What Is Coaching?

I’m glad you asked me that!

It’s a word that gets used a lot, in a lot of different contexts, and I’ve never yet met two people who agree on a definition. So, let me tell you what I mean when I talk about coaching, and what I do when I’m coaching.

Coaching is a way of structuring a conversation so that the person being coached comes to new insights about the situation they are facing. A good coaching conversation is one where the client leaves with a whole new perspective  on their sitation and the will to take some action that will make a difference as a result.

I coach by asking questions and generally letting my naturally inquisitive nature…I was going to say run riot, but that’s not right because it implies reckless abandon. There’s nothing reckless about it because I’ve been trained to hone my innate nosiness so that the questions I ask are designed to help my clients to find their own answers to the situations they are facing.

Someone offered me this definition of coaching yesterday:

to give instruction or advice to in the capacity of a coach; instruct”

That is most definitely NOT what I’m talking about. I do NOT instruct and I do NOT advise.

I believe that my clients are Creative, Resourceful and Whole:

Creative – they are capable of finding and deciding on their own solutions

Resourceful – they know where to go to get the help they need

Whole – they’re not broken and it’s not my job to fix them

Generally when people decide they want coaching, it’s because they have a feeling of dissatisfaction about something and they want to make an improvement. Let me give you an example (and rest assured, I do have the individual’s permission to share this with you):

I currently have a client who had got stuck writing a book. She’d been stalled for months, yet after our first session she went home and finished it. Then she sat on it again until after our second session, when she went out and found a publisher. Now her book is due to go to print shortly and she’s working on plans for the launch and various speaking engagements based on the subject of the book.

Now, this client is an expert in her field. She has, and always did have, a very clear idea of the structure and outline for the book, and she’s an excellent writer. She was frustrated at her own lack of progress and couldn’t understand what was going on.

If you went to a friend with a problem like that, the likely response would be something along the lines of:

“Oh don’t worry, it’ll be fine, you’re brilliant. Have another helping of pudding!”

or maybe

“Oh I know what you mean, I had the same problem last year. Did I ever tell you about the time when I….”

or maybe even

“You think you’ve got problems?! Let me tell you….”

None of which are going to be of any help to our author.

So what do I do that’s different?

Well, firstly I listen. I mean REALLY listen. Look back at those friends’ responses and you’ll see that there’s no real listening going on. We don’t actually spend an awful lot of time listening to each other in the daily course of events – we’re all so focussed on ourselves and what we need to do next that it’s almost as if we’ve forgotten to pay attention to the people around us.

Just being listened to can have an amazing effect on people, and can lead to them expressing thoughts they maybe never even knew they were having.

Crucial to this is that, when I’m with a client, I am non-judgmental. (It’s a different story when I’m driving but I’m getting better at that, too!). So many people live their lives expecting someone else to find fault or ridicule them, or to put them down in some way and it has a massive effect on their behaviour. There’s none of that when I’m coaching, so my client is free to be, say and do whatever they need to be, say and do in that moment. That in itself is another enormously liberating experience and can help people to look at their relationships with others in a whole new light.

And what am I listening to? Well, coaching is all about asking questions, so I’m listening to the responses my client gives in answer to my questions. The essence of coaching (well, my kind of coaching) lies in asking the kinds of questions that will unlock the doors in my clients’ minds that lead them into rooms full of new thoughts.

Because I’m slightly odd (and because it gets really good results) I like to ask slightly odd questions sometimes, such as

“If this problem was a colour, what colour would it be, and why?”


“If I were to sprinkle Fairy Dust on this situation now, what would you like to have happen?”

(I don’t only ask questions like this, by the way – only when it seems appropriate and I think it won’t freak my client out…I am well aware that people’s whimsy-tolerance thresholds vary wildly!)

So what did I do with my author?

I asked her tell me what went through her mind when she thought about finishing her book. As she answered the question, she started to realise that she was having a crisis of confidence. If she finished the book and got it published, people would read it and they might not like it. But if she didn’t finish it, then she wouldn’t be putting herself up for public scrutiny, so she would be safe from criticism.

So we talked about criticism and her feelings around “raising her head above the parapet” and she came to see that, by not finishing her book, she was protecting herself from something unnecessarily.

She also became aware that she was making certain assumptions about what would come along as a result of having a book published. We were able to talk about those assumptions and see how realistic they were – and the answer was “not very”.

There was a lot more to that conversation, obviously, but exploring those 2 key points enabled a shift in her thinking that allowed her to finish the book.

Would she have uncovered what was blocking her on her own, or by talking to a friend? Unlikely – and she’d already tried that without success.

But coaching helped her to work out how she was getting in her own way and to change the way she was thinking about things.

The reason I called my company Colour In Your Thinking is because I believe that’s what I do – I work with my clients to help them to understand their own thoughts. In effect, without coaching most of us think in black and white, unaware of the impact our thoughts have on us and not really aware of them most of the time. I help my clients to colour in their thoughts so that they not only understand them, but can make them more positive and more productive.

And all of that leads to things like

  • increased confidence
  • improved relationships
  • greater fulfilment
  • more fun
  • new books to read!

If you’d like to know more about what coaching involves, please email me at cathy@colourinyourthinking.co.uk to arrange for a free, no obligation coaching session.

And if you’d like to give online coaching a go, have a look at my Online Coaching page on this blog, and sign up for your 14 day FREE trial


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