Coaching is X-ing: Things I Do When I Coach

I’ve got more to say about interactions between humans at that level just above behavior and just below openings, lots more. But I’m going to jump ahead, then circle back.

I want to list a bunch of things I do during my coaching days. It’s likely only a partial list, and as always, I reserve the right to change my mind pretty much at will. This list is made of gerunds. Gerunds are verbs turned into nouns for grammatical ease. That choice is willful. Coaching (a gerund) is active, not passive.

There are a lot of them. That represents the fact that there are a lot of different kinds of work I do when i’m coaching. I mentioned yesterday, and reiterate today: none of these things I do to. They are things I do with. Words around this distinction are not easy and obvious. I will do my best, and I ask you to give the benefit of the doubt if my terminology can be interpreted both ways.

One more thing: some of these words are unusual in this context. Again, not an accident: tho they name actions that in some cases have other common labels, I prefer a slight sense of jarring. Okay, blah-blah-blah, no further ado.

These are things I am likely to be doing on a day when I’m coaching.

  • Narrating — the stories we tell ourselves about our experiences dramatically affect those experiences, and narrating is about shaping those tellings.
  • Canalizing — sometimes content, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, needs channels into which it can flow. Canalizing is creating, often just being, one of those channels.
  • Moderating — formal gatherings of peers often benefit from disinterested leadership, aka facilitation.
  • Water-winging — trying a new thing you don’t know how to do can be hard, and I often hang out with someone doing that, calming them and keeping them afloat while they start to swim.
  • View-merging — closely related but not identical to narrating, this is the work of taking two seemingly disparate views and reframing them as unified.
  • Fish-eyeing — it is ridiculously easy to fall in to the trap of attending to faraway things while ignoring nearby ones. Fish-eyeing is about keeping the next thing at maximum magnification in our vision.
  • Joking — yeah. Just plain old making laughter.
  • Peering — being a proper legitimate peer, neither above, nor below, nor outside, but fully in, just another one of the folks being in the team.
  • Scouting — our work very often needs people who are a couple of chapters in front of us technically. When i’m scouting i’m geeking ahead a little. (a little.)
  • Backfilling — when we discover a technical thing that works, we’re often so excited to keep moving that we don’t tend to all the old stuff, catching it up to our new conception. Doing so is backfilling.
  • Celebrating — things sometimes work, and when they do, we gain strength by noticing that. Enjoying small victories with the right intensity is a critical coaching activity.
  • Grasping — a very great deal goes on in and near a team, above and below the surface. I invest huge resources in sensing this activity and guessing its meaning.
  • Jarring — sometimes, in order to re-center, it helps to be moved to take a shocking or surprising idea seriously. Jarring is the expression of such ideas.
  • Ignoring — there are numerous snarky words for one who rises to every bait. I frequently choose to ignore — for the moment — issues i’m not ready to engage on.
  • Failing — I take great pains to reveal the times and places where i’ve fucked up, because being wrong is an ordinary and fundamental part of being great.
  • Resting — I not only rest to conserve energy for times when I can’t rest, I also do it to look away from a problem and let my background processes work on it.
  • Truthing — I tell the truth by and large. I believe nearly everything I say. I don’t say nearly everything I believe.
  • Hand-sitting — when my team makes a decision I don’t agree with but can live with, I sit on my hands. It’s very often more important that they decide and act than that they be making the “right” decision.
  • Pronouncing — sometimes I am genuinely asked to pronounce on some topic as an expert. And sometimes I do.
  • Complaining — when a thing is within my or our local grasp to change, and I don’t like how it is now, no one around me remains unaware of that. A team of mine called it the CBM — the continuous bitching method.
  • Debriefing — nearly every day I spend 30-90 minutes reviewing that day. I talk it over, with my brilliant and sensitive and highly skilled wife, or my beloved ex-, or my colleagues, or my close friends in the trade, or my notebook.

Wow. That’s a long list, and I’ve little confidence I hit the most important things!

I don’t do all of these things all of the time, but I do them all a lot, and I regard them as an ordinary part of my work. They are flickery. I jump back and forth between them. I don’t for the most part schedule them. Rare indeed is the day I do just one or two of them all day.

From here, I will later circle back. These words capture some of the kinds of interaction I do during coaching days, but I want to connect it all back to that mission we discussed, creating openings. Soon, soon.

Narrating, canalizing, moderating, water-winging, view-merging, fish-eyeing, joking, scouting, backfilling, celebrating, grasping, jarring, ignoring, failing, truthing, hand-sitting, resting, pronouncing, complaining, debriefing.

For me, this is all coaching.

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