Process Coaching: Riding the Wave

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“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

[Often credited to Ralph Waldo Emerson, actual quote may have come from the Lynn H. Hough in “The Christian Advocate” (1920).]

Coaching is much the same thing, meaning that coaching is sometimes more about the journey than the end goal. If coaching were about the end goal, we would be mentors or even bosses, telling our coaching partners what to do and how to do it. In fact, we wouldn’t be able to call them coaching partners. Coaching, specifically process coaching, is about being in the mix and sharing the journey with coaching partners. We ride the waves with them in order to help them reach that ‘aha’ moment.

What is Process Coaching?

Process coaching is about the inside experience in each moment. Fulfillment coaching focuses on values, keeping a person’s personal value intact while making decisions. Balance coaching focuses on flow and balance between all aspects of a person’s life. Process coaching is an in-the-moment experience. Coach and coaching partner jump in the boat together and ride the current, dealing with each experience as it comes. There may be strong currents, calm flow, dangerous obstacles, or smooth sailing. Instead of racing to the other side, process coaching allows us to slow down and explore the process happening right now, bringing more self-awareness to the coaching partner.

Identifying the Moment

During process coaching, a coach will name the situation as it happens. Fighting an unknown obstacle is more difficult, but identifying what’s happening in the moment gives stronger insight to the coaching partner. It can be extremely obvious, “You sound frustrated with that outcome.” It can also be more elusive, “You say you’re moving on, but what are you holding on to?” By bringing attention to and naming the experience in the moment, coaching partners are able to examine the issue and explore what’s happening more deeply.

The coaching partner is brought to a pause, maybe even forced to stop and look at what’s happening.  He or she may already know it was there, but now it’s been acknowledged and can no longer be ignored. With the moment identified, called out into the light, the coaching partner can clearly address it, explore it, and experience it. They can talk about the sensation, the emotion is more clear, and awareness sharpens. The coach is listening deeply, riding the experience with the coaching partner. Then, something happens.

The Shift

Something changes in the coaching partner; something opens up. Instead of diving into this moment, the feeling in the session and conversation begins to change, as if rising up. It’s like an ‘aha’ moment when the coaching partner sees things differently or has a new outlook. The blockage has opened and now the path is more clear. Movement happens. Holding back takes more energy than moving forward, and so this new shift is refreshing, lightening the load. This shift creates an energy that motivates the coaching partner with a new drive, refreshing from the inside all the drive needed to move forward. It may not happen in one shot. In fact, it may take many attempts, riding those currents back and forth until the moment of shift and rise happen. Either way, the moment will be apparent to the coach and coaching partner once the mood shifts.

The Hidden Resources

Once that shift happens, and the coaching partner sees from a new perspective, new resources come to light that were there all along. The coaching partner realizes new options, new ideas that have been waiting to be put to use. One of the greatest of these resources is simply new drive, but many more could be revealed. Perhaps the coaching partner now sees a path previously hidden. Maybe a person not thought of before could be involved. Maybe an option previously disregarded could be helpful. The possibilities open up.

The Process of New Movement

Through process coaching, the coach gets in the boat with the coaching partner. They face the current of the session together. The coach does the observing while the coaching partner steers. The coaching partner is in control and the coach is more like a compass or, at times, a view finder. Until the coaching partner sees for him or herself, there’s no forward movement. Once that shift happens, movement is like a release and a weight is lifted. The coaching partner can now steer more easily, moving in and out of thoughts and decisions.

As coaches, we believe the coaching partner is naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. There’s no need to take control, only to be curious, listen deeply, and ask powerful questions. In process coaching, coaches help their coaching partners to go to those taboo places, places of discomfort, in order to name the obstacle and explore the moment. It may be sadness, anger, failure, which would cause anyone to not want to go there, but learning to accept those feelings and move on despite them is powerful. We must be willing to hit those sore spots and work from there.

Building Resilience

When we have unpleasant emotions, we try to avoid them. If we learn to deal with them, live with them, and truly move on, we become more resilient. This is a benefit process coaching gives the coaching partner: the ability to handle unpleasantness. Failure, anger, disappointment, and similar negative emotions can block us from dealing with things in our lives. We have an obstacle that prevents us from moving forward. With process coaching, we name it, explore it, figure it out, and shift in a way that helps us grow.

By not hiding from the difficulties that hold us back, we build a greater resilience and find stronger drive for moving on. The more we do this, the better we get at doing it again with the next obstacle. With process coaching, we are building strong, more resilient coaching partners who will find the answers inside themselves. They will soon name their own obstacles, explore them, and move on with their own drive.