The Reverse Breakup: It’s not me. It’s you.

I met someone the other day and as we were doing the usual introductory questions and I had said that I was a coach he threw in a curve ball question; “where did you study?”.

Now it is not that I thought the question was problematic, quite the opposite, I loved that he had asked – it showed his desire for credibility and authenticity. I was just surprised because I have never been asked this question before.

So I told him where I had got my qualification, and he said ‘oh ok, alright then’ and went to continue drinking his coffee. I think he could tell by the slightly bemused look on my face that I was curious as to what had prompted him to ask this question and so he offered an explanation.

He said, “Look, you get coaches, and then you get coaches.” I didn’t need to ask him what he meant, I suspected I knew, but I stayed quiet and waited for him to further explain and he said “some people think that because they have life experience, they can be a life coach, but really what they want to do is put their advice, their opinion and their experience on to another person. The only life they are looking to shape is their own.”

I was impressed. I was impressed with the clarity of his summary and with his understanding of what a coach’s role really is, and is not. And I was also saddened that his experience of coaching had been a negative one, so much so that he felt the need to vet people’s qualifications before taking them seriously.

Now I just want to just clarify something important at this point. I do not believe that having a qualification automatically means you are better at something; a piece of paper with the right letters and numbers on it doesn’t automatically guarantee quality. I believe that character and gifting plays a huge role in a person’s effectiveness. Some of the most competent and effective people I know don’t have a single Pass mark to their names. There is no denying qualifications can be a valuable resource for learning – but it is what the person does with their learning that counts.

Sadly, this man’s experience is not an isolated one. I have encountered a number of hesitant people whose experience of coaching has been a miserable one. So I want to tell you, on behalf of coaches who have misused their role or their title that I am sorry. I am really, genuinely sorry that has been your experience. That is not what it should have been.

Are you familiar with that common dating phrase; ‘it’s not you, it’s me’? The one that is supposed to make you feel better about being dumped?! In coaching, the opposite is true. It is not about me. It absolutely is about you. Coaching should be the reverse breakup. Everything in your coaching session should be about you. But in a good way!!

And it makes me sad and frustrated that this may not be the case for some people and so I want to give you four things to look out for in the future that will help you discern whether you are getting the best out of your coaching partnership.

  1. The person speaking the most is not you. A good coach should be working on an 80/20 ratio. Your voice is the 80, theirs is the 20. If you leave a session and the voice ringing in your ears is that of the coach, the balance is wrong and you are not being given space to talk and explore what you’re thinking.
  2. The agenda feels like it is being imposed. The coaching session is yours; it is for you, about you and should be guided by you. If you feel like you’re not really getting to any of the things that you were hoping to, or feel like you are being steered into a particular direction then the coach is not working towards your goals, but rather to their own.
  3. You feel like you’re being coached by your mum or dad. And that you are five again. Because the point of coaching is to help you develop, it means you may be asked some challenging questions. But, and this is a big but, you should always feel comfortable to answer honestly and you should never feel there is a right or wrong answer that is expected of you.  Your development journey is yours and yours alone, so if you feel like you are being told what you should do next or told how you should or should not do things, then you’re not going to achieve the change that you want, only the change that your coach wants.
  4. You leave feeling disheartened, discouraged or despairing.Being a coach is a privilege and a joy. Being given access to someone’s life is not a right and should never be taken lightly. With each session you should feel like progress has been made and that you can see more clearly the path in front of you leading you to the goal you’re aiming for. You should feel excited, energized and expectant. If you don’t feel this, then it might be time to look for a coach who gets you, cares about you and will cheer you on as you journey to your goals.

I know some phenomenal coaches and I really believe that good coaching can be beneficial to everyone – who doesn’t sometimes feel like their head is a jumbled, tangled ball of thoughts with no idea how to unravel them?! If you have been hesitant about coaching because of your own bad experience, or that of someone you know, I’d encourage you to use the pointers above to find a good coach (pick me, pick me!) and to give it another go. Just remember; it is about you.