How to get your coaching client to feel at ease with you, open up quicker, and reframe their issues, in your first session
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One of the joys of running the Practical Appreciative Inquiry facilitator training is how much I learn from my students from all over the world.
After each group call on the course, the students practice in the real world what they’ve learned on the call. So after the call covering the Discovery stage of Appreciative Inquiry, they get to try out conducting an appreciative interview or two with a colleague, coaching client, or friend.
This week I was very heartened to hear that one student, an executive coach in Singapore, had used the appreciative interview format in a ‘chemistry’ session with a new client (this is how the ‘get to know you’ first session with a coaching client is often referred to these days).
He said that not only did the appreciative interview help put the client at their ease, but at the end of the session the client said they were going to completely rethink the topics they wanted coaching around, and they would come back with the revised list of topics at the next session!
I was pleased, but I wasn’t surprised.
Why the appreciative interview will help your clients open up
Imagine being interviewed about your failures, the worst problems you face, your weaknesses, and your biggest mistakes. The chances are that you wouldn’t enjoy the process much – it would feel pretty uncomfortable, and if the interviewer (or interrogator) wasn’t very careful, could easily feel like you’re being attacked or belittled.
Nor would your interviewer get much useful information from this line of questioning. Problems, and your own faults, are uncomfortable to think about, and also you would probably say as little as possible to avoid incriminating or shaming yourself.
Let’s forget that, then, and imagine instead that you’re being asked about things that are going well, about your strengths, about your values, and achievements you are proud of.
By the end of that interview, you’d be relaxed, open, remembering that you’re actually better than you thought you were (because our brain’s natural tendency to pay more attention to negatives has been counteracted), more creative, and more open to new ideas.
How an appreciative interview helps your clients to reassess their priorities
Our brains have two networks: the ‘Task Positive’ or analytical network, activated when we think about problems and threats, and when we are trying to hit deadlines, and the ‘Default Mode’ or empathetic network, activated when we are relaxing or playing.
Most of the time at work, or dealing with the complexities of modern life, we are in ‘Task Positive’ mode, which is great for getting things done (once we’ve decided on a course of action), but not so great for creative thinking, relationships, and being open to new ideas.
When we are asked to give attention to our strengths, achievements, and the things we are proud of – which is what the appreciative interview is about – we activate our Default Mode networks. In this mode, we are more open, more trusting, and better at generating new ideas.
As we process our experience through this different neural network, the world appears different to us. We notice opportunities that we had previously overlooked, and our confidence improves as we remember times when we handled things well. Reconnecting with our values reminds us what our true priorities are.
Consequently, after an appreciative interview, your coaching client may well reassess their priorities as they see things in a new light and reconnect with their values.
A slight caveat: use appreciative interviews with care if your initial ‘chemistry’ session is free. Your client might decide that they got so much out of the session and enjoyed it so much that they are eager to come back for more – but there’s always a possibility that the world looks so full of possibility after their appreciative interview experience that they decide they don’t need to continue with coaching.
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