Coaching Story – and the client became one

I just got back from Basel, where I had the privilege to co-facilitate with Peter Szabó the “Live Coaching Days”.

That would be module 4 of SolutionsurfersPURE Brief-Coach Training Program.
It is so called because in those 3 days participants have a chance to coach “real” clients, i.e. not other participants – and to do so in front of other coaches.

It is a unique opportunity for trainees to put their coaching skills to the test – with clients who, unlike the participants, do not know how the process is supposed to work. Clients walk in with a real-life topic they want to work on, a topic unknown beforehand to trainees and facilitators alike.

It is also a unique opportunity for coaches to perform in front of their peers and get specific and detailed feedback on their coaching – something very hard to do in a profession where most of the interactions are one on one, and governed by strict confidentiality. As coaches, we might have some form of feedback in terms of outcome (did it work for the client? was he / she happy?) but not about the process (how did I do that?).

I was blessed to witness many amazing coaching conversations.

I am sharing one below, in a format that protects the identity of client and coach.

Just to give you an idea of how cool Solution-Focused Coaches are :-)

Once upon a time, there was a coach and a client.

The client wanted to align her team so they would work better together.
As she elaborated on that, it became clear she was talking about an “inner” team.
Everything sounded so abstract and sterile – as if it were a management problem in an organization far, far away.
The coach did not flinch, and started working with the metaphor and the words offered by the client.

After some exploration, a big step forward occurred when the client was offered a Skaleboard to play with.
By positioning pieces on the board, the undifferentiated inner team  started to break down into individual “members”, each one with “very good reasons” and a specific concern – the part of the coachee that was worried about health, the part that was excited about her work, and so on and so forth.

With only 5 minutes left in the coaching session, the client became clear it was a matter of deciding between two alternatives, or a composition thereof.
The client mentioned she liked exploration and movement.
The coach was quick to seize that opportunity: he had the client stand up and have a glimpse of the two different scenarios (and a combination of the two), by leading her to different windows and skillfully depicting the two different outcomes, using the client’s words.

Once given a chance to see what the different choices would lead to, the client was very quick and very confident in making a decision – it was clear to everyone in the room that she was definitely very attracted to one of the two scenarios.

I was very impressed by the ability of the coach to think on his feet, to work with what the client brought and to brilliantly get to a resolution by performing a complete “decision coaching process” in 5 minutes.

I was also very impressed by the client.
It was amazing to see the level of integration she achieved in just thirty minutes.
What started with an abstract description of a fragmented self made up of undifferentiated inner voices and devoid of emotions, evolved during the session into one person, speaking with one heart, one mind and one soul.

The outcome  went well beyond the best hopes of the client: her goal for the session was to get some elements so she could “work on a team alignment plan” on the train ride back home – she did not expect to solve the issue right there and then, with a “team” that became one in thirty minutes!

Solutionsurfers Brief Coach Training starts on the 14th of June in Berkeley!

I am so excited to be leading Solutionsurfers Brief Coach Training in Berkeley, next week, at the beautiful UC Clark Kerr Campus!

An Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP) with the International Coach Federation (ICF), the training is one of the best way to learn how to lead Solution-Focused conversations – a method featured in books like Switch, and an established protocol in therapy.

Here < are some reasons of why learning Brief Coaching skills matters, if you are a Coach, a Consultant, a Manager, an Executive or anyone in a Leadership position. Whenever you need to facilitate change, Solution-Focus is the quickest evidence-based technology we have.

Here < is what is different, and of value, about Solutionsurfers training program.

And > here < are the details – when, where and how much. At 2,980 US$ for 8 days of training and follow-up Skype sessions, with flexible payment options, the price is hard to beat, considering the quality of the training format refined over the years and delivered in such small groups.

There are still two spots left… send me an email now at if you are interested in attending next week!!

See you in Berkeley soon!

How Solution-Focused Coaching can Help You to Become a Good Manager

Project Oxygen was the code-name given to a bold new plan by Google in early 2009.

Was it a new search algorithm? Or a fancy speech-to-text app? Or some other tech wonder?

None of the above.

It was something much more ambitious: it was a quest to find what makes the perfect manager.

After months of exhaustive data-mining and observations (hey, after all they are Google, analytics is their job!) they came out with a list of 8 Good Behaviors that characterized their best and most effective managers.

Here it is:

I know! Not exactly the dramatic insights you would expect, right?

But being data-generated, this list is gold.

As a whole, it reads as a very Solution Focused approach to management.

It is the ranking of these behaviors that is very interesting.

The key skill to be a successful manager in Google? to Be a Good Coach!

So learning how to become a Coach is important. Very important.

Score one for Coaching.

But we can dig deeper. Take a look at what it means to be a “good coach”:

1 – provide specific, constructive feedback, balancing the negative and the positive
2 – have regular one-on-ones, presenting solutions to problems tailored to your employee’s strength

Now the question is: how do you do that? It is easier said than done!

I would argue that Solution-Focus is the best way to carry out those desired behaviors.

