Eric Maisel draws on decades of coaching and psychotherapeutic experience to present a practical guide to formal and informal coaching through a mix of advice and exercises. Across 13 lessons, Maisel describes essential coaching skills, including how to ask quality questions, handle defensiveness, find a balance between caring for clients and living your own life, and show support for clients. He emphasizes the importance of coaches understanding themselves and helping their clients develop greater self-awareness. He boils it down to one prime directive: Coaches must help their clients.
- As a coach, words are your primary tool.
- Lesson One: Discover your style.
- Lesson Two: Know what you believe in and how it relates to your coaching.
- Lesson Three: Prepare carefully for your first session with a client and know what you’ll say in the first few minutes.
- Lesson Four: Start your first session with a smile. Ask, “How are you?” then listen.
- Lessons Five and Six: Prepare for your second session. Hold your client accountable.
- Lessons Seven and Eight: Allow for silence and reflection; ask good questions.
- Lessons Nine and Ten: Don’t be afraid to teach. Help your clients build self-awareness.
- Lessons Eleven and Twelve: Help clients prioritize and accept setbacks.
- Lesson Thirteen: Acknowledge your client’s complexities and their humanity.
As a coach, words are your primary tool.
With your language, presence, thoughtfulness, suggestions and engagement, you can genuinely help other people. With your attitude, wisdom and words, you can assist those you work with in achieving the life they desire but have been unable to attain on their own.
“When you sit across from a client in a coaching session, you will be there, in all your richness, strangeness, brightness and shadowiness. You will have brought your personality with you.”
Consider the following best practices, spread over 13 lessons, but find your own style. Experiment: Do what feels comfortable. Find what works best for you and your clients in whatever form of coaching you practice – executive, life, career, creative, etc. Borrow from practices and techniques other coaches use, but don’t attempt to duplicate them.
Lesson One: Discover your style.
Coaching is fundamentally about you and the person sitting across from you – two human beings in discussion. Though important, your techniques and principles come second. Remember that coaching is a human activity. Choose to accept and acknowledge your flaws, opinions, prejudices and doubts as you enter the coaching session. Ask yourself, “How do I bring my best to each session?” Think about what sort of coach you want to be. Categorize the attributes that may help you succeed in coaching sessions and those that might not.
“Grab that bull by the horns and really agree that you are willing to sit across from another human being and coach him or her.”
Your commitment to entering another person’s life and supporting them through their highs and lows is the foundation upon which your coaching rests. This fundamental willingness to sit across from another person and take risks, embrace vulnerability, listen, talk and care, through the good and the bad, is the first step toward effective coaching. Learn to relax around your clients, as this helps gain their trust and supports genuine conversations. Your prime directive as a coach is to help your client. Other agendas, such as wanting to demonstrate your intelligence or gain approval, only detract. Genuinely strive to help your clients without conditions or expectations. Core coaching tactics, like listening and suggesting, will come naturally when you commit to helping.
Lesson Two: Know what you believe in and how it relates to your coaching.
Your beliefs about purpose and meaning can influence how you respond to a struggling client. Your convictions should influence what you say and do as a coach. Though you may find it challenging, taking the time to understand your beliefs can help you become a more effective coach; after all, your opinions as a coach matter.
“As a coach, you want to know about human beings and their nature and appreciate that you can’t override or ignore human nature.”
Try to stay positive – even if a client fails, makes little progress or sets seemingly impossible goals. Your optimism helps infuse your clients with a growth mind-set and the conviction that they can accomplish their goals. Consider: Do things just happen, or do they occur through perseverance and effort? Hopefully, you believe the latter because, without effort, your clients won’t accomplish anything. Help them to acknowledge this and accept accountability.
As a coach, you must understand human nature and not ignore, oversimplify, or dismiss it. Clients will sense whether you have a truthful understanding of how people really think and act. Coaching is a human enterprise, not a superficial one. Accept that coaching involves dealing with the complexity and richness of human beings.
Lesson Three: Prepare carefully for your first session with a client and know what you’ll say in the first few minutes.
