What is an Expert?
“a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist; authority”. www. Dictionary.com
Is there a place for expertness in coaching?
The industry standard in coaching is that the client is the expert. Simple enough. But in consulting the expert is (obviously) the consultant because they are offering specific expertise that is needed. And what if someone is using a blended coaching style? What does “expertness” look like in that case?
The real question to ask is, what role do you think expertness plays in your work as a coach? Do you lean towards answering questions for clients? Letting the client find their own answer? Are you quiet or noisy? Are you defining things for them? Prompting the outcome of the conversation? Creating space for the client to explore? Strategizing for them? Impatient and talking right over them?
New coaches often come into the coaching arena with years of expertise and skill sets. For many it’s not their first career. It often is a career shift that can be an easy transition from what they were doing before. It’s also new. It’s a new career. A new role. The role of coaching often blends naturally with a person’s people skills, ability to listen, offer of support etc. The industry naturally attracts consultants, human resource professionals, and others in the helping professions, like counselors. And there can be a confidence building period.
Often as new coaches, we want to be perceived as confident and competent (otherwise why would clients come to see us right?) As coaches, we each naturally bring our own needs and agendas. The need might be a desire to help others, a need to perform, and, perform well in the role of coach. It might be a need for connection, or to offer something unique to another’s experience. A coach might lack confidence and in some way be seeking confirmation they made the right career choice, or confirmation that they are doing it “right”. It might be a subtle urgency to bring in income, which is. struggle for many new coaches. Whatever the needs or desires are, they can present in a variety of ways, often appearing in the form of advice giving and expertness.
And it’s not always conscious.
When coaches bring their own agendas into the coaching experience, without any awareness around what they are saying or why, there is a shift in the relationship. Often, advice-giving and expertness are quick fixes as a pat answer to the goal the client is hoping to achieve. The coach might feel really good about coming up with strategies and solutions to help a client, but ultimately, they are only partial answers for the client and they are probably offering more help to themselves.
In reality, it’s often much harder to steer clear of advice giving and having the answers. There’s a quietness and confidence that the coach can bring into the relationship, creating an enjoyable experience for the client. It requires an awareness and stillness that can be hard for some to muster. It’s a skill set that has to be made conscious, then developed and practiced. And it is definitely a learning curve for many of us.
So why is the client the expert?
As human beings, we are born with innate wisdom and the ability to problem solve. We naturally seek, discover, question and learn. Some of our abilities include gaining insight and literally putting “two-and-two” together in a short amount of time. In truth, all of us have the capability of being an “expert”. And when we don’t have that information, we have an innate ability to seek it out – by reading a book, taking a class or finding a teacher, consultant or expert to teach to us what we need to know.
Coaching offers a very unique dynamic, similar to some counseling approaches, that allow the client to find their own wisdom and understanding. In the realm of coaching, this is the “pure coaching” style. Only answers are offered and questions are used to help the client discover the answers to their questions. When a coach develops a philosophical and/or theoretical approach it becomes a mindset which plays out within the relationship. It shifts the coach’s approach.
The client’s narrative, their experience and their process are automatically brought into the coaching relationship when the client seeks out and connects with a coach. They bring an invitation to the coach. “Listen to my story”. The invitation might sound like a need to tell a story, or a desire to find an expert who has the answers but more often, they are really seeking someone to hold the space form them, in a safe way while they sort things out and come up with the answers that will best suit them. The story line might sound interesting and easy to follow and solve, but the work is often within the client. It’s easy to follow the client’s story and get wrapped up in it, but true coaching is really about the process. The client’s process. The process is about what is happening in the client and includes the dynamic between coach and client.
It may be a laser session, or a coaching relationship that lasts for years. Coaches have a unique opportunity to create a space for clients to explore and learn about themselves and their own experiences. The client has the opportunity to gain their own insight and understanding with the help of someone who is offering them their undivided attention and support – and not their expertise or judgement on the client’s subject matter. They have a chance to bounce ideas off of someone else and process (out loud in relationship) what is happening for them in a very real, in the moment, kind of way, with someone who will hold and truly honor their inner experience, whatever that might be.
Creating this type of space for the client is where the catalyst for change within us dwells. When we are free to explore and be our true authentic self, not only is it validating and empowering but it allows for creativity and ideas to foster and grow. And that’s where the client’s expertness grows. Clients are the experts in their worlds, as they should be.
My father used to say, “trust the process”. One of the best things a coach can do is trust the process in a coaching relationship.
Are you being the expert without knowing it?
One of the beauties of coaching is that as coaches we can coach each other. There is value and experience to be gained from being coached by colleagues or even a supervising coach. We need the feedback to improve our experience, gain understanding and better our skill set. We also need to know when we are experting and plowing through our client’s experience.
When a coach offers a safe space for client’s, with openness, non-judgment and non-expertness, they are offering a client the richest opportunity to grow in. And there aren’t that many relationships like that out there in the world.
The real question is, what kind of coach do you want to be?
How do you, as a coach, avoid becoming an “expert”?
- Get clear on why you are coaching and what you are hoping to get out of it.
- Clear your mind, let go of expectations and work on being fully present, in the moment with the client. Release expectations.
- Clearly outline to the client what your role is, and more importantly, what you approach is. This helps educate the client about the coaching process itself and also helps them set a realistic expectation about the what they can expect from you as a coach.
And then trust the process. Coaching can be an incredibly satisfying and rewarding experience for coaches and clients.
What is Life Coaching from TonyRobbins.com.
How does Life Coaching Work? The Coaching Process from the LifeCoachHub.com.
What is Life Coaching? from LifeCoaching.com.
Lessons from a Life Coach from ExperienceLife.com.