Excerpted and adapted from Coaching From the Inside: The Guiding Principles of Internal Coaching, by J. Val Hastings.
In coaching, the coach relates to their client as being basically healthy and whole. They are the experts of their own lives and have within themselves the ability and capability to move forward in healthy, constructive ways – professionally and personally.
We acknowledge that the coach has expertise as a result of their coach training, expertise, and life experiences. In this relationship though, the coach intentionally holds back on their expertise, choosing to share it only when it empowers and benefits the client. Sometimes the most empowering thing that a coach can do is to offer advice or share their expertise and then jump back into the role of coach. At this point, they would acknowledge that they are switching “hats” or roles.
This can be tricky for new coaches, so I explain that the first step is to stop telling people what to do because the ways that we tell and offer advice are typically not very helpful. So we stop telling and start listening and asking questions. Then, once we’ve become competent at listening and asking powerful questions, we bring our advice and expertise back into the picture. Our goal is to be masterful with all of the tools that we have available – including advice-giving.
Hat switching in internal coaching
The expert-to-expert relationship is even more pronounced in the internal coaching relationship, where the internal coach switches hats not only sooner than the typical external coach but much more frequently.
The seasoned internal coach always begins with the expertise of their client and, going forward, is able to seamlessly switch hats mid-conversation. So as a facilitator, they start by coaching and then you move into facilitating. If they’re the consultant, they start as a coach, and then start telling, giving their client just enough of their expertise to keep them moving forward.
In our interview for the book, internal coach Claire Bamberg warned of being very careful to not switch hats by doing your clients’ work for them. We need to be clear in our agreements with our clients regarding what is their work and their responsibility, and what is ours. We must hold our ground and stay in the role of coach when clients try to push back responsibility.
Madhavi Ledalla, another internal coach featured in the book, warned of the temptation to switch into consulting mode “because we want to give solutions and we want to ensure that we can show results quickly.” She asserts, “Stay in true coach-mode.” Switch hats only when needed or called for.
A few questions that an internal coach can ask themselves to be sure that they are fostering an expert-to-expert relationship before switching hats:
Whose expertise is driving the coaching conversation?
What’s great about my client? Name three things.
What are the signs and signals that my client needs me to offer them advice?
Which hat (role) does my client need from me right now?
Who is working hardest in this coaching session, my client or me?
And in your organization:
If your current leadership adopted a “listen more, tell less” approach, what would you have more of? Less off?
This section addresses the need to unlearn how to give advice. What else needs to be unlearned in your organization?