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Can Coaches be present and virtual?

Many years ago I was instrumental in bringing Thomas Leonard the founder of modern coaching to London and helped set up the first life coach training course in the UK. I can still remember the shock and thrill we all felt to hear that he did all of his coaching by phone. We had questions. Would this strange new idea work in the UK? Would people pay for phone coaching in the same way they paid for face to face? Would it be effective? The answers were yes (ok maybe pay a bit less!) and are still yes but as the means of communication have multiplied the answers have become increasingly complicated.
One thing nearly everyone agrees with is that presence from the coach is a precondition for good coaching and that presence is affected by the medium used for the coaching – whether it is face to face, phone, video or text. But up to now few people have considered how presence is affected by the different mediums and how much they inhibit or support quality coaching.
We are going to consider whether we lose presence when we coach in any way other than face to face. But before we do that we need to look at what we mean by ‘presence’ when it comes to coaching and other helping professions.
If we start in a slightly reverse way by looking at how we know someone is not present. Most of us have had the experience of talking someone and feeling that their attention was not fully on us. We might see them give a sideways glance or give an insincere or a slow response. All these things tell us that a person’s attention is not fully on us. That is a pretty basic level of presence.
In addition, when you are working with others in a helping capacity, presence means to be aware as possible of the drives and concerns that are operating in our own consciousness. We can be aware of information from the mental, emotional, physical and possibly spiritual realms. Both arising in ourselves and within client. And the subtle interplay between both people. Simultaneously to noticing thoughts and emotions we are making a moment by moment decision as to whether to act on them. It sounds complicated and yet every coach is doing it in every session to various degrees of subtlety and awareness.
Now what happens to this dance when the client is not sitting physically in front of us but is on the phone/video or even chatting on text with us?
Immediately we have less information and less contact. But is this necessarily a bad thing? There is a well-known effect that when we as human beings lose one sense we develop, or at least become more aware, in another area to compensate.
So take away the visual and we have to listen more carefully. Take away the voice and we have to really pay attention to what we are reading to get the possible meanings from it. The channels are reduced but this does not necessarily mean that the coaching will be less effective.
But it does not mean that there are not dangers or drawbacks to virtual coaching. In my next blog I will explore the disinhibition effects that can occur as soon as coaches leave the familiar comfort of face to face working.

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How to be authentic in love and coach training

In my previous blogs I have discussed how coaching processes have been used and the value and limitations of using processes when training coaches and running real coaching sessions.

But why do we teach coaching processes at all if coaching is all about relationship?  If coach trainers were to be honest it is a lot easier to teach someone how to use processes than how to build relationships.  So save some time there.  And the processes, particularly when you start coaching give a vital framework for new coaches to understand what the hell they are trying to do.

But teaching a new coach how to coach purely using a process is a bit like teaching about love by telling someone to buy roses and write poetry.  You might have the right idea about what to do but you don’t understand why you are doing it.  And as in love it can come across as a bit false if someone is just going through the motions.  So you need both parts.  The relationship element is essential while the process gives intellectual rigor to the session.  Interestingly enough you don’t actually have to have a human being on the other end to build a relationship.

For example it possible to programme a computer with coaching processes so that it will ask the right questions in the right order with a feature which would change the responses and questions according to the answers it received.  The computer can understand enough to know when to give a response such as empathy when needed.  This approach works quite well unless the computer misunderstands something and it becomes obvious that the client is not interacting with a human.   And it is hard to keep the pretence up through the twists and turns of a complex coaching session.  But as long as the client believes that they are having a relationship with a caring human being that is enough for him/her to feel they have been helped.

Given most of us are still working with humans rather than machines how do we train them to use processes and relationships together?   It is as if there was a tightrope between relationship and process and experienced coaches can walk that tightrope without falling down one side or the other.   We will be examining this in more detail in the next blog where we will be looking at how to use participants own knowledge about relationships and introduce models such as GROW as appropriate.


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Using GROW for weight loss and fitness goals

Hi All,

I am experimenting using GROW with my online coaching software to work with individuals on weight loss and fitness goals.

I have produced a special version of CoachMaster which is completely focused on helping others to lose weight or gain fitness.  The complete GROW process is laid out for the coaches.  They connect online with the clients and lead them through a structured GROW process.  Goal, Reality, Obstacles, Options and Way forward.  The idea is that at the end the clients leave with a set of to dos that they are confident will lead them to their goal.

It is very interesting to apply GROW to weight loss as parts of the process are very easy and parts are a lot more difficult than conventional coaching.  Usually it is pretty straightforward to get the goal and reality.  For example ‘I want to weigh 160 pounds’ with a reality of ‘I currently weigh 200 pounds’.  It is often useful in the reality section to also collect information about previous attempts at weight loss, how successful they were in the long and short term and how the client treats themselves if they do not keep the weight off.