Prepare for initial coaching sessions by sending your clients an email asking them to describe their situation and challenges and what they want to accomplish. This information can be used in your first meeting. Remember that you are asking clients to share intimate, possibly embarrassing details about their lives. Respond with care and empathy, not dryly or clinically. Acknowledge how hard sharing may be for them. Let them know you have heard them.
“Sharing can be a beautiful thing. But it sours almost instantly if, as a coach, you respond to it too matter-of-factly. You want to respond with humanity, not dryly.”
Strive to understand what your new client expects or wants help with beyond just identifying what’s wrong. Don’t label clients like a therapist might, for example, as having “clinical depression” or an “adjustment disorder.” Stay curious, listen carefully, think about what your clients reveal and try to take their perspective. While you may be able to help with some aspects of the problem, you should be modest in your expectations and aim to get useful facts and feelings on the table, so that you can guide your client toward action. A simple coaching mission statement could be: “I will aim to get things on the table, guide my client toward action and be of some help.”
Make a plan for your first session. From your information gathering, for example, you know your client wants to make a living as an artist. You may want to check why the client is only looking to get art into local galleries, ask about the client’s workspace, or help brainstorm an idea that could help your client secure a showing, for example. You don’t need a detailed game plan for coaching. Focus on a general plan for getting things on the table, pointing your client in the direction of action and being of some help.
Lesson Four: Start your first session with a smile. Ask, “How are you?” then listen.
The simple action of smiling puts your client at ease. If you appear anxious and fidgety, your client may become similarly agitated. If you can’t smile, or feel anxious or distracted, clear your mind, predict the session will go well, and breathe. Embrace not knowing everything, and permit yourself to inquire.
You’ve smiled at your client genuinely; now you have to say something. A simple inquiry such as, “How are you?” sets a welcoming and supportive tone. Alternative greetings can also work as long as they convey enthusiasm and readiness to help. Next, consider asking, “Did you have a starting place in mind?” You can also suggest a starting place based on your client’s email or previous discussions.
“Your smile doesn’t have to be radiant, but it is like a radiator. It warms the space and lets your client sigh into the space.”
Now, let your client do the talking. Listen, don’t rush your client and don’t interrupt. However, when the time comes to clarify a point or suggest a direction, trust your instincts and speak up. Good coaching requires a balancing act between following and leading, with both you and your client fully engaged. End sessions by asking, “Is there anything else we should cover in the remaining few minutes?”
Lessons Five and Six: Prepare for your second session. Hold your client accountable.
Don’t let thoughts about your client interfere with living your life. Try not to dwell on what you said or shouldn’t have said. If you can manage it, however, allow your clients to check in with you via email between sessions. Keep your replies brief, and don’t permit abuse. Remember that your purpose as a coach is to get your clients to take action, not just talk about doing so. Give them tasks and activities to complete between sessions to move them closer to their goals.
“Coaches see their work as a collaborative dance of genuine following, where what the client has to say really matters, and careful, thoughtful leading, where the coach’s knowledge, expertise and wisdom have their part to play.”
Start your second session by asking about the actions your client agreed to take after the first session. Hold your clients accountable. If a client didn’t do something, explore why and ask what he or she can do to stay on track after the second session. Depending on your client’s needs and schedule, determine the frequency of your sessions, which could occur weekly, once a month or otherwise. Whether you proceed quickly or slowly with a client depends on that person’s progress. The second session allows you to adjust the pace based on progress toward goals.
Lessons Seven and Eight: Allow for silence and reflection; ask good questions.
In your sessions, try to create a peaceful and quality quiet space. “Shared silence” conveys a sense of unhurried calm. It allows time for feeling and thinking. Aim to clear your mind of extraneous thoughts that might distract you from listening. When necessary, increase your energy and move the session along.
“A lot of coaching – a lot of life, for that matter – is about asking quality questions.”
Lead the conversation by asking thoughtful questions instead of using generic phrases or labels. Instead of saying, “Tell me more,” you could ask, “Does any one thing connect all of this?” or “Which of these should we look at more closely?” A quality question promotes engagement, pulls important information from the client and connects the most significant elements of the situation. Don’t shy away from the uncomfortable or provocative questions you sometimes have to ask as a coach. If, for example, your client has a goal, say, finishing a sculpture, but they want to spend a few months at a cottage by the lake and not in their studio, you might ask: “If you were to go to the lake, how would you make progress on your sculpture?” This might generate a defensive or even hostile reply, but you will have reminded your client of their accountabilities.
