This core competency falls under the Communicating Effectively section of the competencies.  ICF defines Evokes Awareness as “Facilitates client insight and learning by using tools and techniques such as powerful questioning, silence, metaphor or analogy”

The coach’s ability to evoke new awareness in the client and to draw upon and encourage the client’s innate ability to create their own new learning and discover new insights is being evaluated in this competency. The coach does this by asking clear questions and sharing relevant intuitions, comments, thoughts and feelings. This helps the client explore challenges and think in new ways about these areas can help them move toward their desired session goal.

Before we delve deep into what facilitates client insight and learning, we will explore techniques such as powerful questioning, silence and metaphor

Powerful questions

According to David Gurteen, “A powerful question provokes us to think deeply and to engage intensely in conversation with others that leads to a deeper or broader understanding of a subject and new insights. It potentially changes the direction in which we are moving.”  

Powerful questions stimulate creative thinking, lead to new ideas, are often provocative and get clients to think more broadly and discover new possibilities. Powerful questions are often open-ended and often start with a “what” or a “how”. 

However, there is a space for the use of close-ended questions in coaching as well. Marcia Reynolds talks of at least five situations where closed-ended questions are effective.

  • To clarify a client’s insight by asking if you correctly understood what they want or need to be resolved  
  • To confirm if a reflective statement you offered is true for them at the moment  
  • To facilitate the thinking process when a client has a difficult time articulating an insight by summarizing what you heard and then checking to see if your statement is accurate  
  • To invite the client to choose what is most important to explore first when they present more than one challenge or desire  
  • To redirect the conversation when the client changes the subject and you ask them if they want to change the directions or go back to the original focus or outcome

Silence

Silence is a powerful skill in coaching. Coaches often feel the urge to fill in the gaps of silence after asking a question. It takes courage to give ourselves permission to stay silent and trust that the client will come up with an answer. 

According to Lyssa de Hart “Mastering the art of silence in professional coaching is an invaluable skill that can enrich your clients’ self-discovery and personal growth through insight and self-awareness. By weaving together silence and curiosity, you create and communicate an environment of trust and safety.”

Tips for use of silence in coaching

  • If the client doesn’t respond immediately to a question don’t be tempted to dive straight in, instead wait a few seconds before rephrasing or clarifying that your question has been understood.
  • Pause for a few seconds after your coachee has responded to your question to see if they have anything additional to add.
  • Be conscious of using silence effectively – perhaps leave a few seconds more than your usual pause if you have asked a particularly thought-provoking or challenging question.
  • Use silence to deepen the conversation – when appropriate, use silence as an opportunity to ask reflective questions such as “What can you learn from this uncertainty?

Metaphors

  • If the client doesn’t respond immediately to a question don’t be tempted to dive straight in, instead wait a few seconds before rephrasing or clarifying that your question has been understood.
  • Pause for a few seconds after your coachee has responded to your question to see if they have anything additional to add.
  • Be conscious of using silence effectively – perhaps leave a few seconds more than your usual pause if you have asked a particularly thought-provoking or challenging question.
  • Use silence to deepen the conversation – when appropriate, use silence as an opportunity to ask reflective questions such as “What can you learn from this uncertainty?

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily means one thing, can also relate to something else and therefore convey a specialised meaning. Metaphors offer insight into what is going on inside the client, and their visual language conveys the meaning rather than explaining it.

 Some examples of metaphors are  

  • Today was a real roller-coaster
  • You are focused like a laser
  • You’re jumping in the river and are going down the rapids

 

Importance of using metaphors in a coaching conversation

  • It can avoid the need for a lot of data and description and thus make the coaching sessions more meaningful.
  • It can move from logical (head) to emotion or feelings (heart) which is often where the work needs to happen.
  • It can help move someone from being ‘stuck’ to what is ‘possible’.
  • It allows us to speak a similar language.

Evoking Awareness

Diving into the nitty-gritty of the competency, the coach challenges the client to evoke awareness or insight.  As Marcia Reynolds says, “For the same reason you can’t tickle yourself, your brain resists self-imposed testing of thoughts and reactions”.  So, to think differently we need to have someone external to help us to disrupt our thought processing.

The coach speaks clearly and concisely and

  • uses simple language that the client understands
  • asks questions that are clear and direct and primarily open-ended
  • asks questions one at a time, at a pace that allows for thinking, feeling or reflection (no stacked questions, appropriate use of “pauses”) 
  • share observations that are succinct and to the point. 
  • allows the client to do most of the talking 

The coach asks questions about the client’s current way of thinking, feeling, values, needs, wants and beliefs.  Reflective inquiry is a powerful way to create disruptions in thinking that lead to breakthrough transformation and change.  Using reflective inquiry, clients see their beliefs as if they were laid out on the table to examine.  From this position, they can see the holes in their logic or an outdated point of view.

In addition, to increase the client’s awareness, the coach could ask questions to help the client explore beyond their current way of thinking and feeling to expand their ways of thinking and feeling into new perspectives. The coach asks questions which have the potential to broaden the client’s thinking about themselves, their perceptions, their goals, dreams and aspirations. The coach should demonstrate unconditional positive regard for the client when exploring these ideas. This would help the client in coming up with new ideas and reframing perspectives. For example, the coach might ask questions such as: “How does your thinking need to shift in order for you to actualize your goal? How does your behaviour need to shift or change to make meeting your goal possible? What would be different for you if you reached this goal?” 

The coach can also share observations, intuitions or comments without attachment to the outcome the response from the client or the need to be right. You could start your sentences with “I noticed”, “I heard”, or “I sense” and offer these reflections to the client, pause and let the client process your reflection.     For example, the coach may have noticed a pattern of avoidance in the client whenever the client’s partner is brought up. The coach might ask the client, “I’ve noticed you always change the subject when your partner is brought up. Do you think there might be anything worth exploring there?” 

A good exploration of the CC7 competencies will bring out the insights and learnings for the client, make them tangible and set the stage for transforming these into action in CC8 – Facilitate Client Growth.    

References

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