You may be wondering how motorbikes connect to coaching. In many ways, they don’t connect. But, I want to share the story of how one of my clients used something he was familiar with to explore something more complex – and how I have shared this story with the coaches I mentor to help them better support their clients.
As a coach I am constantly listening to the choice of words my clients use. Words mean a lot and can often provide insight into a person and their situation. As a mentor coach I provide feedback to the coaches I work with on their coaching skills and how they pick up on their client’s words.
One of the ways listening for specific words can be interesting is to pick up on metaphors and analogy.
Using metaphors and analogy can be a powerful tool for helping the client gain awareness of a situation and take action towards change. This comes under ICF Competency #7 – Evokes Awareness of the updated ICF core competency model. (Definition: Facilitates client insight and learning by using tools and techniques such as powerful questioning, silence, metaphor or analogy)
Analogies compare one thing to another and allow us to think about something complex by comparing it to something familiar. They can also provide a light and fun way to explore a situation.
Analogies compare one thing to another and allow us to think about something complex by comparing it to something familiar.
An analogy can be used once during a coaching session to build on a point, or could be something that is referred to throughout a coaching series.
It can be offered by the coach to help a client think, but the most powerful analogies will come directly from the client. Listening carefully to their words and picking up on analogies even when the client is unaware of using them can help the client clarify their thinking and move forwards.
My favourite memory of using an analogy in my own coaching experience, and one I’ve shared with some of the coaches I’ve mentored, happened quite by accident and helped me realize the power behind picking up on analogies and using them as a coaching tool in a series of sessions. This is the story of the motorbike.
Kumar (name changed) was a young project manager at an IT company, based in Bangalore, India. I started coaching him as he was part way through implementing a year-long project.
He wasn’t the type of client who shared a lot, he was a deep thinker and liked to consider answers to questions carefully before responding. We set our outcomes for the coaching and for the session and I asked a number of exploratory questions, but in truth I was finding it a little challenging to get to the heart of what was really going on for him with this project.
I picked up on a casual comment he made; that getting through all the steps of the project was like driving his motorbike to work through the busy Bangalore traffic.
I then picked up on a casual comment he made; that getting through all the steps of the project was like driving his motorbike to work through the busy Bangalore traffic. His comment intrigued me and I asked him what he meant by that. He explained that his ride to work each day was full of obstacles – traffic, construction, breakdowns, road blocks etc and he has to navigate each of these in order to get to work. He compared this to implementing his project, which was also full of obstacles – people, procedures, regulations etc, which he has to navigate to implement the project.
I asked him to tell me more, he said some days his drive to work is a joy, everything flows smoothly, the traffic moves, there are no construction hold ups and he arrives on time feeling energized and ready to work. Other days things don’t flow, there are delays and detours and the weather might be bad, he arrives late feeling exhausted before he even starts work. With this, he was able to connect back to the project and share that some things are moving smoothly, while others are creating a block. Some things energize him, while others drain him.
This casual comment opened up the doors to a wealth of exploration.
This casual comment opened up the doors to a wealth of exploration. We went back to this metaphor each session and often began the coaching by checking in on how the ‘bike ride is going today’. He told me in one session that the bike had broken down and was stuck at the side of the road waiting for spare parts, another time he said it was a smooth ride and the traffic was moving. Each of these comments allowed us to connect back to the project and dig into what was happening and how this was impacting him.
We use analogies in our speech all the time, the trick is to pick up on what the client shares and help them explore what is familiar to them in order to clarify and move forward with a new challenge.
Carole Lewis is a Hong Kong based Executive Coach. She has been coaching since 2006 and holds a PCC (Professional Coach Certification) with the International Coach Federation. Carole is a part of the Firelight Collective, a group of professionally qualified supervisors and mentor coaches who serve helping professionals in Hong Kong and the wider community. Carole provides coach mentoring for coaches who want to build their coaching skills to better serve their clients and work toward their Associate Certified Coach Certification (ACC) or Professional Certified Coach Certification.