‘I am likely to resign in the next few days’. These were the words that greeted me at a recent coaching session with a board level leader. Whilst I knew that times had been tough it was still a surprise to hear this dramatic conclusion. As the coachee recounted their version of events they repeatedly asked me the same question – ‘Do you think I am being too cynical?’. I was being asked for feedback. Some years ago I would have replied ‘Well, do YOU think you are being too cynical?’ – answering a question with a question in order to avoid breaking the coaching rules.
However, in this specific situation I felt that an honest question deserved an honest answer and I replied ‘No, I don’t think you are being too cynical. I think you are being realistic’. Every time I was asked the question I replied in the same way using a calm, neutral tone. As I did so the coachee became noticeably more assured in their thinking and articulation; visibly relaxing and losing the edge of panic in their voice.
Afterwards, I reflected upon what had prompted me to express my opinion rather than hold it back. As is often the case it was my intuition that was the initial trigger. My intuition was that the coachee needed reassurance and validation at a crucial point in their decision making. Providing supportive feedback rather than asking a challenging question felt like the authentic human response. My intuition was informed by a whole raft of information that I was picking up from the coachee at both a conscious and sub-conscious level.
The experience reminded me that sensitive listening and trusting intuition are vital aspects of the systems thinking component of our FACTS coaching model. In chapter 8 of our book we reference the three levels of listening described by Whitworth et al. in their well known work ‘Co-active Coaching’. It is at level three, what they term ‘global listening’, that the coach’s antennae are fully extended and tuned to the more subtle communication field that is being transmitted by the coachee. When you are listening at level three then it is easier for your intuition to be triggered accurately because you are open and receptive to this full range of information. The words that are used in ‘Co-Active Coaching’ to describe level three listening are as follows:-
‘At Level III, you listen as though you and the client were at the centre of the Universe receiving information from everywhere at once. It is as though you were surrounded by a force field that contains you, the client and the space of knowing. If Level II is hardwired then Level III is like a radio field.’
In this way we can see that intuition is not magic – it is preceded by an acutely sensitive level of listening. The encouraging implication of this conclusion is that, like all other skills, listening can be practised and developed over time. And as you develop your listening skills you can expect your intuition to become more finely honed also. Our minds then stay open to the many paradoxes of coaching : sometimes we turn left in the coaching conversation (responding to a question with another question) and at other times we turn right (responding to a question with an honest answer). Our coaching increasingly becomes an art not a science and we learn that it is intuition not process that guides the artist’s way.
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