Marilyn Atkinson is the Founder of Erickson Coaching International and originator of the Solution-Focused Coaching methodology. A former Registered Organizational Psychologist, Marilyn is an NLP Master Trainer and specialist in Ericksonian Communications. Since 1980s she has been helping leading global companies and leaders through Solution- Focused and Outcome-Oriented Coaching. Marilyn has authored eight books, including The Art & Science of Coaching trilogy (Inner Dynamics of Coaching, Step-by-Step Coaching & The Flow of Coaching).
Creating Action Steps in an Effective Coaching Session
All powerful coaches know that no matter how wonderful and transformational a coaching session is, it cannot reach its true potential until it's brought down to earth in terms of effective action steps that implement the discoveries and new awarenesses created in the session.
As a strong Solution-Focused coach, you know you begin a session by building rapport, setting a focus or contract for the session and then starting to create an experience to achieve the outcome. Once the person has opened up to expansive possibilities and new creative insights and has explored a goal visually, auditorily and kinesthetically and perhaps imagined the details of completion, the most natural move is towards determining specific steps to undertake the plan. Once the steps are effectively visualized as clear, concise action items, seen well from various points of view, linked to what is most important to them, and perhaps written down, the person is on track to reach the goal with power, grace, and full satisfaction.
As the actions become clarified, the session sharpens focus on specific action steps. The person may do this for him or herself, or the coach may lead with action questions that assist the person to begin to formulate his or her first commitments in the key area.
Notice the qualities of such questions:
- Considering our work today, and your short and long-term goals, what actions are you committing to this week?
- What do you commit to accomplishing this week to solidify the learning from our conversation?
- What, then, are your specific action steps?
At the key moments when people begin to determine and select specific action steps, it is useful to make your own tone strong and decisive and begin to use their words for the certainty of results leading to inspired implementation and completion. Action words are always a very personal system used and understood as a personal code. For example, some people take clear action when they use necessity phrases like "I must", or "I should". Others are more likely to use possibility words like "I will", "I choose", "I decide" or "I dare myself". That means that if you, as a coach, try out their words that seem to inspire and empower them, repeating them their way, you help them take action powerfully. You also produce the experience of strong coach support.
The key is to listen closely to the words that energize the client and not use the words they used that tend to deflate their engagement. Are the words said with an inspired and empowered tone of choice? Or are they said with a desperate tone, like there is an oppressive force outside of them making them do something? If you are not sure, ask the person to scale his or her motivation or inspiration level from 1 to 10. Check if there is a stronger inner phrase that gets his or her inspiration and motivation battery really charged.
Consider that one last step for you as the coach might be to check with the client as to their timeline for the specific steps. This timeline confirmation with the client, spoken as a commitment, brings this last important part of the session to a close with the strongest possible support system in place, both from him or her, and from you, the coach. Learn to repeat:
Coach: "So you are saying this will be done by Thursday evening then?"
Client: "Yes, that is what I'm saying! I am committed!"
A powerful and affirmative ending is for the client to debrief and declare the value of the session, and hear (and feel) he or she acknowledges that value. For this purpose, it is highly relevant to ask the client at the end of the session: "What value did you create for yourself in this conversation?"
It is wonderful, for you as the coach, to finish with a few words sharing what you see in the person, lighting on those aspects you know are a springboard to his or her development.
Now that you have the formula to effectively and powerfully complete a coaching session, how might you apply this, not only to your coaching sessions but also to your own life?