Self As Coach Series: Cultivate Presence To Go Deeper

By Pam McLean
September 26, 2019
Self As Coach - Presence

We’ve all had the experience of being deeply connected in conversation with another human being. Something magical happens in those moments, and it comes from being fully present, awake and engaged. The mind isn’t multitasking on other conversations and to-do lists. No one’s surreptitiously glancing down at their text messages. We’re not silently judging or wishing we could change the topic. We’re there. Completely. And it makes an impact.

It takes this kind of full and exquisite presence to be able to get below the surface in your coaching conversations—and cultivating this sort of presence only comes with practice. But once you’ve encouraged this deep presence in yourself, you’ll lay the foundation for deepening what’s possible in the coaching engagement.

The Foundation Starts at Home

In our Self as Coach Model, I pull apart the layers and threads of presence into three strands:

  • Presence to my inner rumblings
  • Presence to the relationship
  • Present to the wider ecology

The foundation always starts at home. Building presence to your own inner rumblings requires practices that allow you to continually draw inward with ease and cultivate awareness of your voices, your preferences and the cacophony of your inner rumblings.

This isn’t something that happens overnight, though. The ability to journey inward and pay attention to your heart beat, pulse, thoughts, assumptions, biases, desires, and judgments only comes with regular practice. It’s yet another example of why discipline is so essential for being a great coach.

Examining Your Inner Rumblings

Take a step back for a moment and scan the common conditions of your inner rumblings. What statements below resonate for you?

  • When a client shares their challenge or situation, I find my inner chatter searches for what experiences I’ve had that are similar to my client’s situation.
  • If I enter a client session following an intense meeting or conversation, I find it challenging to let go and be fully present for my client.
  • If my client shares a perspective that I am uncomfortable with, I find myself distracted by what feels like a values difference.
  • I often approach a coaching session with a sense of where I think our work should go, and if it veers into a different direction, I get distracted by my own agenda.

For most of us, there’s a common cast of internal characters impeding our presence. This typically includes:

  • Our judgment and biases, old stories and beliefs
  • Preoccupation with something that is capturing our attention, and our incessant inner chatter
  • Our hopes for the client or the session
  • Our assumptions about the engagement and the client

Otto Scharmer’s work on Presencing and Theory U describes a practice of hanging any assumptions and biases out in front of ourselves as coaches. The purpose is to allow you to create the space to notice any preferential mind, wake up to the beliefs you are holding and build your awareness. In so doing, you can begin to release those assumptions and biases and become more present in your coaching conversations.

Deepen Your Impact, Cultivate Your Presence

To get below the surface, you have to be willing to put in the time, effort and energy it takes to be fully present. Try these 3 strategies for cultivating your presence:

  • Uncover themes by committing to a 30-day practice. Twice a day, record on a notepad any awareness you’ve had of biases and assumptions about others. Jot short notes, keep it simple and, on Day 30, see what themes you can learn from!
  • Build the habit of asking more and assuming less. Equip yourself with some simple inquiries that may potentially alter your perceptions. This might include questions like, “Do I have this right?” “Is this what you mean?” and “Are you saying…?”
  • Regularly disrupt your opinions and beliefs by asking yourself, “Is that really so?”

The discipline of becoming fully and exquisitely present is the cornerstone of masterful coaching. There’s no shortcut to developing it. But it’s worth it.

About Author
Picture of Pam McLean
Pam McLean

A preeminent authority on coaching, transformation learning, and transition and change in the adult journey, Pamela McLean, Ph.D. has been at the forefront of the field of the emerging field of coaching for the past 30 years.