Clarity, to me, is one of the keys to living a life you love. Being clear about what you really want in life can save you from chasing things that you think you should want, things that impress other people but don’t actually make your heart sing. When you know what you want and why, you know how to navigate your life, when to say “yes” and when to say “no” to the many opportunities that come your way.
And if you have a problem and you take the time to understand it clearly, you’ll often find that solutions naturally emerge from your understanding of it.
Clarity coaching is all about helping you deeply understand yourself, your values, your dreams, and the world, including any challenging situations you’re in.
In this article, I’ll share some general principles about clarity coaching, and then I’ll tell you about the specific things coaches do to help their clients get clear.
It’s wise to have a clarity conversation before you jump into action
Even if you’re sure you’re clear on what you’re doing and why, I recommend having a clarity conversation with your coach.
If you’re crystal clear already, then the conversation should be quick, and you’ll have done something important — helped your coach understand what you’re doing and why.
If your coach doesn’t understand where you’re coming from, the coach may be more of a hindrance than a help to you. She may push you onto a path that isn’t right for you, give you advice that’s not appropriate for you, or give you assignments that don’t fit you.
One of the most frustrating coaching interactions I’ve observed was watching a business coach foist all these unpleasant tactics that reek of desperation on a client who was in business just for fun. In my view, the coach’s approach was completely wrong for the client’s personality and situation. (I think desperate tactics aren’t a good idea for anyone, but that’s a different discussion). She wasn’t desperate for money, and only someone desperate would do the embarrassing, uncomfortable things the coach assigned the client.
Much of the time, people learn something new when they have clarity conversations with their coaches. Sometimes, what people learn radically changes what they’re going to do or how they’re going to go about doing it. They’re saved the heartache and effort of struggling to do something that’s not right for them.
Skill level varies
Many of the clarity coaching skills are delicate, subtle techniques. They take judgment and finesse, a sense of when to move forward and when to give a person time to stay where he is, when to ask more questions and when to be quiet and listen. Coaches have varying degrees of mastery over these skills. (Not that a coach ever completely masters them. Just like with painting, writing, and dancing, there’s always room for growth and improvement.)
If you find:
- clarity conversations with your coach are harsh and uncomfortable or
- you seem to spend a lot of time talking with your coach and not getting new insights and greater clarity,
you may be working with someone who’s not quite at the right level for you at this point.
Beware of faux clarity
What I see a lot of in the coaching world is what I call “faux clarity.” A coach gives a client an assessment or does an exercise with him, and the client gets a result, like a new label for himself or a list of his top five values . It seems like he’s gotten something of value from the coach.
And, sometimes, he has. Realizing you have a lot in common with people who relate to a certain label can open worlds of understanding and insight. It can be life-changing.
But the label or list of five values may not have any practical use for the client. It doesn’t help him make decisions. It doesn’t help him understand himself. It doesn’t connect with anything real in his life.
The List of Clarity Coaching Services
Now, let’s take a look at the things coaches do to help their clients get clear.
Listening is easy to overlook, but it can be one of the most beneficial services coaches provide. When someone listens to you from a place of acceptance and support, you may be amazed at the brilliance that flows out of you. Answers, insights, and wisdom bubble up naturally.
When you talk to a gifted listener, you find yourself saying things you’ve never said aloud before. You realize something consciously that’s been fluttering in the background. Once you’ve put something into words, everything changes. You can focus on it, understand it, and work with it.
Asking provocative questions
A gifted coach can ask you just the right question in just the right way to open you up to entirely new ways of looking at your life. These paradigm-shifting conversations can be exhilarating, but also scary.
In my view, a masterful coach sets up a safe environment where you can play with big questions without being pushed, pressured, or judged.
Asking clarifying questions
You would probably be stunned to see how many situations resolve themselves when a coach takes the time to ask basic, clarifying questions about them. Very, very often, when a person comes in to work with me, he says he has a particular problem that he has to resolve. After I ask him some questions, he realizes that he’s stuck for an entirely different reason from what he thought it was.
Often, once the client understands the real issue, the next move is so obvious to him or her that we don’t even have to talk about it. In any case, solutions tend to flow naturally from a clear and correct understanding of a problem.
We all make assumptions about how the world works, what’s possible, how difficult certain things are to do. A coach can help you question assumptions you’re making. She may also encourage you to do some research to make sure they’re true. You may realize you have more options than you thought or that easier ways are open to you to accomplish your goals.
Hearing what you’re not saying
Some coaches pick up on nuances, subtleties. They pay attention to your tone, to the emotions behind your words. They help you get clear by questioning what you’re saying or reflecting back what they sense you’re saying that’s underneath the words.
A classic example of this is a client’s saying, “I want that promotion,” in a dull voice, with no enthusiasm. The coach may tell him that it doesn’t sound like he actually does want that promotion. Or the coach, because she’s picked up on the disconnect between what the client is saying and what he’s feeling, may start a line of questioning to unearth what’s really going on.
Coaches can also notice gaps, things you’re not mentioning, places you’re not going. Gentle, respectful discussions of these areas can be the source of powerful insights.
Seeing what you’re missing
We tend to take for granted the skills that come most naturally to us. A coach can help us realize our gifts and talents. We also overlook resources we have, options we can take. A mentor of mine believes that no matter what situation the client is in, there are always unrealized resources.
I’ve worked with a few clients who were in desperate situations, and I’ve been surprised at the resources they had when we looked into it, like people they can contact, access to money, career options, and places they can live.
Going there with you — deep, scary places
A coach can help you with clarity simply because she’s willing to talk with you about deep, scary, potentially life-changing things. Asking deep questions about life. Hearing about painful emotions. Questioning fundamental beliefs. The people in your life may not be comfortable doing these things with you — especially if they have a stake in your answers. Some coaches are happy to have these conversations and enjoy them. Your coach’s ease with these conversations can help you relax and feel comfortable, too.
In my view, a talented coach knows that these conversations are explorations and doesn’t push you into action about them. She lets you go at your own pace and knows that there’s a good chance you’ll decide to stay on the path you’re on, but do it out of conscious choice instead of by default.
Sharing her opinions
The coach helps you understand something about yourself or your life by sharing her opinions of you and what you’re doing. The practice of coaches’ sharing their interpretations and opinions is widespread, and it concerns me.
First of all, unless your coach is a true expert on the type of situation you’re in, there’s no particular reason to think that her interpretation is more correct than yours. That’s even more true when the coach has come to her conclusions with very little knowledge of your situation — something I’ve seen coaches do frequently.
Secondly, a coach’s interpretations are based on her philosophy, which may be different from yours.
Thirdly, if the coach expresses her views as if they’re fact (also not an unusual occurrence), you’re in an awkward position. If you disagree, should you say something and have to deal with the potential conflict and the coach’s possibly getting defensive? Or should you just let it go and hope the coach doesn’t follow up on it later?
Next, we turn to another key type of service coaches provide — strategy coaching.