Coaching is terrific, but how do you know when to challenge and when to support?

Yes. I am being pretty hard on you.

I said that to someone in a coaching session last night. He was curious about how I decide when to challenge and when to support. He'd watch me do some metaphor coaching, which probably looked like fun from the outside. It was about stepping into the body of a powerful animal and exploring a landscape to which that particular animal was well-suited. Compared to that, some probing questions that led to uncomfortable answers were rough.

The difference was that the first client knew what he wanted and so we were able to explore what he wanted using a metaphor. That metaphor protected his privacy while it allowed him to discover that he was stronger than he might have thought as he approached a challenge. The challenge was relatively well-defined, and since he picked the metaphor there was no danger that I was leading him to feel stronger than he really is.

He  felt pushed a little anyway. Coaching is not about letting someone sit with their limits and top-of-mind thoughts. It's about guiding someone to stretch and imagine and discover.

If the second client had been ready to move, the process would not have been perceived as "hard." He would have taken the first (or second or third) suggestion to tune in to what he wanted. He was tuning into what scared him instead. So I insisted that he move. What scared him was hypnotic and powerful. So I insisted that he choose between staying connected to me and staying connected to it.

I don't like to push. I don't like to challenge. I don't like to insist. I love to suggest, to guide, to explore. I love to play in a state of mind where it is safe to move with tiny, delicate, powerful steps. I like to chase away cobwebs with laughter or a surprising metaphor.

Sometimes, I have to be the metaphor, the rock beneath someone's feet. Maybe they skin their knees a little. Maybe they retreat to a gentler place. But they will not slip on uneven ground and fall over an edge. Not while I am giving them a solid path where they can test their footing.


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