressive and perhaps even scary. And yet, when we try to provide services to everyone, we don’t know where to find our clients and our clients are unable to find us.

If you have a love for options, getting more flexibility to also do procedures and narrow down your choices will make a huge difference in your coaching business.

Do you have a fear of confronting your client?

I used to be terrified of confronting. After all, what if the client would get irritated or annoyed with me? Or what if I confronted them on something and I was wrong?

A few years back one of my clients was talking about his relationship with money. It was difficult for him to charge a healthy fee because if he earned too much money, he feared becoming an asshole. One of the frames behind this was that if you earned money, you’d start looking down on others and belittling them. At the same time he said that he could charge money from larger corporations, but not the smaller ones because he was afraid they weren’t able to. I asked him: “So, are you already belittling them?”

It went dead quiet for what seemed like the longest time. And then he said: “Wow, that felt like a punch in the gut.” I could feel my face heating up and my eyes widen in anticipation of what was to come next. He continued by saying that’s exactly what he was doing and that small, but powerful confrontation meant that he was able to step outside of his belief system and start creating a more powerful one for himself.

That was an important moment for me, as well. It’s was the best coaching conversation I had done to date, and it made me realize how important confrontations are.

In NLP one of the first things we learn is about rapport. Matching our client’s physiology, voice volume, tone and tempo, and gestures in order to establish a sense of trust. It’s all about pacing the client.

The question then becomes: “When do you lead?” And do you have permission to lead?

Ultimately, as coaches we are helping our clients move outside of their comfort zone and into new beliefs or paradigms. This process is not necessarily a comfortable one! If you only pace, you’ll have a pleasant conversation and most likely your client will feel heard and understood. Yet they won’t be capable of implementing the change they are after.

Confrontations can be gentle and even brought with humor. They don’t need to be hostile or accusatory. In fact, that would defeat the purpose and would break rapport. A great deal of the time when I make a confrontation, my clients are laughing at their own “silly” frames and beliefs. All I do is gently point them out and ask “So this is how you are creating this state. How is that working for you?”

Do you jump to advice giving and telling?

Are you operating from your “gut” instinct when coaching? If so, how well informed is your gut (or intuition)? Is it filled with an understanding of how the psycho-logics of human beings work? Or is it filled with life experiences from which you have drawn conclusions that may or may not be serving you?

In the work that I do, I listen to a great deal of coaching conversations. Very often, those who are following their gut instinct fail to listen what the client is saying. They aren’t in a know-nothing state. Now, I’m not saying that intuition isn’t a powerful tool to use. Beginning (and even intermediate) coaches often don’t have the experience they need to pick up on subtle cues/clues their clients leave either in body or spoken language.

The pitfall is that they draw on their own map of the world. “Oh, this must be wrong with you.” Or, “I know what you need to do.” And they start telling, asking leading questions, and advice giving. It’s easy to do! Very easy. It’s probably one of the hardest habits to break as a coach. It’s also one of the most rewarding one, because if you are able to step into a “know-nothing” state, you’ll be asking far more powerful questions that help your client get inside-out answers to their own problems.

Are you chasing the client’s words?

Have you ever had a client who started off with a story, and when you follow them in that story they get a thought and start telling a different story with a different topic? It might be somewhat related, yet slightly different. And so you follow them there, only to have the same thing happen again.

I hear it all the time. We call that “chasing the client’s words”. You’re not actually nailing down the outcome, because your client mindlessly follows whatever thought comes up for them.

Coaching is about getting to an outcome. Your client might have a few different things to work on that will get him/her to the outcome, but what are you going to work on in this particular session? If you keep chasing your client’s words, you’ll be spinning around in circles and get lost in their content.

When this happens, it helps to keep in mind the outcome frame. What is it that my client wants to get out of this session? If you have a client who is suffering from “optionitis”, you can feed back the options and repeat your question: “I hear you talk about x, y and z. What specifically do you want to get out of this session?” Alternatively, you can inquire how these three situations are related. That way you help your client get better informed about what’s going on, so that when you ask “What do you want?” they can answer that more clearly.

Do you take responsibility FOR your client?

 Do you feel sorry for your client and then try to “rescue” them? What happens inside of you when they experience a strong “negative” emotion? Do you sometimes feel like you are working harder than your client is?

In coaching we come from the presupposition that our client isn’t broken. They are fully functioning human beings and they are capable of dealing with any emotion that comes up. Trouble is that as coaches we have sometimes tabooed certain emotions inside of ourselves, which means we also taboo them in our clients. We might even think that when these emotions come up in our client, that we are responsible for them feeling that way! And so we want to fix it as quickly as possible.

Feeling responsible FOR our client’s outcome can have us work extra hard. If some coaching sessions leave you completely exhausted, then that might be what you are doing.

If we change responsibility for into responsibility to, we start to see that our client is creating their own states and experiences. And while we can empathize with how they are struggling or hurting, we also know that they are more than their emotions. And we can help them create something else, after helping them explore and confront their current reality.

Any of these pitfalls can put a dent in your confidence as a coach. And this is going to have an effect on building your coaching business as well. Have you been stuck in your coaching and/or business for a while? Feel free to schedule an encourager session with me.  I’ll help you figure out where your leverage points are for getting to where you want to be.

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