In my most recent “Coaching with the Enneagram” certificate program, one of the most coaching-savvy participants – an excellent coach and an exemplary coachee – asked me what I thought were the most essential ingredients in an excellent coach, and I responded with these words: Presence, Patience and Practice.
Everyone in the program understood those three simple words, and I thought it might be useful to put these in three blogs, one on each “P.” This 1st blog is on Presence.
This is probably the most challenging and important aspect of coaching: to be as fully present at possible. Becoming more present is a lifelong journey, but what it really means is to be in full attunement to oneself in the present moment, to be in full presence to what is actually occurring with the client, to be aware of what is occurring in the current environment (in the session, in the client’s life), and to notice the patterns of interaction between you and the client. That is a lot of presence, and it begins with the self. To be present means to be open and have access to your mind and thinking without distortion, to be tuned into your own feelings with an open heart, and to be somatically aware, from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. And all this happens while you are free and open to attune to your client’s patterns of thought, feeling and body experience. Do you even notice shifts in your client’s facial expressions, facial coloring, hand gestures, and more without interpreting, while also staying attuned to yourself (this lessens projection and interpretation)? My son, a Three, recently told me that when he is fully present, he can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the energy and intensity. I told him that this is a good sign; the more he is present, the more presence he will find and to not be afraid of being so fully alive!
Another way of understanding this form of presence is the concept of divided (rather than split) attention. In divided attention, we are fully paying attention (without striving to do so) to more than one thing at the same time. With split attention, we may be attending to more than one thing, but we are not fully attending to any one thing. Sometimes coaches shift their attention to one thing then another, thinking they are in full presence. But when coaches shift attention like this, they are missing out on all the areas they are not paying attention to.
Coaching is really the art of full presence, or approximations thereof. The Enneagram can help us learn both how, by type, we distract ourselves from being in full presence and how to regain a fuller presence.
One coaches often pressure themselves to be the perfect coach, although there really is no such thing. This pressure makes them tense mentally, emotionally and physically, tightening down on themselves so they are not relaxed enough to be in presence. The obvious but not easy solution? Do whatever you know works for you to be in a more relaxed state when you coach. And try telling yourself that coaching is essentially a human experience between two people, people are never perfect, and there is really no such thing as perfect coaching, only human coaching, coach with client.
Two coaches can be so focused on their client, they get out of attunement with themselves. Being so client oriented causes Two coaches to think they are present, but they are not present to themselves. The obvious but not easy solution? Do whatever you know works for you to be more in touch with yourself while, at the same time being tuned into your client. And try checking in with yourself every three minutes while you are still attuned to your client. Ask yourself these questions: What am I feeling? What parts of my body do I need to inhabit more? What thoughts am I having?
Three coaches too often perceive coaching as a performance, and it is not. Threes don’t need to impress their clients, nor do they need to mimic what they think a good and great coach might do or say. The obvious but not easy solution? Be yourself! Do whatever you know works for you to be more genuine and real. Inhabit your heart by breathing into it. Claim your body by noticing your body sensations. And relax your mind so whatever great plan it comes up with, remind yourself that the client’s plan is what matters, not yours, no matter how good you think yours is.
Four coaches focus on themselves and their clients, but the key is to make what occurring within you stable and balanced and not just coach clients from your heart center to theirs. The obvious but not easy solution? Do whatever you know works for you to be more balanced emotionally, mentally, and physically. Treat coaching almost as a soft rather than intense meditation, one that includes you and the client equally. And remember to coach using mental approaches (focusing on the client’s self-limiting mental models), emotions-based approaches (helping clients identify and express their range of emotions, but also understand them and work through them), and somatic approaches (almost everything that holds us back from our potential is anchored somewhere in our bodies).
Five coaches emphasize mental model coaching more than heart-based coaching or somatic coaching.. Obviously, this is not true for all Five coaches; it does depend on the level of integration they achieved in access and integrating their hearts and bodies with their minds. The obvious but not easy solution? Do whatever you know works for you to gain more access to your heart and body and to integrate both with your mind. When you bring all three Centers of Intelligence to your coaching, you will evoke that in your clients. Use breathing into your heart area to access feelings, then learn to express them in real time. Engage with your entire body through somatic practices (breathing, yoga, running in full body presence) to learn to access and utilize all three centers.
Six coaches have such active minds that they may not attend to what is most important in what the client is saying, doing and feeling. Being in full presence with themselves and the client stops their inner chatter, but it also helps them distinguish between what is going on inside them versus what is occurring within the client. The obvious but not easy solution? Stop the chatter, getting into your body fully and open your heart. Do whatever you know works for you to step into this big challenge. Somatic work often accomplishes this the best as your mind often cannot untangle what the mind has created and the heart may collude with the mind. Walk, breathe, and sit still prior to coaching.
Seven coaches are the ultimate optimists, and positive thinking really helps clients. But so does experiencing that which is painful and difficult. Coach to the whole client, not just the pleasurable possibilities or options that the mind can consider. The obvious but not easy solution? Work to be focused and whole yourself. Allow yourself to truly spend time experiencing and getting to know your deeper sadness so you can move through it constructively rather than avoid it. Become more grounded and know your body by taking an inside look and experiencing your whole body, eventually feeling your feet on the ground, yourself on the earth. Coach from your own inner wholeness.
Eight coaches go for the big and refer, defer, or have little patience with the small. Excellent coaching, however, involves both the big and the small and the big – that is, the big insights, the big breakthrough, and big action – that rarely come immediately, no matter how much the effort .The obvious but not easy solution? Go small to go big. Start from the inside to go outside. In other words, pay attention to the nuances of being present, both inside you and inside your client. Do whatever you know works for you to be more in touch with all of yourself, including being receptive and vulnerable. Focus more on awareness and exploration rather than outcome because optimal outcomes flow from awareness in the head, heart and body, not just an immediate gut-based action-oriented response.
Nine coaches merge with their clients, affirm them and stay with their client’s process. But what about the Nine coach’s internal experience? What about being able to go deeper because you as the coach are going deeper, having deeper insights and intuitions and asking the client to go deeper with your questions and feedback? The obvious but not easy solution? Do whatever you know works for you to gain more access to your internal life rather than merging with your client and feeling comfortable. Be awake at every level. At first this will seem strange and even tiring. Then it becomes empowering and exhilarating. When you come from your deepest self, and this requires you to be fully present to yourself, your insights are more powerful, your questions more penetrating, your interactions more dynamic, and your impact more potent.