Sophie Morris: Sophie is a qualified resilience and wellness coach. She is also a health kinesiologist, and passionately interested in the mind-body connection and how it can affect all aspects of our lives. Sophie loves to help others find calm whilst understanding themselves better and achieving their goals. When not working or studying Sophie is obsessed with all things Spanish while hatching a plan for a house over there – and trying to perfect her recipe for delicious, healthy cookies!
At the time of writing this, I am a few months into my training to become a Resilience and Wellbeing Coach. Before starting my course I had a basic grasp of coaching, but little understanding of exactly how much there would be to learn, and how multi-layered and subtly excellent coaching can be, let alone how to provide a good (or even a bad) coaching session. I am becoming more knowledgeable by the day and my toolkit of techniques and skills to deliver professional, rewarding sessions is growing all the time.
However, there is a personal area which I am struggling with as I learn to coach; my innate desire to try and fix things for other people. This is entirely inappropriate and so it is a part of myself that I am examining and re-evaluating not just in the context of a coaching relationship, but in my personal relationships too.
Coaching conversations versus everyday conversations
There is a difference between a coaching conversation and a conversation between friends or colleagues. Before beginning any kind of coaching relationship it is essential that your client understands what coaching is and what to expect from the sessions. Some clients may think that the coach will identify what is and isn’t working for them and serve up a set of personal solutions on a plate with minimal effort from the client themselves. This, of course, is not how coaching works. The coach provides a safe and respectful environment where the client can explore issues and situations that they are finding challenging. It is a collaboration between coach and client. The coach must never lead the conversation in any particular direction but must ask open questions and listen actively to what the client is (and isn’t saying) to empower them and allow them to find solutions. Through coaching the client can learn to take responsibility for the situation and identify what can and can’t be changed. This will, in turn, give the client the perspective and tools to find the right solutions for them at that time.
The Fix-It Syndrome in Coaching
So, what is the Fix-It Syndrome and how does it show itself in a coaching situation? The Fix-It Syndrome is when the coach tries to steer a coaching conversation in a particular direction and towards a solution that the coach thinks is right for the client.
Why would a coach try to fix things for their client? There are a variety of reasons, but I think it comes down to the following:
*A desire to help and thinking that you are making thing easier by ‘fixing’ things for the client
*Thinking that the coach knows what is best for the client
*Not trusting that the client will be able to identify solutions for themselves
*Wanting results – time constraints may not allow the coach to get to the place in the coaching conversation that they were hoping to reach
*Perfectionism – wanting the coaching conversation to be successful and judging the success of that coaching situation on the solutions identified. In fact the success of the coaching relationship would be better judged against what the client has got out of it. The coach must allow the client to find specific, measurable and realistic solutions for their situation at that time
*Control – an element of the coach wanting to be in control, whether consciously or unconsciously, to be able to be sure of the outcome.
What is Fix-It Syndrome?
*Steering the coaching conversation in a particular direction
*Thinking the coach knows what is best for the client
*Not trusting the client will be able to identify solutions themselves
*Wanting results – time constraints
So, intellectually I understand that allowing the client to explore issues and identify solutions makes perfect sense and yet, I find it hard to suppress my desire to fix things for others. I think this is a characteristic found within many individuals, particularly those in the ‘caring professions’. Most of us can immediately come up with a solution to a challenging situation that we consider ‘better’ than the solution of the person who is actually experiencing it. Do you ever hear yourself saying ‘If I was her…..’ or ‘what she should do is…..’?
This desire to help can be a way to show caring in personal relationships, providing that the concern is not seen as interfering. However is it essential to remember in a coaching conversation that you are not your client and you are not in their situation. Trying to imagine what you would have done or what they should do in that situation is irrelevant and useless no matter how good you feel your intentions are.
I think it is fair to say that for the most part, the desire to fix-it does come from a place of kindness and concern, but also from a place of not trusting yourself as a coach nor trusting your client to know what is best for themselves. It is for the coach to help the client define solutions to their issues, but not come up with the solutions themselves.
Personal Growth versus Easy-Fix
And you could ask if the Fix-It Syndrome is such a bad thing? Surely it is a natural part of the human condition. However, we would not be doing our job as a coach appropriately if we were to apply the Fix-it Syndrome. We need to accept that not everything can be, or needs to be fixed. It is not the role of the coach to be prescriptive to the client. We must not apply our life experiences or bias to the session. The client needs to identify what they feel they can do and importantly what they are ready to change at that moment in time.
