Coaching Is Not Advice Giving

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I fired my life coach.

Yes, I believe in coaching so much that I take my own medicine. But I had to get rid of her.

We’ve had a good run, me and this coach. She has been with me through times of my life when I’ve felt most volatile. She’s helped my walk through many uncertainties and helped me  make some life-altering decisions. We rocked and plowed through a lot of shit together!

Then I fired her.

I had to.

One reason: she stopped listening and started advising. This means she stopped doing her job.

Because coaching is mostly listening.

Coaching is not about giving advice to people. Coaching is about creating a safe space for people to realize and create their own solutions. A good coach can guide you to form new perspectives, but she knows she’d be doing you a disservice if she offered you “advice”.

There are many reasons for this.

Truth is, people know the answers to their most seemingly insurmountable challenges and most complicated situations. They just need space, time and acceptance to feel, and then to think their way through their fears, difficulties and complications.

When someone else gives us their advice, it inhibits our own creativity and resourcefulness. We don't get to make new connections in our own brains. Our opportunity to create solutions is being intercepted.

We hire coaches and confide in our friends and significant others not for advice, but mostly to hold space for us as we feel and think our way through.

And when we appoint this listener (a coach, a significant other or a friend) to help us feel and think through our shit, we need a listener who isn’t eager to use the situation to accentuate their own knowledge and self-importance.

We need a listener who can stay with us in our dense, fearful and heavy stuff without wanting to be a fixer, all mighty and all knowing. A listener who is not going to make our conversation about them.

When we seek “advice”, we really need our current state (mental or physical) normalized in order for us to get into a new, more empowered state.

We need our messy, muddled, misled parts embraced in order to feel safe to express our most frightened and futile thoughts.

When we feel supported this way, we relax and stop the mental self beat up. Our brain stops self protecting, pretending and perfecting answers. We have the safe space to land and let all of ourselves be seen. We start to engage the executive center of our brain (the prefrontal cortex) instead of staying in the primal and self-protective part of our brain (the amygdala). We can assess the situation and come up with the self governance and solutions that ring true to us.

We start feeling our way through, so we can then start thinking our way through our difficulties.

And that’s how we transform.

When people come to you for advice, it’s not the advice they really seek (even when they tell you so), they trust you can create a space for them to transform.

This is why most of your perfectly outlined, precise and apparent solutions land on deaf ears and often get resented.

When you're offering solutions, you are missing the whole point.

Most of our difficulties stem from mental and psychological issues that manifest themselves in the physical form.

Your friend who keeps dating the same asshole over and over again and cries in your lap after each break up, doesn't have a practical problem (dating men of certain character traits). It’s deeper than that. She has a psychological issue which keeps her recreating the same dating experience. This is why your advice to stop dating the assholes isn’t getting much traction. You’re addressing the symptom, not the disease.

She isn’t hearing your “I told you so”, because you’re making it about you, and how obvious her self defeating choices are to you, and how on target you are about identifying them.

If you aim is to help or influence people in any capacity, a different level of listening and empathy are required.

Let them unload.

Until you see people as good enough as they are, you have no power, no leverage, and no moral authority to help them change.

Any one of my clients will tell you: the first thing I do in our coaching sessions is, I let them get all their thoughts, feelings and emotions out. I let them unload. As the saying goes: you can’t heal what you can’t feel. I give my clients all the room, love and safety to feel their feelings before we jump into healing them.  

Not only that, I take them much deeper than they anticipate to go. We peel back their default feelings and notice the core feelings underneath them.

Without this, I have no way of knowing what they are grappling with, where they are psychologically and how to best support them.

One of the most frequently-given advice is to ignore the unpleasant feelings and jump to the more productive ones. This works against us.

Walling off our feelings is called emotional and spiritual bypass. It’s a defense technique, a way to check out. It’s a form of repression. The unfelt feelings metastasize in the body and show up in other unhealthy and destructive ways.

You can’t simply “change the channel” on your feelings, you have to first feel them, fully.

This doesn't mean to wallow in our negative feelings. But allowing ourselves to feel the feelings helps them pass faster and with the least amount of damage. Unfelt, unprocessed feelings on the other hand, leak out, manifest themselves in unhealthy ways and keep us experiencing them for longer.

Letting people unload, acknowledging and validating their feelings, lets them normalize their current state and start processing their feelings. You can’t skip this part if you want to help or influence people.

If instead you refute and disprove or minimize people's feelings, or jump to offer them solutions, people will spend the rest of the time defending themselves, instead of opening up about the very issue they came to you with.

You have to see people where they are, if you want take them any place different.

Stay out of judgement.

You can’t really hold space for people in their pain and frustration if you are judging them. And staying out of judgement is not easy to do. We are neurologically wired with an ego that separates the right from wrong, good from evil, pleasure from pain.

The easiest way to stay out of judgement is to get out of our own ego. We must realize that peoples constructive or destructive actions are directed to a grand positive outcome. Even people who harm themselves or others have a reason which, in their minds, contributes to a form of positive outcome.

Staying out of judgement doesn’t mean to agree, or to take on other people's perspectives. It just means to recognize other people's perspectives as their truth. To not make them right or wrong, virtuous or unethical, winner or loser.

It’s about understanding that if you were the other person, with their upbringing, their beliefs, their life experiences and their perceived limitations you would be feeling, thinking and doing as they are.

Also, understand that it takes willingness to put themselves out there at the risk of being shut down, misled or misunderstood (aka vulnerability) for people to open up about their challenges.

When people open up to us, our job is to see the courage in them, and honor them for having picked us to trust and be vulnerable with.

Ask questions, instead of giving solutions.

Once people have had the space to express their feelings, have felt your empathy and validation for where they are and what they are up against, they feel seen, heard and valued.

Now there is room for them to accept your input and see things from a different perspective.

At this point, you can synthesise what you’ve heard and ask insightful questions. Example:

“I see what you’re up against, I’ve been there (in some form) myself, I know it’s not easy, and I see you!”

“What is most important to you in this situation? Why?”

“What do you think is the main thing to address here?”

“What would you do if you were who you think you are not? “

“What would you advise me if I came to you for help on this? “

“How is this problem serving you?“

“Who would you be without this thought?”

Notice that I am not doing any advice-giving. I am simply asking questions to help them think things through, and holding space for them while they do so.

Our advice doesn’t help anyone change. People change after they’ve decided to take their own advice. Let’s not be so self-inflated and diluted to think we have such great solutions, only if people could hear them! We don’t.

Our solutions and advice is worthless if we don't have the presence and empathy to hold space for people to figure things out their own.