Caminante, no hay puentes, se hace puentes al andar. (Voyager, there are no bridges, one builds them as one walks.) —Gloria E. Anzaldúa
Acknowledging the essence of our client, serving as a champion for their aspirations, celebrating their successes and appreciating the value they add are life-serving coaching skills.
Acknowledging the essence
Acknowledging the essence is a heart-to-heart way of seeing our clients. We acknowledge clients by sharing qualities that we see, hear and sense as the essence of the person. We do this to support them in feeling seen authentically at their core.
As I listen to you talk about speaking your truth at work I am struck by your courage. What do you notice? You’re cherishing your self-awareness and the balance you’ve created at work and at home.
You care deeply about understanding the impact of tokenism. I want to acknowledge the way you are taking responsibility by acting on what matters most to you.
You sound very connected to your values and you’re honoring them fully. Kudos for stepping out of your comfort zone. Your commitment to growth is unwavering.
Acknowledgement is different from complimenting, which implies evaluation and judgment.
Examples: Vague Compliments
Way to go!
Instead, we acknowledge the essence of our client’s being at the core. A true acknowledgement is unique to the client in the moment, yet points to their enduring qualities. An acknowledgment can include what we notice about their stand, their growth, their learning or what we see. We name the qualities of the client that seem core or essential in relationship to what’s happening in the moment. When we acknowledge our client’s unique qualities, they can often step into those qualities more fully.
We can become aware of the client’s essence through intuition, felt sense, reading the energy or observation and can share the source to help the client understand the basis of our acknowledgment.
Acknowledging the essence has two and sometimes three steps:
- Deliver the acknowledgement.
- Listen for the impact.
- Follow up if the client did not receive the acknowledgement or received it partially.
Acknowledgement can be more powerful if delivered in a few words—go right to the heart of the matter. We don’t go on and on. We deliver and pause. At first, some clients want to move on, brush off or negate the acknowledgment. Following up can include slowing down the process, repeating or rephrasing the acknowledgment, asking what stops them from receiving it or inviting them to hold silence and take it in. That doesn’t mean we force our acknowledgement on our clients; we stay unattached and check in about the impact. People receive acknowledgments differently so we are sensitive to that. Even if the acknowledgment doesn’t resonate with the client, something new may emerge, such as an acknowledgment the client does want to hear.
When you champion your clients, you help them see things that might not be obvious to them. You can point to their strengths and core values, underscore their abilities and resourcefulness and help them raise the bar on their personal expectations. Benjamin Disraeli said, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him, his own.”
“Dominique, you took on that big global project last year and although it was a challenge, you delivered it on time and on budget. I believe in your ability to handle this new project equally well!”
Championing means we take a stand for our clients. We call them into their power by reminding them of their values, their vision, their strengths and their past successes. We know they can meet a challenge—personal or professional, internal or external—because they have met challenges before, and we can cite specific examples. Not only can we cite their actions, but also their talents, evolution or expanded consciousness.
When it comes from the heart, championing catapults clients out of the status quo and into fresh possibilities. We have the deepest impact when championing comes up spontaneously. In contrast, if we’re doing it to get them to shift, they get the sense that where they are is not okay. When our celebration of our client rises up in us and we can’t stop it from pouring out, then we know it’s the real deal. “You’re more committed to stopping trafficking than anyone I know. One thing I’m sure about you is that giving up is not an option. I challenge you to ask ten people to help you.”
Although this skill of taking a stand for our clients is typically used when they are swimming in self-doubt or questioning their capabilities, we can also champion clients when they are coming down the home stretch of a project or even when they are upbeat and confident. “Remember when you launched that change initiative and how you used your peacemaking skills to help those two rival groups to collaborate… Tap into that part of you now.”
The two main components to the skill of championing are 1) celebrating, followed by 2) challenging. The synergy comes from the combination of deeper awareness and forward movement. Off ering specific examples of what the client has done seeds the challenge.
In contrast, “I believe in you” has a vague emptiness to it until we add what we believe the client can actually do. “You have the connections to fundraise enough money to pilot this initiative by the end of the month.”
