I contracted with my first official coach in 1998 to help me launch my coachsulting practice. She is very different from me, as a person and in her coach approach. I am a ponderer, a processor, at home in the landscape of thoughts and feelings. She is a data collector, a decider, and a doer. In the time it takes me to half-bake an idea, she's served up a flawless feast and is clearing the table for her next big thing.
Twice blessed was I, being on the receiving end of her practical, action-oriented questions. My business gained a firm footing, and my own coaching toolkit expanded. One coaching conversation in particular added a strategy I call the Lift Up <---> Push Back Continuum.
As I walked her through the wilderness of that week's scenario, leaving no detour untaken or sidebar unspoken, my patient coach waited for me to take a breath. "What kind of support do you want?" she asked. I was confused by the question. "What are my options?" She replied, "Do you want a lift up, or a push back, or something in between?" She could tell I didn't get it.
"If you've already made your decision," she explained, "you may want me to simply continue to listen, serving as an appreciative witness to the processing you've already done. I can lift you up by encouraging and affirming you. I won't cheerlead you, or give you false praise, but I will point out the positives and the possibilities."
"If we move my support to the middle of the continuum," she said, "I can give you feedback. I will offer my thoughts and reactions to your situation, and connect what I heard you say today to earlier conversations. Feedback includes reflecting on how I experience you as you tell your story. If what you say, for example, isn't lined up with how you look and sound when you say it, that's important data. It means you need to examine what you really believe."
"Or, I can push back. If you're up for it, we can move the dial to the other end of the support continuum. If you really haven't made a decision yet, and want to think together, I can challenge your reasoning, argue the other side, and help you critically evaluate your options."
I knew exactly what I wanted, what would move me forward at that moment, but I hedged. "Why do I have to choose? Aren't you the coach? Don't you know what I need?" She laughed, but was not about to be guilted into doing the heavy lifting. "You are in the driver's seat of this engagement, not me," she declared. "What do you need? Position me on the continuum of support. I can't guess what will be most helpful. If I guess wrong, we'll just waste time. You know whether your appetite is for hand holding or butt kicking. Shall we stir the pot or let the soup simmer?"
My coach asked that question many times during our year of working together. I answered it differently each time, depending on the situation, my degree of certainty about what to do, and my energy level. I was always honest and she organized her comments and questions accordingly. Sometimes, I wanted her to span the continuum, giving me a bit of everything. Other times, I just wanted to be heard. That was support enough.
If you are new to coaching, notice whether you default to giving the kind of support you most like to get. If you get energized and focused with push back, you may tend to push back in your coaching. If you thrive on encouragement and validation, you'll likely assume that to be true for others. Why not ask for guidance instead of projecting onto others what you hope will be helpful?
Blessings abundant this Christmas season!