It is when you get to the obstacles stage that things can start to get a bit tricky.  I am sure most people would understand current eating habits are the result of a complex interplay between childhood experiences, levels of self esteem, knowledge about nutrition, financial position, social networks, close personal relationships, availability of different kinds of food, stress levels, coping mechanisms and probably many other factors as well.

So given this complex scenario how does a coach guide a client to find out the obstacles?  Well we have to become a bit of detective and ‘stick to the facts’.  Very often the first obstacle a client will say is ‘I have no self control’.  This in itself is not very helpful.  So you need to collect the facts about what happens for the client to not stick to their intention.  This could be ‘My partner buys sweets and leaves them around the place and I eat them’ or ‘When I can’t cope with my children any more I have an ice cream’.  In each case you can visualise what actually happens to cause the eating and options start to become apparent to deal with the obstacles.  The key is to keep asking ‘Anything else’ until you are sure you have identified and written down the major obstacles.  The client may be a bit resistent to this if the list is too long but as a coach you should make sure  you have covered all the circumstances that cause the client to give up.

In later blogs I will deal with how to create options from the obstacles you have identified.





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using Relenta CRM system


I started using Relenta CRM  for my business when I realised that every other system was letting me down

We market the world’s first online coaching system which guides the coach during an actual coaching session.

I started with the free system but as the business has grown now have a plan.

I find it useful in 3 areas.

– To keep all contacts and emails in one place
– To keep a to do list for non contact items
– To send out mailshots to potential customers.

I like a lot of features. What I would like to change is

– Being able to move activities directly from the diary as in google calendar
– Being able to adjust the date of activities with out having to open them.

I think it is a great little system for small businesses.


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Coaching in 3D?

I have been doing some experiments lately using a virtual environment similar to Second Life to conduct coaching sessions. The client and myself have been connected over Skype and been in a virtual world together.

The client has described their problem and I have created a end point in the virtual world, with some object representing the prize or goal. Then they have described the obstacles between them and the goal and I have created objects to signify each obstacle. We then discuss the obstacles in turn and start to find ways around them. We conclude as with a conventional coaching session where I recap and use the message facility to recap on their actions.

Thus far it has followed a fairly conventional coaching session using GROW. However what I have found is the physical representation of the obstacles invites me to pursue lines of questioning that I might not use in a ‘normal’ session.

For instance asking how close the obstacles appear to the client, how big they are, are they the same size in relation to one another, if we remove them all is the way to the goal clear? Inviting the client to come and look at the situation from the perspective of standing on one of the obstacles often seems to bring up new ideas.

There seems to be something about the physical representation of the obstacle and the immersive nature of the space that creates a very interesting ‘map’ of the client’s world and view of the problem. The clients have found that the physical representation seems to allow them to view the situation in a more detached and useful way. Both of us have a good recall of the sessions as the environment seems to provide a number of ‘anchor points’ to the conversation.

I wondered if anyone else has done any work in this area or if you know of any other ways of representing the client’s world apart from just talking about it. I am thinking about the constellations work of Bert Hellinger, where I have seen a situation represented by stones.

I will be looking further into this but I would be interested in other’s experiences.

Cheers, Bob

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Use of GROW model for coaching to stop smoking

The trend for Vaping or e-cigarettes  reminded me of a few years ago when I devised a special version of GROW for helping people stop smoking.

GROW works very well for issues like this. The key is to get down to actual facts in the Obstacles section.

The Goal and Reality stages are usually pretty easy for smoking. I.e.
Goal – to give up smoking by a certain date
Reality – what you smoke now and when.

The interesting area is the Obstacles section. The Obstacles to giving up smoking are usually pretty complex and made up a combination of social, medical and psychological factors. You have to really get to the bottom of all of them if you are to have any hope of permanent success.

As with most types of GROW you need to separate out the different factors and start to find out the facts. Often you will find it is hard for the clients to think clearly about the Obstacles but will come up with many justifications and excuses. Here is a dialogue from a CoachMaster session with Mark, a 20 a day smoker.

Me – What are the blocks to stopping smoking Mark?
Mark – I would not enjoy life much if I did not smoke

Me – What does it actually mean that you ‘would not enjoy life’?
Mark – I would not have the social chat I enjoy with my fellow smokers, I would put on weight and I would miss the nicotine.

Me – So missing on social contact with other smokers is one Obstacle to stopping?
Mark – Yes that is part of it.

We went on to discuss address the issues of putting on weight and missing the nicotine. The key is to see the importance of getting past the ‘concept’ of ‘I would not enjoy life’ to the actual Obstacles then you can deal with them.

It would be pointless if I had just accepted ‘I would not enjoy life much as an Obstacle because I had no idea what it really meant. By getting down to actual facts of what he would miss we had a clear target and could devise Options to get around them.