Championing is not empty cheerleading (You can do it!) because it’s based on data. If we are trying to rev them up when they have low energy, we are working way too hard. It’s far more genuine and impactful to offer a grounded celebration followed by a challenge that invites them to step toward their yearning. “You have a daily practice of going deep into self awareness. I request you take that self-intimacy into your relationship with your boss and open your heart.”
When our clients are in the pit of despair, negating their experience in the moment can leave them feeling disconnected. “You’re a strong person—you can snap out of it…” doesn’t cut it. Forget about pulling them out of the pit, and notice when they start to climb out themselves, rinse off their hopelessness, or see a glimmer of light, as this is the time to match their energy, and stay present to the momentum that is building. “You’re in the darkness, but a light from far away is calling you. Answering the call is both scary and exciting. You have the freedom to move toward the light.”
If we’re trying too hard, championing can sound saccharine, manipulative or over the top. “You’re so courageous…” is a bit flat unless we give examples, “You told a vulnerable story to that group of investors and asked for what you need.” Voicing our own experience can add to the quality of connection. “I’m feeling goose bumps as I envision you in the driver seat—owning your leadership, yet sharing authentically your own struggles with power and privilege.”
We support clients to believe in themselves and simultaneously move forward. We call them into self-affirmation, and from that place where they are steeped in their own confidence and unique beauty, we call them into action. “As you savor your connection to a higher power, use that energy to create your action plan.”
To experience the joy fully, we celebrate the people we coach. What milestones do our clients want to celebrate? How will they celebrate? We don’t wait until goals are complete and visions are realized. We don’t wait until the change initiative is complete or the book is fi nally fi nished.
Look for opportunities to celebrate the small successes along the way. Changing our behavior is no small feat, so we create milestones and rituals to support these transitions.
Celebrations don’t have to be flamboyant or costly. You can say, “I celebrate your courage. You took a big risk and presented a controversial alternative.” Or you can ask, “How would you like to celebrate this important step?”
Ultimately, we want to support clients to celebrate themselves by asking empowering questions. We might co-create an image or a metaphor—something memorable—as a way to draw out their internal celebration. “I see you at the hub of many circles of healers. What do you celebrate when you step into the center of all those healers?”
This practice of celebrating can be intense and bold or soft and sensitive. We can create space for clients to receive our energy in a way that works for them. In some cultures, people like to soak in the energy of celebrating slowly and respond best to a subtle dance.
The way people live their values, develop new insights or take action on what matters oft en impacts us as coaches. Their inner and outer work can serve as an inspiration to us. While acknowledgement focuses exclusively on your client, expression of appreciation focuses on the coach, which can enhance the interaction and quality of connection. Acknowledgment is often used to help clients see themselves more fully or support the changes they are making in their lives, whereas appreciation is a genuine expression of what’s alive in the coach.
A full appreciation has three parts:
- The observable behavior of your client
- The emotional impact
- What is satisfying for the coach
“Keisha, when you shared with me the anger you felt about the healthcare inequities for poor people, I felt grateful that you shared your real feelings. You awaken in me a desire to express myself more authentically.”
The relationship deepens when we share what inspires us, how our thinking has changed or how our own growth or transformation is impacted by the work of our clients. Instead of vague compliments like, “I appreciate you,” we can deepen intimacy and empower the coaching partnership by sharing the specifics of what we appreciate:
I appreciate the way you explored from the heart because…
Would you like to hear how you’ve contributed to my well-being?
I feel tenderness and I’m connected to my own desire for…
The most moving part of your work for me was…
I’m touched by your vulnerability—are you interested in what opened up in me?
The specific components of appreciation foster transparency and give people a sense of their power and impact. The two-way street creates a more robust relationship, fostering intimacy and authenticity. When our clients understand their impact on us, the relationship is further enhanced by a sense of equality, mutuality and shared power.
Excerpt from Coaching for Transformation by Lasley, Kellogg, Michaels and Brown.
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