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Focusing on exactly what the coachee wants is a powerful tool that can lead to instant coaching results. Obviously, the whole paradigm of modern coaching means focusing on what the client wants. But I’m talking about focusing more deeply on what they really want, not just what they tell you they want. By focusing the conversation in this way, you not only honour your coachee’s goals and needs, but you can also find ways to meet those real but often unspoken goals much more easily.

Here’s an example of how this works. My coachee Anne is frustrated by the lack of structure and guidelines in her company. She feels frustrated that a lot of her efforts are wasted because the system is not in place to properly implement the programs she is developing. She believes that the way the company is doing things is wrong and wasteful.

What does Anne want? One view is that she wants the company to change the way it does things. Further exploration of this possibility reveals that this kind of change would take a lot of thought, time and effort.

Another view of what Anne wants is that she wants to stop feeling frustrated. Perhaps she wants to feel like her efforts are of value and are being used for the best possible result.

I asked Anne what stops the company from creating the kinds of structures she believes are necessary. Anne explains that her company is young and growing. The senior managers probably understand the value of what she wants, but it is not their priority right now. I can see a change in Anne’s demeanour as she reveals this. So I say, “It looks like that’s an important point you’ve just made.”

Anne said, “Yes, I realize that it’s not realistic to expect the company to act like a fully mature company when it is so new. The work I do at this stage is valuable, but it is impossible to be as fully implemented as it would be in a more mature company.” Anne’s energy had changed completely. She seemed relaxed as she accepted the reality of the situation.

I took the opportunity to strengthen her feelings of acceptance by offering a metaphor. I said, “Your company is still a baby! So no wonder it doesn’t do everything perfectly yet.”

Anne laughed! Her frustration was gone. Nothing concrete had changed, but because she had changed her thinking, the ‘problem’ was gone.

If I were Anne’s manager, I would be very happy to have instantly gained her understanding and support for the current needs of the company. How many good staff have quit their jobs in frustration over a similar problem that can be resolved with a 10 minute coaching conversation? And for Anne, she can be much more effective by aligning her efforts with the current needs of the company rather than wishing it were different and struggling to create structures that are too far ahead of their time.

Here’s a summary of the keys to success for this coaching interaction.
1) As always, let the coachee do most of the talking.
2) Listen for what’s behind the words. Notice what the coachee wants, versus what she says she wants.
3) Watch for changes in tone and body language that signify a change in thinking.
4) Focus on what will help the coachee feel better, rather than just solving the practical problem.
5) Help the coachee notice and articulate the change in thinking and emotions.

This is only one example of the value of focusing on what the coachee wants. Do you have others you can share here?