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Which persona am I coaching today? (ITWS#9)

I’ve been doing virtual coaching for a while now and have written about how I buy into how a virtual connection can be a powerful ally in forming an effective coaching partnership. I have one of those punchy take home message about virtual coaching that I occasionally share: Virtual coaching. Actual Outcomes. Real Meaning. Actually, I’ll add a fourth element to this: For client and coach.

During to COVID19 lockdown there has been another dimension added to virtual coaching which has fascinated and occasionally surprised me. It is how a coachee sometimes shows a different persona when being coached while resident in their own personal space.

To give some context to the word persona I am going to draw on my experience as a practitioner with Lumina Spark and Lumina Emotion. The good folk at Lumina Learning behind these profiling tools talk of three personas in which we can manifest, in different ways, our behaviour preferences. These are the underlying, everyday and overextended personas.

Underlying is the you when you are at your most authentic. It is the you where your personal values are in the driving seat of your behaviours. It is the you where you more at rest, not subject to the scrutiny of the rest of the world. If it was a picture it might be something that you would share on Facebook or Instagram.

Everyday is the you which you take to work, the you that you show in public. It is you playing a role that will still be informed by values but which is, to a degree, influenced by how your world responds to you. If it was a picture is would be something you may use on LinkedIn.

Overextended is the you when you are put under pressure, when you are feeling stressed. If it were a picture it would be the one with a world of different emotion etched into your expression.

People with high levels of self-awareness will have a sense of these three personas although this is often retrospective. For some of us our awareness may be more limited, particularly in relation to our underlying persona. Put simply, we can sometimes lose sight of the things that are important to us.

The interesting things about these personas come to the surface when I encourage a coachee to be curious about their different behaviour preferences in each of underlying, everyday and overextended. That is one of the many aspects of Lumina profiles that I very much enjoy using with individuals and teams.

To get back to the point! More often than not, when coaching in a professional environment, either face to face or virtually, a coachee will show up in their everyday sometimes overextended persona. After all, the coaching often starts with a professional focus and is an uncertain experience for a new coachee. As trust is built more of the underlying persona comes into view and it is often here that transformational development can begin.

What I have experienced in several coaching sessions during our lockdown appears to be a quicker ‘reveal’ of the underlying persona. The fact that the coachee is in their own space, master or mistress of their own domain, seems to encourage more open, deeper and clearer thinking. Or perhaps it is just a different sort of thinking and feeling? There are also visual cues to something different going on. The way the client dresses, the intensity of their engagement, different body language all offer signs that something is different too. When I experience this I ask my coachee if they would be interested to hear about what I was observing. The acknowledgement and awareness of the difference has often turned into an emotional and thoughtful avenue for exploration in itself!

The need to accommodate the ‘working from home family situation’ going on around the coaching has also had some interesting influences on the conversation dynamic. A verbal coaching contract now includes some reference to who else might materialise in the room, either physically or in some sensory way! There have been cats wandering between coachee and screen and dogs getting impatient for food or exercise. There has been music from another rooms and occasional interruptions from young ones for whom a closed door is simply something to be opened. There have been babies in the room, quietly sleeping or observing life with an occasional gurgle! Far from being a distraction it has been a delight to listen to a coachee think reflectively in the reality of their home environment. There is actually a sense of ease. On the occasion that the interruption needs a response it seems the coaching conversation recommences with purpose, sometime even with a sense of it being nudged forward in some way.

So, the changes in the nature of our conversations are not just about our means of connection. We are all experts in Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams now! A more subtle change is how we present ourselves in conversation, which persona or combination of personas are speaking. I am not sure that in a coaching sense that it is for better or for worse. That’s not the point though. The point is that there is a difference. Noticing that difference offers the opportunity to be curious. Being curious can lead to better understanding.

So there you have it! Time for that punchy strapline again. Virtual coaching. Actual Outcomes. Real Meaning. For client and coach.

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