Usually it is clear when you have a clear Obstacle because you can see how you can create Options around it. If you can’t see how to create Options around a particular Obstacle the chances are it is not clear.

I will look more at the Obstacles around smoking and other health goals in another blog.

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Using GROW and CoachMaster software

Hi,  As some of you might know I have been experimenting for some time with an online version of the GROW process.  This has evolved over time to become a fully working software called CoachMaster.  I have now started moving from pilots to marketing it more actively.

We have interest from a large bank who want to use it as part of their appraisal process and an international computer services company who want to use it to coach their sales people.

If you know uses for GROW that we have not thought of then please leave a comment or send me an email.

Cheers,  Bob

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Using GROW for weight loss and fitness goals

Hi All,

I have recently started a pilot study to for coaches who want to work with others on weight loss and fitness goals using my online coaching software which is known as CoachMaster.

I have produced a special version of CoachMaster which is completely focused on helping others to lose weight or gain fitness.  The complete GROW process is laid out for the coaches.  They connect online with the clients and lead them through a structured GROW process.  Goal, Reality, Obstacles, Options and Way forward.  The idea is that at the end the clients leave with a set of to dos that they are confident will lead them to their goal.

Initial feedback from the coaches is quite good.  They like the fact that the entire process is laid out for them with questions hints and advice.  I think with a little supervision that coaches who a reasonably familiar with GROW should be able to give an expert session

I will be reporting more of the results as I receive them.

If you know anyone who would like to take part as a coach or a client please let me know. bob (at) bobgriffiths dot com



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Using GROW with a team

In this blog I would like to address the use of GROW in a team environment.

Grow can be used in many different situations but it is especially valuable where there is a team of people who are (supposedly) all heading towards the same goal.

You can use GROW in exactly the same way as if you were using it with an individual.  However it is possible within a team there could be issues within the team which would prevent GROW from working well.

For instance there could be:

  • A low level of trust between team members
  • Team members who do not tell the truth to each other
  • Poor interpersonal relationships between existing team members
  • A lack of clarity and agreement on the team purpose
  • Disputes about the level and type of resources available
  • Individuals fighting for the their own corner and working in silos

I have worked with teams who exhibited all of these behaviours.  Some times at the same time!  All or any of them can prevent GROW working well or even at all.

Let me give you an example.   I was working with a technical support team who  were getting a lot of criticism for not sorting out queries fast enough.  The team was torn between trying to service their existing customers and trying to implement the various other projects that they had to do.

I was aware that the team had a lot of the issues which I had detailed above and that it was unlikely to work if I simply sat the team down and asked them to work through GROW on the issue.

The way I dealt with it was by sending out confidential questionnaires to ask individuals perceptions of the problem and interviewing key individuals before we had the face to face session.

By the time I had them all together I had a pretty fair idea of what the issues were.  I started the day by getting them to define and reconnect with their own purpose as I felt that they had lost any sense of ‘why are we here’.

I then fed this back the results of the questionnaires and interviews anonymously to the whole team.   I then asked them to decide which issues they thought they could deal with in the meeting and which should be parked for another time.

Once we had got that out of the way I put them in small mixed teams with a single issue.  They were able to apply GROW to the  individual issues successfully and then we all came together again to ensure that the solutions worked together.

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GROW for Career Coaching

Using GROW for Career Coaching

There are certain types of problem that are particularly suited to the GROW approach.

One example might be to help someone obtain a promotion.

It is usually very clear how they will know that they have got a promotion so the Goal or end result is very clear.

Normally the reality will be how many times they had tried for the promotion, what happened, what resources they have currently, and how they feel about the current account attempt. Which again does not take very long.

The obstacles are where most of the work is done. They might have internal obstacles about their fear of putting themselves forward. There could be external obstacles if the standard needed is very high or if someone is trying to block them. And there could be a lack of knowledge or skills which are required in order to get the new role.

The important thing as with most GROW sessions is to separate out the obstacles into discrete items so that they can be dealt with. Here is a list of items from a real client session.

1) My manager is not supporting me
2) I don’t have the client handling skills they want
3) I don’t know if I could cope with the workload

As you can see once you have separated out the Obstacles it often becomes a lot clearer what is to be done.

Which means that you can move onto the Options – taking the Obstacles one at a time.

My manager is not supporting me
Option – To have a conversation with her manager to see what she would have to do to get his support

I don’t have the client facing skills they want
Option – To speak to HR and get details of what skills are needed and request to go onto a course

I don’t know if I could cope with the workload
Option – To speak to an individual who is currently doing the job, ask what the workload is really like and ask how they manage.

Once the Options were clear it was very straightforward to convert the Options into actions.

In the coming weeks I will be adding to the blog other examples of where GROW is really effective.

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