Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.” – E.M. Forster, Howards End
Take a moment to consider what ‘connection’ means to you in a human sense? What are the feelings, the words and the experiences that come to mind?
For me, connection is an energy and an ease, a simultaneous pull towards another and a groundedness in my own sense of self.
Brene Brown offers us the following definition: I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.
In coaching, connecting with another person is the basis of the work; without it, all the tools, techniques and models in the world will falter and fail. As Pamela McLean in Self as Coach, Self as Leader[i] suggests, “the greatest and at times most enigmatic tool that we possess as coaches is a well developed internal landscape. This is our Self as Coach – the whole, cultivated, managed self we bring to the coaching experience to inspire and help affect change”.
To connect with our clients requires deep self awareness both overall and in any given moment. It depends on keeping ourselves well and resourced and a commitment to reflective practice. Connection most surely starts with us.
Why is connection important in coaching?
When we connect with our clients, we are creating trust, rapport, and a ‘container’ for the work. There is psychological safety for both parties and from that, an ability for both coach and client to be vulnerable and to be courageous.
As coaches, connection allows us to ask the difficult questions which are of most service to our clients and connect with our own curiosity; to hold a space even when our clients feel lost and to provide what therapists refer to as unconditional positive regard. It enables our clients to dig deep and find their gold.
The literature suggests that the coaching relationship is at the heart of positive coaching outcomes[ii] and ‘a proxy for the coaching process in itself[iii]’. Connection brings trust, motivation, honesty and courage for those we work with. It is indeed the crux of the whole coaching offer.
When you are connected with another person, it is like what?
How do we know when connection is present? What are the signs and signals for you? Are they the same or different to what you might notice in your clients?
Perhaps you know primarily in your body – there may be a presence, calmness, a sense of flow
Or maybe it’s a still and settled mind or a mind capable of crafting a question which really makes a difference or the of giving and receiving feedback without ego.
Or perhaps it’s an energy where there’s balance and flow between people and which changes subtly and meaningfully in the ebb and flow of the conversation.
There are many opportunities to nurture the connection in a coaching relationship. Before working together and in a chemistry session, during the sessions themselves, in between sessions in the way we communicate and in the ending of the relationship.
All that time we will be building rapport, finding common ground, using humour, noticing and utilising language, bringing our exquisite attention, being inclusive and creative, curious and appreciative. We’ll be flexing and adapting as we go and reflecting well after each interaction. We’ll be clear about our intention and full of compassionate for ourselves and for our client.
All the coaching professional bodies include building connection and the coaching relationship in their competency frameworks. The EMCC refer to ‘building the relationship’, the ICF to ‘co-creating the relationship’ and the AC to ‘establishing a trust based relationship with the client’. Each organisation provides criteria for demonstrating how we might do this – what to look for – well worth a read if you’re interested in honing your approach to this important work.
Dangers and pitfalls
So is it possible to over connect with our clients? I think we can. Perhaps it’s something you’ve felt from time to time.
Over-identification with our clients or, the client’s over-identification with us, can be problematic and lead to a dependency either way. It may be more obvious to us when a client continues to ask for more coaching when we feel their goals have been met, but what about when our need for feedback and connection with a client we admire means we find it difficult to let go?
Over connection can mean the coaching loses focus and becomes a cosy chat or that we indeed begin to collude with our client. We may unconsciously make assumptions and find it hard to stay in the ’not knowing’ state.
Dorian Jose Braun[iv] highlights the darker side of connection: “the connection for some participants is about an effortless optimal relation state when coaching is working at its best. However, in stark contrast to this it is the descriptions of connection as; energised, intense, hyper-connection, almost out of control, scary or overwhelming intimacy and vulnerability that require further thought, in terms of their relation to psychotherapeutic relationships and implication for coaching practice”.
Strategies when over-connected
When your clients asks you for answers, when you feel discomfort in your body, when your energy is disrupted or you find yourself pulled into their ‘drama’ (rescuer maybe?), stepping into supervision will help you explore the nature of the connection and what might need to change.
And in the meantime, we can recognise that when we are fully present with our coachees, our self-awareness is at its best and we can connect from a place of ease and honesty.
When we are clear, with ourselves and with client, about our boundaries, we will know when they have been compromised.
If you notice you may be over-connected, name what you recognise (body, heart, head?) and share and explore it kindly with the other person, in service of them. Whose needs are or aren’t being met in the relationship? How might it need to alter?
If you find your questions becoming leading or rooted in assumption, keep your questions ‘clean’ [v] or invite your coachee to ask themselves the next question .
Being outdoors allows us to connect more deeply with ourselves in the moment. Our senses are stimulated when outdoors: touch (the breeze on our skin); sound (the rustling of the leaves); smell (the damp autumn beneath our feet); taste (from the moist air or blackberries); and sight (colours and perspective). This is also true for our client; the outdoors builds their self-awareness too. Our bodies become a great source of data. We know things outdoors holistically and through our connections.
Shared experience comes more easily in the dynamic outdoors than the static ‘in’. We might connect over a shared view or experience for example, and this in itself can bring us closer together.
When two people come together, connected with themselves in a shared present, we magnify the potential for human connection, for sustenance and strength and for profound understanding. Connection is everything. Only connect!
Stay consciously connected
- The Consciously Connected Coaching Collective is community is for coaches everywhere. It’s a place to come together with others who share your passion for learning, for connection and for personal and professional growth and the difference between just getting by and finding genuine joy in what you do. In our previous masterclass, we explored connection in coaching.
- Our next Masterclass is on 10th May – ‘Coaching with metaphor’
- Our book Club is on 5th June 4pm – Emotional Agility by Susan David
- Our next community drop-in is on 15th May
- Join us here: www.clairembradshaw.co.uk/cccc/
[i] McLean, P (2019) Self as Coach, Self as Leader: Developing the best in you to develop the best in others. New Jersey, Wiley
[ii] De Haan, E and Sills, C (2012). Coaching Relationships: the relational coaching fieldbook. Oxford, Libri Publishing
[iii] O’Riordan S. & Palmer, S. (2021). Introduction to Coaching Psychology. London: Routledge.
[iv] Dorian Jose Braun (2022) ‘The Experience of Deep Connection in Coaching Relationships’ in International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring 2022, S16, pp.173-184
[v] E.g. Sullivan, W and Rees, J (2008) Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds Crown House Publishing