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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 11-Jun-08


Wednesday 11-June-08

Coaching euphemism

Of recent years, 'coaching' has sprung from something to do with sports into boardrooms and kitchens around the country, in its two main forms. 'Executive coaching' seeks to help highly-paid business people to eliminate weaknesses and better earn their salaries, whilst 'life coaching' helps more ordinary folks cope with everyday pressures.

Many of the methods and techniques used in coaching come from the realms of therapy and counselling, which gives a hint at the development of the industry. For a long time people in all walks of life have realised that they have had difficulties with a number of very human issues, from self-esteem to communicating with others. The problem, however was that going to a counsellor or therapist seemed like admitting to some kind of mental illness or abnormality. With such stigma attached, it is not surprising that many chose coping over addressing their internal issues.

But then someone came up with the brilliant idea of calling it 'coaching'. At a stroke, the same thing was reframed from something negative to something positive. Instead of treating mental illness or deficiency, it was now about increasing mental fitness and honing personal skills. A euphemism is a weasel word used to soften an unpleasant reality. A reality of life is we're all broken and are just doing our best with what we've got, although we hate to admit this. Happily, with coaching we never need to, at least not to those who matter most to us and our careers.

Coaches thus become confidantes, therapists, challengers, guides or whatever works. At the very least, they provide a welcome respite in the frantic day where you can be yourself and sound off all you like. .

Your comments

Recently, I posted an entry in my blog comparing a good coach to a good caricature artist. It's a gift, whether we're talking kids sports or everyday encouragement, or paid therapeutic coaching.

Seeing potential in people, and helping them realize what value they can bring the world by excavating it, is an admirable undertaking which is mutually inspiring.

If you are interested, here is the link:

-- Gloria

Dave replies:
You're right, Gloria. Coaching can be very rewarding (if a bit exhausting at times).  As with all abilities, there are indeed those for whom it is more natural. There are also gateways -- if you lack empathy, you're unlikely to ever get good at it.

But do you think empathy can be learned? Or do you think it's purely a right brain dominated thing? Book after book abounds, suggesting that right brain thinking can be enhanced by nurturing the creative side, but can empathy, which is also a right brain attribute, be developed, by developing other right brain skills? I mean for me, when I have had the experience of being treated poorly, it makes it all the more likely that I won't pass that treatment on to others, because I know how it feels.

-- Gloria

Dave replies:
Interesting question. Empathy is a below-the-waterline experience which is difficult to learn. I think there is a definite natural spread, with some people being naturally far more empathetic than others. I believe women, as a gender, have a higher average than men. I also think it's connected with belief, which can be changed. If you see others as objects, your empathy will likely be low (and maybe the causal link is the other way around). If you see others as embodied spirits, your empathy will likely be higher.

Empathy can still be learned, at the minimum as a technique, observing body language and responding appropriately. It is founded on care. Nevertheless, those who learn such strategies will never have the deeper natural empathy of  others.

You are on the money. "Exceptional coaching" is active listening, empathic listening, holding up the mirror to a client, asking questions which both cause new thinking but also which better connect the client's feelings and their thinking and their action, suggesting frameworks for thinking. If the coach takes his or her ego out of the picture (not feeling any pressure to be brilliant or helpful, just being there as coach), a climate of safety and exploration is created.

I have more than a dozen CEO coaching situations each month. Some are more valuable to the client than others. But there is no other environment in which they can safely be completely authentic and open.

Not one of these people is "broken." They are, however, under tremendous pressure to perform and eager to gain any insight into themselves that takes their behavior and performance up a notch and their discomfort down a notch.

One final note: I do not believe in therapy that ends with the speaking parts. As the late Dr. Albert Ellis (founder of cognitive therapy) taught us, there must be actions to try in the real world, success or setback and recovery and -- always -- learning.

Just my view.

Stephen H. Baum

 I am in the process of reading a book entitled, Becoming A Person Of Influence, by John Maxwell. I would highly recommend it. It's all about encouraging others and being a positive influence in their lives.

One thing is for sure:
"We're Better off for all that We let in..."
Indigo Girls

-- Gloria


Interesting post - in fact, the "coaching church" is broad enough to encompass elements traditionally handled by religion e.g. spiritual coaching (google it!)

Yes, there are certainly traces of therapy and counseling in the coaching toolkit, although the fundamentals are that coaching looks to the future and doesn't aim to fix what may be "broken".

Nonetheless, some coach training schools do attempt to make a distinction between coaching, the mental health professions and consulting. In theory, a coach should coach and leave the client in no doubt what he/she is 'qualified' to do.

(There may already have been cases in the US(?) where life coaches have found themselves in legal trouble when attempting to knowingly coach people on issues for which the medical profession has diagnosed therapy or counseling.)

This is even a risk in executive coaching - the old joke among some exec coaches is that all executive coaching becomes life coaching after the first couple of sessions! And they're often right.

Problem is that some exec coaches take on clients who are approaching burnout. Attempting to deliver a ROI on the coaching fees by having such a person set even more goals, targets etc and then coach/push to deliver can be a bad news scene all round...

Enough of the gloom (I am a career change coach after all !) - the one skill that I think a successful coach MUST have is an ability and willingness to listen to the client. Goodness knows, nobody else is!

It's so important that I wrote a blog post on listening skills recently:

mark mcclure

Dave replies:
I agreed that whilst there's a nominal line between coaching and therapy, in practice it can be rather hazy. I used the term 'broken' to mean imperfect, not incapable, and there's certainly plenty of execs out there who are a long way from perfect. I also think that most of them are doing their best and that if a coach can help them (even if it means getting them to attend more serious therapy), then it helps the person, their colleagues and their company.

Listening? Absolutely! It's remarkably uncommon. People say something we're off thinking about what we want to say. The gap between listening rate and thinking rate is startlingly seductive. Another coaching attribute that several coaches have suggested is 'curiosity'. You have to be interested and spot odd patterns. I'd also add care.

I definitely agree with the fact that simply calling something by a different name, such as 'coaching' can make someone feel loads better about themselves!

While everyone has what it takes to care for someone else, not everyone is capable of leading a successful coaching program. Which is where coaching training comes in!

-- Tucker M

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