"The ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential."
Coaches talk people into thinking and behaving in ways that they wouldn't think or behave on their own. Their process is always about communicating through language and relationship so that their clients make changes in what they think and accept the task of changing what they do. This doesn't mean that coaches tell people what to do. The "partnering" in the ICF definition is meant to walk the fine line between having no influence and having too much.
How can you lead a conversation so that your clients discover their own best approach to their problems or goals? The best way is to DARE: to use a simple four step process that maximizes the effectiveness of the coaching relationship while minimizing the danger of undue influence and the resistance which accompanies that danger.
DARE stands for Dissociate, Add, Return, and Energize. It describes a process in which you help your client identify what they want to work on and park it until they are ready to deal with it more effectively (dissociate). Then you help them Add new resources by exploring around the edges of what you have parked to uncover strengths, capabilities and connections that will be useful. When you calibrate that the client is in a more resourceful state, you Return to the parked goal or problem and encourage the client to notice new information and new possibilities. This pattern can be repeated until the client knows what step to take next to approach the future they want.
The final stage is to energize the changes that your client has made so that they stick. We all know that the problem with good intentions is that they require will power to carry out. Will power is frequently in short supply. While your client is still working to own new plans or perspectives, it is useful to imaginatively root those changes into the world your client will encounter when they leave the conversation.
When you DARE to coach your client this way, you minimize your opportunity to offer opinions on their problems or plans because those problems are parked for most of the discussion. You minimize resistance to change because you are not suggesting change: you are helping the client retrieve and recombine the strengths they have already experienced. Your influence depends on your discipline in uncovering, tracking and stabilizing evidence that your client has what s/he needs to achieve satisfying progress.
It is a daring approach: it asks that as a coach you put all your eggs into the basket of believing your client can achieve a satisfying outcome even when you cannot see how they are going to achieve the goal or solve the problem. It asks that you find within yourself the kind of joy and energy that comes with daring: the ability to imagine a better future and move toward it without hesitation. It demands that you pay 100% of your attention to the client before you, testing your observations and verifying that your client is stronger, smarter and more flexible than either of you knew.
People come to coaches largely because they are afraid that they cannot move quickly enough or accurately enough on their own. DARE them to find the path that will move them forward.