How I Stopped Being a Know-it-All (and the ABCs of Beginner's Mind) | By Shawna Campbell

woman-business-leaderIn this week's article Shawna Campbell bravely shares an experience from early in her coaching career and what she did with that learning...

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities,
in the expert's mind there are few." Shunryi Suzuki

In one of my first sessions, I was working with a client when they made a comment about being overlooked for a promotion. They had barely finished the sentence and I was off and running with suggestions that I knew could help them, with ideas from a previous client on how to deal with this "set-back" and challenge! After my lengthy and brilliant diatribe, my client looked at me and said, "What I was going to say was, I was so relieved to be passed over! It just reminded me of how much I want to find a new career. This one is not a good fit for me." Gulp… I apologized and in that moment vowed to stop being a know-it-all.

Having been a life coach for over seven years now, I have seen a good number of different clients, circumstances and outcomes. I have been challenged, I have learned and I have grown as a coach. All good? Yes, when I remain committed to the practice of a Beginner's Mind.

I approach each client and session with the concept from Zen Buddhism known as Shoshin. This is defined as, "having openness, eagerness and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject or experience." This is after all the essence of the coaching relationship; encouraging and supporting clients as they try on new ideas in order to shift their current and future experiences. And we must challenge ourselves to recognize the pitfalls of, "I know what they are doing, thinking or feeling" and "Oh yeah, I have seen this before".

Thinking WE have the Answers

"You know what you could do..." When energy is directed at rightness rather than curiosity, I have fallen out of step with my client and their awareness, and am instead pushing my agenda. Maybe you have experienced this as well? That  moment when you know you have lost the client to your own jargon, analysis or judgment?

The "Cure"

A Beginner's Mind has the power to keep us coaches firmly grounded in the present and to open the door to new possibilities and options. When we observe, reflect and share with the express desire to test assumptions, ask for clarification and seek the client's perspective, possibilities and pathways are revealed.

Our interpretations, instincts and past coaching experiences lead us to the very foundation of all expert coaching sessions, and the portal the client is looking for - The Coaching Question. The coaching question is born from a desire to open up, clear, affirm, lovingly challenge and engage the coachee in a deeper understanding of themselves. The coaching question centers on being a compassionate inquiry, not another expert flinging judgments, labels, clichés and knowing – they already have enough of that!

At the heart of Beginner's Mind is the idea that we can help our clients listen to what they most need to hear in a space that fosters reflection, introspection and embraces the unknown.

We stand on the precipice with our coachees. We categorize and evaluate and draw from the past and then, we drop it all and leap with them into the nameless. We become pioneers and explorers.

We do this in service, because we know our coachee is brilliant and we know they own their best answers and we know what is possible. We do it because we know the power of the partnership, collaboration, and support that life coaching provides. We know because we have been somewhere like this before. We know how to model open mindedness and to embrace the uncomfortable and unfamiliar. We know that what we do not know, is where it all begins again.

As a coach I wanted to know-it-all and to be or feel right. The fear of getting it wrong stopped me from throwing something out there, trusting a hunch or letting the client lead. But by embracing a Beginner's Mind I realised there is no such thing as "wrongness" - that there is just feedback.

To Wrap-up, Here is The ABCs of a Beginner's Mind:

  1. Admit that you do not know or need to know-it-all! Ask your client: "What do you want to gain from the session? What would be helpful for you to know?"
  2. Before speaking with your client, put yourself in their shoes. Visualize the client, reread notes and direct your focus towards being present for this person. What do they need from you?
  3. Clarify and then clarify some more! Asking questions, mirroring and testing assumptions will help to ensure that you are present with what the client most needs.

Shawna Campbell2Contributing Author: Shawna Campbell graduated from Coach University in 2007 and began her practice, On Purpose Life Coaching. She is thrilled to share her passion for human behavior and knowledge of the mind-body connection, while coaching clients to improve every facet of their lives. At the core of her work, she helps clients to identify what is getting in the way, and then supports them as they design a plan to live fully alive - On Purpose. Find her at On Purpose Life Coaching or follow her on Twitter @ShawnaOnPurpose.

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