We’ve all had them: conversations in which you feel your mind wandering. To some extent, it’s human nature. In fact, there’s a popular notion that we have around 70,000 thoughts per day, though this is still undecided as there’s no agreement among researchers as to the definition of a thought. If your mind wanders during a coaching session, that can be a problem. Maybe it’s a fleeting distraction, a random thought or something that’s more challenging to brush aside. The reality is we coach in environments with constant demands for our attention.
Coaching presence is one of the most important coaching competencies, as it underpins all the other competencies. Without presence, it will be difficult to demonstrate other competencies, such as establishing trust and intimacy, active listening, powerful questioning and more. Coaches often describe presence as being in the flow, an openness, and a connection to the conversation. People who have experienced someone’s presence speak about its value and impact and how it made them feel.
It may seem counter-intuitive that presence is both a way of being and doing—demonstrable and observable. It’s a mindset as well as a combination of skills. How do we continue to develop it then, when the expectations, distractions and demands of the world move at breakneck speed?
The mindset of a coach, before and during a coaching session, is paramount. Presence is, among other things, quieting one’s mind and being open to whatever shows up and unfolds. It’s how to listen without an agenda while picking out important beliefs, values, issues or challenges. It’s how to be judgement-free and not secretly wishing your client were better at scheduling or prioritization (as an example). It’s how to have more compassion and not rush to a solution. It’s being comfortable with being and not necessarily doing.
While the competency of presence is well defined in the ICF Core Competencies, the demonstration of presence may feel more nebulous. If silence is an important part of demonstrating presence, how do we keep tuned in? Here are three tips to develop your coaching presence:
If you already have a mindfulness practice, leverage it to quickly bounce back from, or even eliminate, distractions. Tap into what allows you to quiet your mind and let go, applying it in a coaching context. Anecdotal evidence suggests that mindfulness helps to clear one’s mind more quickly under pressure, a key ability impacting presence.
Personally, I’ve struggled with internalizing many of the mindfulness courses and practices that I’ve learned. It took being side-lined by an injury and surgery to develop a meaningful mindfulness practice. I had to slow down. Meditation has allowed me to regroup more quickly in many different challenging contexts and situations.