An effective coaching process doesn’t run to a standard pattern – it is heavily dependent on the issues that arise during the session. There are a vast number of possible approaches that might be successful in any one situation, and we cannot cover absolutely everything in this chapter.
At a high level, we define effective coaching to be:
- an intervention by a coach that results in the generation of mindsets and actions by the coachee that will enable him or her to better achieve their desired outcomes.
We will focus on the main elements that a competent coach is likely to consider. Paying attention to these will go along a long way to improving the effectiveness of any coaching session.
The process isn’t the normal linear one of: start→actions→end. It is slightly more complex because:
- there are different levels of process going on at the same time, in both the mind of the coach and of the coachee;
- the processes at each level tend to be a sequence of loops (TOTEs), the start point of each loop dependent on the end point of the previous one.
We will explore what goes on at each level in greater detail, but the primary levels are:
- Surface: the content of the conversation, including non-verbal signals. In essence it is whatever could be captured on a video of the coaching session.
- Coach internal: this is where coaching value gets created, by the coach listening to and noticing what is going in the surface conversation, processing it internally and deciding where to take the conversation next.
- Coach administration: the coach’s management of the time available, the coachee’s expectations and movement towards the outcomes of the coaching session
The coachee will certainly be running their own internal loops (some of which will have been stimulated by the coach), but the only evidence we have of these comes from the surface level and our internal attention to it. There are likely to be many other strands at work too (“I’m getting hungry, what shall I have for lunch?”), but we will focus only on the ones that have impact on the effectiveness of the coaching.
At each level, a number of loops – or ‘TOTEs’ (Test, Operate, Test, Exit) – are operating, some within the mind of the coachee and some within that of the coach. Our subconscious tends to automatically seek closure of each loop so that we can exit the TOTE. We set these TOTEs up in our minds all the time: my decision to write this chapter established a TOTE in my mind, with completion of the chapter as its Exit.
TOTEs are not just features of coaching – we run them all the time when we are making decisions or want to get something done. A visit to the grocery store is all about setting up TOTEs about what sort of things we might want, and closing them when each item is selected. Supermarkets deliberately arrange the environment inside their stores in order to set off new buying TOTEs in our minds.
Most forms of entertainment, for example books and movies, deliberately set up TOTEs in the plot as a way of engaging the audience and providing pleasure when they close the loop with a satisfying exit. One-liners from stand-up comics are mini-TOTEs that generate humour from an unexpected exit. Confident and sophisticated comedians establish a number of TOTEs early in their routine and close them much later – the suspense adding to the pleasure of closure.
The point is that although the TOTE may seem like a difficult technical concept, it is simply a description of the loops we set up and seek to close in our minds all the time – a key part of the mechanics of how our minds operate. A TOTE is a simple but effective way to get our subconscious minds motivated to generate the results that we want.