Avoid assuming you understand a client’s situation until you truly do. Ask clarifying questions – both generic and specific – to gain a deeper understanding. Your questions might lead to hypotheses that require testing. Asking, “Why are you able to paint on weekdays but not on weekends?” can lead to experiments with the client, such as setting aside time for chores in the mornings on weekends and scheduling time for progress toward goals in the afternoons. This might work, or it might not. Keep your client experimenting until they find ways to push through barriers.
Lessons Nine and Ten: Don’t be afraid to teach. Help your clients build self-awareness.
Sometimes, in your sessions, you’ll realize you can help your clients by sharing an experience, telling a story, or even asking them to participate in a thought exercise. Don’t subscribe to the myth that good coaches don’t intervene and teach; they do, and they should because teaching is part of helping, and helping your clients is your purpose. Try to remember secondary goals your clients reveal so that at the right time and interval, you can drop them into the conversation, both to keep your clients on track and to show that you remember things about them and care.
“Effortless support is primarily a matter of saying, ‘Yes, absolutely!’ It is an unambiguous willingness to listen, think and try to help.”
Adopt strategies to make coaching easier. Focus on the good feeling of helping others rather than worrying about difficult clients or sessions. Likewise, help your clients get the most from your sessions by growing their self-awareness and mindfulness. You can help clients become more mindful by supporting their efforts and teaching them simple techniques like slowing down and breathing deeply.
Support clients by taking the stance of being on their side and treating them as a priority. Check in with them occasionally. For example, if you know your client has a difficult conversation coming up, you could send an email after asking how it went. Do so judiciously, as some clients may not want to be contacted outside of sessions.
Lessons Eleven and Twelve: Help clients prioritize and accept setbacks.
When a client says something that sounds important but attempts to rush past it, intervene. A painful incident from the past or a success your client seems eager to dismiss probably deserves exploration. Say something like, “Hold on a second. That sounded important. Can we spend a moment there?” Explore the pain and celebrate the successes.
Help your clients by breaking big goals into smaller steps. For example, a musician looking to promote his or her band could set small goals such as uploading the group’s latest tunes online. These small steps may only take a few minutes but can lead to significant progress. Your clients will probably struggle with prioritizing their essential tasks and need your help. Start by asking what critical things they want to accomplish in the coming week and then ask for specific actions they plan to take. Remember that coaching is premised on the idea that your client will take action. People’s personalities, inertia and life events will sometimes interfere, however, so address the demoralization caused by a lack of progress.
“A client who gains insight is not aided nearly as much as a client who gains insight and then takes action based on that insight.”
Progress is important, but don’t focus on it exclusively. Clients might get frustrated by failing to accomplish goals, but emphasize the combination of practice, process and purpose. Encourage clients to understand the value of regular practice and the obstacles that may arise. For example, you could suggest combining health activities into a daily routine for a client with health goals. By focusing on these elements, you can help your clients achieve their goals in more holistic and sustainable ways. If, for example, your client gets stuck on a task, focus on the process rather than progress. Ask why your client thinks he or she has stalled.
Lesson Thirteen: Acknowledge your client’s complexities and their humanity.
All clients have unique personalities, histories, worries, grudges, regrets and disappointments. Normalize anxiety and recognize clients’ strengths and resources. Your clients may be nervous but have chosen to work toward their goals with you. Help them achieve their goals through honest conversations and honor your unspoken agreement to do real work together. You’ll have good and bad experiences, but even on the most challenging days, you can offer kindness and empathy and make progress.
About the Author
Eric Maisel, PhD, has written more than 50 books on creativity, coaching, life purpose and meaning. He has served as a licensed family therapist and creativity coach and writes for Psychology Today.
The book The Coach’s Way is a practical and comprehensive guide for anyone who wants to learn how to coach effectively and meaningfully in any field. The author, Eric Maisel, is a renowned creativity coach, psychotherapist, and author of more than 50 books on creativity, psychology, and coaching. In this book, he shares his insights and experience from decades of coaching clients from various backgrounds and professions, such as writers, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, executives, teachers, therapists, and more.
