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Beware of the small print!

So many coaching conversations revolve around the narratives that clients use to describe themselves and their behaviours. These are based on their beliefs which are often perceived, and shared, as facts. These narratives (you might prefer the word story or script) are push that moves you forward or the pull that holds you back.

Coaches have narratives too and these are in play when they are coaching. Effective coaches are the ones who have the self-awareness to recognise their own narratives and how they might be playing out in the service of their client.

As always this awareness has an up- and a downside. For example, being aware of how a client’s own stories are impacting on me is useful information to use in the coaching conversation. I reflect what I am noticing back to them and in doing so offer them a new perspective they can choose to put to use in their own thinking (or not!). However, being overindulgent in thinking about how I am sensing myself during a coaching conversation means I am not working for the client as effectively as I could be. As with all things it's a matter of balance.

I had cause to reflect on this recently while thinking about how effective I am at developing my coaching business. How good am I at describing what I do and how effective am I at naming my value to a prospective client? These are essential skills given that it does not matter how good a coach I am if I fail to convey that message to others!

Three things happened in quick succession. Each nudged my self-awareness in relation to a particular narrative I have. It’s one that I start out seeing as positive and in my mind’s eye I see as it printed in large font and capital letters. It says that I am someone with the values of (among others) LEARNING, CHANGE and CURIOUSITY. I love to learn, to understand, and to support others while they do the same. Pursuing change means I find lots of new things to learn about. Being curious underpins my pursuit of understanding. What a great story to tell about myself and one, by the way, that is true!

Two separate conversations made me aware that there was a darker side to this narrative. In my mind this darker side is captured in small print. It says something along the lines of ‘because I am always in pursuit of new learning I must always be a novice, meaning I am probably less effective than someone who has a lifetime of expertise in the area that I am now curious about’. It was a conversation with Marcos Frangos (Wellspring Change) that made me realise that this small print narrative was driving my behaviour much more than I realised. Separately, I was struck by some good old fashioned common sense shared by Lisa Farr (Inspired Business Academy), ‘if you don’t describe your value (to a client) with confidence and clarity how can you expect them to want to buy your service!’ A few hours after these conversations I had one of those goose bump-moments as I realised I was sharing the ‘novice’ narrative with potential clients however much I thought otherwise. NOVICE was now in large font and capital letters and my ‘values’ script was disappearing into the small print. The message being received was that I was a novice rather than the one that I was curious, energised by change and committed to learning in relation to self and others!

The third thing that connected with this was a quote on LinkedIn intended to prompt a coach to reflect on how they might price their services. In essence it was about how a coach’s value is related more to their years of experience than to the number of hours they will spend on the particular project they were quoting for. Another goose bump moment as I realised that in responding to my own ‘novice narrative’ I was denying myself and my client the huge value of my 36 years of professional experience. Frankly, how dumb is that?

All this bought home to me the power of our personal narratives and their fundamental influence on our behaviour. I am an intelligent and sensitive individual and still I could not see how the ‘novice narrative’ was playing out because I did not notice it. Now I choose to notice it and in doing so I can do something to adjust my way of presenting myself in an authentic and honest way. For example, my revised narrative is something like ‘I am a coach drawing on 36 years of diverse leadership experience. Learning, change and curiosity are personal values that enhance my coaching. These values also increase the benefits I can bring to you and the ability to focus my experience on your needs.’ Nice!

I guess that just leaves the question ‘what evidence is there of the value that I bring to my clients?’ Put another way ‘how effective is my new narrative in attracting clients and adding value to their thinking?’ If you would like to know more about that have a look at the short video describing feedback from my client base, accessed through this link. The evidence speaks of my success in connecting with prospective clients. Note to self: Time I was better at noticing that too!

In the meantime think about some of the stories you are telling others about yourself and/ or the way you work. Are you sure that you are sending them the message that you think you are? Are you aware of your own small print? It takes a willingness to be challenged to answer these questions. Are you up for that challenge?

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