Assumptions. We all have them, and we tend to transfer those assumptions onto unfamiliar faces, unknown situations, and outcomes that we feel are uncontrollable. I totally get that. I catch myself doing this all the time. Today, for example.
I awoke this morning planning to go in for my annual and routine blood tests. This is NOT my favorite activity. I absolutely hate needles. Hate them. I nervously paced around and avoided leaving on time. With my palms sweating, I could only think about a big bruised lump the size of an egg that sat on my vein for days after a prior lab visit.
That was over three years ago. It’s been years, and I still dread needles, along with air turbulence on plane flights, being lost in large cities, and having tough conversations. I’ve survived all of these in my life with no ill effects, and yet I still dread them.
Our unconscious tendency to attach meaning to people, events, and situations is a gift of our human wiring, family heritage, and the trainload of experiences we carry with us. It can be a very useful way to responding to everything happening around us, kind of like a shortcut. Our assumptions can help support and inform us, but only when they’re accurate. We can also unconsciously adopt the assumptions of those around us, for better or for worse. Either way, when a Coach brings their unchecked assumptions into a coaching session, even when based on a past session with the same Client, they can limit, rather than launch, their Client’s exploration, growth, and learning.
It’s important that Coaches address their assumptions to maintain a personal and professional practice. Before showing up to work with their Client, they need to note and remove any assumptions they may have. This capability allows us to exchange the runaway train of our ego-based assumptions for coaching success, with our agenda and session goals becoming entirely what the Client wants to explore.
Most Coaches I know are professional and well-intended, so how does this happen? Realizing that assumptions are often stowaways in our mindset, we check ourselves for any semblance of pre-set expectations, except those of serving the Client. It’s normal to anticipate problems or issues, but when we believe we already know what someone else needs, thinks, or can do, we have taken them on our ride, not theirs. This is why assumptions must be unloaded by the Coach before the coaching engagement or session starts. A few of the sneakier assumptions a Coach might hold are:
- The Coach is responsible for ensuring outcomes
- The Coach is responsible for how the Client shows up
- The Coach must stick to the agenda of the agreement
- It’s the Coach that keeps the energy flowing
Fortunately, most Clients are hyperaware when they feel being derailed by Coach assumptions and will resist in several ways. Signals of derailment include the sense of “session stall”, Client confusion with Coaching questions, or when the Client’s energy moves from enthusiasm and exploration to explanation and exasperation. Discovery and awareness of one’s self is hard and rewarding work, so the Client will instinctively try to stay on their own track when being pulled in two different directions – theirs and the Coach’s.
Experienced coaches are responsible not to project their assumptions and subjective meanings onto the people, events, and inputs they receive. For the Coach to be fully present, stay curious, listen deeply, communicate directly, and truly partner with a Client, they must be fully open to what is said and what wants to be said; what is shown and what is held onto; and what is known and may want to be known.
By listening and processing on these levels and dimensions, the Coach can support the Client by directly challenging them to source their own learning and actions, while seeking gold along the journey to their destination. The Coach must acknowledge that it’s the Client’s job to find that gold, the fun of discovery is always owned by the Client. For the Coach, this means no agenda and no stops but those desired by the Client.
Though certainly not exhaustive, here are a few insights I’ve learned that may help Clients and colleagues enjoy getting to their coaching destination:
For Clients Ready to Partner with a Great Coach:
- Know what you think you want to work and focus on and share what you think that is as specifically as possible.
- Be ready to listen to yourself on many levels, with your head, heart, gut, and more. Stay honest, be vulnerable, and challenge yourself along the way, writing down new commitments and refinements to keep moving forward.
- Be willing to observe yourself, past and present. Awareness and forgiveness will be part of your success.
- Take notes during your session and consider recording it. Reflect on it often and jot notes about your discoveries both in and between sessions. You’re the passenger and conductor on this journey.
For Coaches Serving Clients (Leaving Their Assumptions Behind):
- Anchor your own life in practices that exercise the mind, body, and heart, and experience the world of personal and professional service. Get proper nutrition and rest to find internal/external stillness.
- Assumption consumption. Note the source of any recurring assumptions. Social media, personal patterns, and networks can keep us safe or they can imprison us. To stretch your coaching presence, utilize deep listening, direct and vulnerable communication, and connection when living your everyday life.
- Ask yourself these questions: When was the last time you visited someone or something very different than you? When did you last converse with someone about something very different than your own beliefs? When did you serve another human being regardless of their differences? How do you handle your assumptions? Are you able to suspend them and evoke curiosity and connection with ‘the other’? What did you learn? Was there a difference?
- Get a Coach. Coaches, make sure you’re being coached by those that stretch your WHO as well as your ‘what’. Develop knowledge and skills you can offer to Clients. Be of service within the Coaching industry.
- Coaches, hand the conductor hat to your Clients. You’ll ride the Tren de la Libertad (Train of Freedom) together. It’s a beautiful ride!