Using experience and skilled techniques, the coach can help the client identify solutions and work out how practically to tackle them. They can help the client define what is realistic and steps that will challenge them sufficiently without being overly demanding – or so easy that the client does not have to really make an effort. Open and precise questioning will ensure the client has all the relevant information in front of them to allow them to see the situation from a clear perspective to help them move forward. People will learn more and take more responsibility and pride when finding the solutions themselves rather than being told what to do. After all, even in everyday life, how often do friends or family take our advice or direction? Usually, only if it backs up what they already want or have decided to do. Good coaching is more radical – it can change the mindset, behavior and knowledge of an individual from within, so any change is likely to be from personal conviction and be more deep-rooted and longer-lasting.
Perfection versus Real Life
As a coach, you will want your sessions to be successful and finding solutions may be how you judge yourself. In this situation, the coach is applying their personal need for perfection to the client’s coaching journey, and messy solutions or half-hearted ideas do not fit with the coach’s idea of what makes a successful coaching session. However, we also know that life is messy and rarely fits into the confines we may desire for it. That is part of its charm and attraction. What would be exciting, challenging, fulfilling about life if we knew exactly how it was all going to turn out? This same thinking must be applied to the coaching relationship. As a coach, you are allowing your client space where it is okay not to know all the answers all the time, but instead, you are allowing the client to feel confident that they are in an environment where they will be able to find solutions.
I was recently coaching a fellow student as part of my course. There were two other students observing our session and making notes and observations about the session to offer feedback. The client was discussing a personal issue that involved some of her family members and was trying to identify the best way to go forward with the situation that was causing her considerable anxiety. I managed to play my role as a professional, objective coach and did not allow my personal opinion of the situation to get in the way of the session. My ‘client’ said how useful she had found the session and that it had helped her explore the situation in a different way rather than discussing it with family members who were all involved. I was pleased with how the session had gone and felt I had managed to use several coaching tools and techniques that I had been learning about. As the session ended the four of us gave feedback on how we all felt the session had gone, but before long our genuine opinions came to the surface as we all bemoaned the unreasonable family behavior our fellow student had described! For me, this was a clear example of the difference between coaching and a ‘normal’ conversation.
Avoiding Fix-It Syndrome
*Listen to your client and listen to yourself
*Pause to give yourself and the client time to construct your thoughts
*Use open questions
*Apologise if you make mistakes
*Make sure the client understands the coach’s role from the outset
*Don’t let time pressure allow you to abandon coaching in favor of fixing
So how am I learning my way out of the Fix-It Syndrome? I try to remember strategies to help me stay impartial and professional during coaching sessions and steer me away from trying to fix things for the client. These strategies include being objective at all times. I remember that I am a coach and this is how I can best give value to the client. Once I qualify, the client will not be paying for my opinion, but for my expertise as a coach. I am there to provide a safe, respectful environment where they can discuss an issue and help themselves find strategies to cope better and reduce stress related to that situation.
Actively listening to the client is an essential part of coaching. However, I make sure that I also listen to myself to ensure that I am not being prescriptive or directive in the conversation. It is also essential to observe your clients’ reactions to gauge whether what you are saying is having a negative reaction on the client.
Don’t try and rush your way through a session. Pausing is a good way of giving the client and yourself the opportunity to digest what you have been talking about. I try not to be scared of silence. It can be a very helpful tool. If I do mess up and find myself trying to Fix-It, then the best thing to do is be honest, ‘I apologize. My comment didn’t come out as I meant it to. What I wanted to say was…..’.
At the beginning of every session, I ensure that the client understands the coach’s role and knows what to expect from a coaching session. I do not allow myself to feel pressured by timings and what I feel the session should have covered by when. That does not mean that I do not hold myself accountable for what a client does or doesn’t get out of the session, but purely that I will not allow time pressure to let me become directional and start trying to steer a conversation or fix a problem.
In direct contrast to the directive approach that narrows available options for the client and coach, the non-fix-it approach allows the coaching conversation the breadth that it requires and will be tailored to the client. This approach also empowers the client by giving them responsibility and accountability for the next steps and hopefully a sense of achievement.
By stepping back and remaining objective but supportive, you as a coach have allowed your client the space to explore issues they may have found very stressful, and have given them the opportunity to identify steps that will allow them to move forward. This is how the collaboration required in a coaching relationship will function at its best.
Trust your instincts as a coach. Know that your training and knowledge have equipped you to be able to step back and work with the client to move towards their solutions and not just your ideas. Believe in what you are trying to do. Remember:
*Ensure clear understanding of the parameters of a coaching relationship
*Trust yourself as a coach
*Trust your client knows best how to help themselves
*Use your intuition
*Don’t impose external measures or timeframes
*From within your safe, respectful, supportive space solutions, clarity and even magic will come.