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5 Ways you can coach through the waves

“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf” – Jon Kabat-Zinn, academic and ‘guru’ in the field of mindfulness meditation.

 We hear much about the expanding use of executive coaching to support leaders and managers in navigating the turbulence of organisational change and business life, and the value that these clients report in having someone work closely with them on their purpose and priorities.  Increasingly however managers are also being encouraged to adopt coaching skills or a ‘coach-like’ approach with their own team members to help them positively manage themselves through uncertain times, and thereby keep the ship on a more even keel. 

 So what does this look like and how might you use some of these coaching skills yourself?

 When we want to help colleagues or team members facing change or uncertainty there is a range of approaches available which come from the world of coaching.

 Here are our top 5 approaches you might use help them:

Explore alternative ways of seeing the reality they are in by using different perspectives:  These highlight the actual range of choices available to us at any one time. To return to the quote at the top of this piece, for example, do you see the waves as something to be frightened of, as something to have a bit of fun with, or as a means of propelling you somewhere you want to go?  “How would it be to look at this situation through the eyes of your greatest supporter? Or through the eyes of your 10 year old self?  Or how would Usain Bolt view this situation?  (Or whatever!  The more creative the better) Then ask what becomes possible from that perspective?”  You might then invite them to choose a perspective which works for them as they move through the following period of change and to notice the impact this has on them.Look for opportunities to use the change to move them towards their own bigger goal or life purpose:

“Doing meaningful work is something I know is very important to you… how might this change bring you closer to that? Or  “You often say that having a challenge is something you need to stop yourself from getting  bored… so where in this change can we find a challenge that excites you and    gets your energy going and which in turn will enthuse other people too?”

Learn more about the emotions they are experiencing and perhaps struggling with:

“I see that this restructure has really unsettled you – what is it about this particular change that is the real challenge for you here?  How does that feel?” (What do you put that down to? What do you want to do about that?  If this feeling of being unsettled was a weather system what would it be? e.g. a tornado, a fog, a wet weekend…. )

Invite the other person to use metaphor, as in the example above, to describe how they are feeling; this can be a simple but very powerful way of having them deepen their understanding of their experience and thereby start to take steps to taking positive action. For example my mind is like a fog today; he stuck to my side like a faithful dog; the idea popped into my head like a light bulb switching on, and so on.  Using metaphor allows someone to visualise a situation from a more creative view point and ‘get the feel of it’ to then find solutions, in a way that the rational side of their brain may not allow.

So, returning again to the metaphor of waves at the top of this post, our coachee might choose to:

Surf them (What’s it like when you feel like you are about to fall off into the water? What can you take as a buoyancy aid?),Sail through the storm (What sort of boat will you need? How will you navigate your way?  What will you take as supplies, equipment?),OrDive under them (What will you use to help you ‘breathe’ / sustain you? Or how will you ‘see’ under water?)

You can really have fun playing with metaphor and bring some lightness to a tricky situation, though that may not always be appropriate; sometimes the metaphor can be a powerful key to unlocking a more painful emotion which your colleague needs to address before being able to move on.

Invite the person to take a step back, or a ‘big picture’ or ‘helicopter’ view of the situation and ask them what they see.  This is valuable for putting the current change into perspective or to see patterns or links  e.g. imagine you are standing on a mountain and can look down at yourself here today… what do you notice?

Whatever the circumstances, your willingness to just sit alongside someone and listen to what’s on their mind will serve to help them deepen their learning about themselves and what they need to do next to step into positive action.

If you would like to discuss coaching and coaching skills, please email


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