The book consists of three parts:
- Part I: The Spirit of Coaching. This part introduces the concept and practice of coaching, and explains why it is important to have a clear and explicit purpose for your coaching. It also guides you to understand yourself better, so that you can understand your clients better.
- Part II: The Skills of Coaching. This part covers the core skills of coaching, such as asking quality questions, listening actively, providing feedback, handling resistance, and facilitating action. It also shows you how to use various tools and models to enhance your coaching effectiveness.
- Part III: The Practice of Coaching. This part focuses on the practical aspects of coaching, such as preparing for coaching sessions, managing your time and energy, dealing with ethical issues, and evaluating your coaching outcomes. It also offers tips and advice on how to market your coaching services, build your reputation, and grow your business.
The book is divided into 13 chapters, each corresponding to a week of daily lessons that cover the essential skills and principles of coaching. Each lesson consists of a brief introduction, a main topic, a coaching example, an exercise, and a journal prompt. The topics include:
- How to understand yourself as a coach and your clients as coachees
- How to prepare for coaching sessions and set clear goals and expectations
- How to ask powerful questions that elicit deep insights and actions
- How to handle common challenges and difficulties in coaching, such as resistance, defensiveness, procrastination, limited progress, and emotional distress
- How to cheer and encourage your clients to achieve their desired outcomes and results
- How to manifest the spirit of coaching, which is based on curiosity, compassion, respect, honesty, and integrity
The book also provides useful tips and tools for coaches, such as how to create a coaching contract, how to conduct a coaching intake interview, how to use metaphors and stories in coaching, how to deal with ethical issues in coaching, how to evaluate your coaching performance, and how to market your coaching services.
The book is designed to be used as a self-study course for coaches or coaches-in-training who want to improve their coaching skills and practice. It can also be used as a reference book for experienced coaches who want to refresh their knowledge and enhance their coaching effectiveness. Additionally, the book can be helpful for anyone who wants to apply the principles of coaching to their own personal or professional development.
The Coach’s Way is an excellent and valuable book that offers a comprehensive and practical approach to coaching in any field. It is written with clarity, simplicity, and wisdom by an expert coach who has extensive experience and knowledge in the field of coaching. It is filled with real-life examples, exercises, and journal prompts that make the learning process engaging and interactive. It is also based on sound psychological theories and research that support the effectiveness of coaching as a powerful tool for change and growth.
The book is not only useful for coaches or aspiring coaches who want to learn how to coach professionally and meaningfully. It is also beneficial for anyone who wants to learn how to coach themselves or others in their personal or professional lives. The book teaches how to ask the right questions, listen actively, provide feedback, motivate action, overcome obstacles, celebrate success, and create meaning in any situation or context. The book also inspires the reader to adopt the spirit of coaching, which is based on positive values and attitudes that foster trust, respect, empathy, honesty, and integrity.
One of the book’s strengths is its emphasis on the importance of self-reflection and self-awareness for both the coach and the client. Maisel argues that coaches must be aware of their own biases, values, and beliefs in order to be effective, and he provides exercises and strategies for developing this self-awareness.
The book also covers ethical considerations for coaching, such as maintaining confidentiality, avoiding dual relationships, and respecting the client’s autonomy.
In terms of weaknesses, some readers may find that the book’s focus on the client’s personal growth and development means that it does not provide enough attention to the practical aspects of coaching, such as how to market a coaching business or handle administrative tasks.
The book is a must-read for anyone who wants to become a better coach or a better person. It is a book that can transform your life and the lives of those you coach. It is a book that can help you create more meaning and fulfillment in your work and your life.
Overall, “The Coach’s Way” is a valuable resource for coaches at all levels of experience, providing a comprehensive framework for understanding the art and practice of coaching. Maisel’s emphasis on ethics and professionalism makes the book an essential read for anyone looking to establish a coaching practice and make a positive impact on their clients’ lives.
Maisel’s book is also valuable for people who are not coaches themselves. His insights into the human condition and the process of change can be helpful for anyone who is trying to achieve their goals or overcome challenges in their lives.
I highly recommend The Coach’s Way to anyone who is interested in learning more about coaching or who is looking for inspiration and guidance on how to achieve their goals.