More specifically:

1 – Solution-Focus’ main tool is feedback; no advice is given.  It is constructive feedback, since in Solution Focus we give only positive feedback. By only making comments on what works and not dwelling on what does not work, Solution-Focused Coaching offers an elegant solution to the problem of balancing positive with negative, avoiding all the pitfalls of negative feedback.
2 – in a recent post, I said coaching is the Art of Conversation: so having regular one-on-ones should be no problem to a manager trained in Solution-Focused Coaching.  Solution-Focused Coaches do not “present” solutions. They do something even better. They are trained to elicit clients’ (in this case employees’) specific solutions, which are naturally and of necessity built on the employees’ unique strengths! Which is perfectly in line with the next key skill listed, empowering your team.

I believe that Solution-Focused Coaching not only meets the behavioral challenge set by Google, but exceeds those requirements.

The “Be a Good Coach” in this list can be read as “Be a Solution-Focused Coach“!

Click >>> here <<< to learn how to become a Solution-Focused Brief Coach with a ICF (International Coach Federation) ACTP (Accredited Coaching Training Program).

Thanks to Coert Visser who originally posted about Google’s Project Oxygen >>> here <<<

How Not to Change – 11 Strategies for Staying Stuck

Photo courtesy of @NiniBaseema

More often than not, Solution-Focused Brief Coaching boils down to helping clients getting unstuck.

Bill O’Hanlon‘s latest book, Change 101 – A Practical Guide to Creating Change in Life or Therapy offers a very useful overview of change strategies for life, therapy and coaching.

As a change facilitator, I do have my ideas about which change strategies work best.

Having said that, I did find amusing Bill O’Hanlon’s list of 11 strategies for staying stuck, which you can find at the end of his book.

Whenever we feel change is hard, it is very often because we are “trapped” in one or more of these useless behaviors:


Got change? :-)

Update: On the “getting unstuck” side of the equation, Bill O’Hanlon also sends out each week a free email with tips about how to create positive change. Just send a blank email to:

Your Brain at Work

Your Brain at Work is a pop psych book.

Unfortunately, the category “pop psych” book has been misused and abused in the past, so that classification does not do the book justice.

Your Brain at Work is how a pop psych book should be: well-grounded in research, very well written and offering useful behavioral tips which follow directly from understanding how the brain works. As the cover of the book states: know your brain, transform your performance.

David Rock is really good at making neuroscience’s findings relevant to everyday’s life: each chapter opens with a snapshot of work life (e.g. a person having to make a decision, or dealing with pressure) and how it usually goes (wrong); then the author follows up by explaining why, according to current understanding of the brain, the person in the story behaves as he or she does; the chapter ends with a take 2, i.e. how the story could end differently if the person had understood how his or her brain worked (happy ending). Moreover, at the end of the chapter one can find two paragraphs: one with the title “Surprises about the brain” which summarizes the main points of the chapter and the other one, “things to try”, with some tips to make use of this understanding of how the brain works.

The book is centered around three main insights:
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Not-Knowing and Flow in Coaching

I have always been a great fan of the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about the psychology of optimal performance.
His idea of flow has resonated with me ever since.

In my life I had the good luck of experiencing flow states in different occasions.
When you are “in the flow” everything disappears – including the self.
You are totally absorbed in the activity, passionately engaged in what you are doing.
Time disappears. Joy and doing are all there is.
One word follows another, one movement follows another, in an effortless flow of action and creation.
A frictionless world.

I experienced flow in writing; I experienced flow in running, sometimes with mystical over-tones; I even experienced flow while leading workshops.

But I have always wondered which form flow would take in coaching.
Not anymore.
I experienced it.

Flow in coaching is about tuning in to rhythm of the interaction rather than on the content of the conversation.

Or, as my friend Svea Van Der Hoorn put it recently during a workshop: in the discipline lies the magic.

Just like a tango dancer who is so connected with his partner and so engaged in the dance that he knows exactly when and how to lead his partner into the next step – in the same way a Solution-Focused Coach in a state of flow knows exactly when and how to lead the client into the next phase of the coaching conversation.

Flow in coaching is definitely linked with the concept of not knowing –  having no specific expertise in the clients’ field of work can be a tremendous asset.
The details of the problem the client is experiencing is noise – the signal is that little shift in the coachee’s tone of voice which tells you the client feels he or she has been heard and therefore we can move on to negotiating goals; the subtle smile which tells the coach that the coachee has found something that worked in the past and so we can start asking amplifying questions around that exception; the eyes of the coachee staring in the distance and contemplating the landscape of the Miracle – let’s leave the client there for a while; the signal is noticing the client shifting from “problem language” to “solution language”; the signal is that little key word buried there in that long sentence or that sparkling moment in that long litany of complaints.

Content changes but the process does not.

There is an opening, there is a middle and there is an end – there might be endless variations, thousands of different words and meanings, but the grammar of a Solution-Focused coaching session stays the same.

I am indebted to Coert Visser for having me reflect some more about the importance of not-knowing.