Coaching with clients’ symbolic non-verbal cues with respect and empowerment
One of the many things I love when I’m one-to-one coaching is when clients unconsciously start drawing shapes in the air, or writing on an imaginary whiteboard or using their hands to position symbolic thoughts, people and objects in different places around themselves. It’s clear that people’s hands and bodies are directly connected to the inner workings of their mind and are often able to represent things quicker and with more clarity than words alone can do.
In my experience, all the qualities of these shapes, diagrams, air-writings and positionings are great doorways into deeper understanding and will open up many new possibilities for insight and action with my client, if I treat them right.
I always try to be really respectful of what they’ve just ‘drawn’ and to not impose my own frame of reference on things. Here’s a technique that I like to use which I believe really helps to get more insight and action, without me the coach getting in the way.
Because my client is often sitting across from, not next to me, I’m not seeing what they’ve ‘drawn’ from their perspective. Suppose I want to ask something like this, so we can get deeper into what it means:
“I notice that you just drew that as a kind of curve; whereabouts are you on the shape of that curve?”
And as I ask that question, I’ll usually want to redraw that curve for them, so they can see it again for themselves but consciously this time.
Here’s the important bit – I reverse the frame of reference so that I’m mirroring, not reproducing what clients have done.
If they’ve drawn that curve in the air from their left-to-right, I’ll redraw it, but from my right-to-left. If they’ve picked-up an imaginary object, person or idea and moved it over to their left, I’ll play that back to them, but make sure that the thing I move also finishes-up on their left. I imagine that I’m tracing whatever they did back to them, from the other side of a glass whiteboard.
I believe that this approach is so crucial, because I don’t want it to be my thing – what I do want is to empower them to get more understanding about the thing they ‘drew’ or ‘moved’.