I was asked to spend a whole day coaching a young adult who had never received any coaching before. I knew he was open to being coached even though it wasn’t him who’d asked for the coaching. However, I didn’t meet him until the day of the coaching and knew very little about what he wanted to get out of it. So I wasn’t sure what would be most useful for him – and I also didn’t know how I would coach someone for a whole day, when most of my sessions last only 60 to 90 minutes.
Scoping the situation
I wanted to tread lightly before deciding what to do for the rest of the day, so I decided to use Clean Space to help scope the situation he was in and to find out what he wanted to get from the session.
This proved to be a good move. From a 40-minute Clean Space session, both of us learned that the he was in ‘the in-between’ space and he wanted better communication including with ‘friends and family’. We also learned that he had ‘honest communication’ in one part of his life but not in others, and that he was struggling with ‘chasing possibilities’ while also having enough ‘me time’.
It was an efficient way to establish the starting points for further coaching throughout the rest of the day. And it gave us both a reference point for when we were ending the session, even though I wouldn’t know that until later.
The client seemed open and willing to try something new and after finding the first space, which he called ‘the in-between’, I invited him to find another space, in order to begin establishing more spaces and therefore a network.
However, instead of moving, the client stood in the first space and simply gestured towards a new space. He said he felt stuck in ‘the in-between’ space.
This was off-script for me and I had to make a choice about what to do when he didn’t move to the new space. I decided to ask him the routine follow-up questions…
- And what do you know here?
- And is there anything else you know here, about that?
… anyway, while pointedly looking and gesturing at the space he’d gestured to, even though he remained in space 1.
This seemed to work – and when I invited him to name and mark the new space with a Post It note, he moved to the new space and marked it – although he then returned to where he was.
He did the same for four more spaces, only moving from Space 1 when I invited him to name and mark the other spaces with a Post It note. After marking each new space, he moved back to space 1.
This let me know that even if someone doesn’t move to a new space immediately, if they are able to identify it in some way, that space is still available to them. My role as facilitator is to acknowledge that space as being part of the network even if the client doesn’t physically occupy it during the process.
Over the next four hours of coaching the client discovered that he wanted many different things. He also realised that many of the things he wanted were preventing him from getting some of the other things he wanted. And he still wanted it all. And he knew that wasn’t possible.
As a way to deepen the exploration and get clear about what he really wanted, I suggested he write on different Post It notes the things that were important to him. He wrote four:
Then I invited him to place each of these Post It notes where they needed to be, before inviting him to move to each space and asking him what he knew there, and what he knew there about each of the other three important things.
This time, he easily moved to each space. And I wondered whether this meant that the coaching had helped him feel less stuck than at the start. So, in a moment of creativity, I also asked him what he knew from each of these new spaces about the six spaces he’d identified in the morning.
From his answers, it seemed that new knowledge emerged as he established links between ‘goals’, ‘learning’, ‘confidence’ and ‘well-rested’, and the six earlier spaces he had marked out with gestures and Post Its during his first session.
What difference did it make?
At the end of the session the client said he felt so much clearer about what he wanted, and what he was willing to give up in order to get what he wanted. He also told me: “I didn’t know what this coaching was all about. Or how it would help. And now, I don’t feel so stuck in that in-between space because I know what I need to do next and what’s important to me.”
What did I learn?
While this client didn’t always do what I expected, and I had brief moments of panic, what kept me steady was keeping to the process. My learning was to just follow the Clean Space instructions while honouring what the client was doing or what was happening in the moment. And even when I chose to get creative, I still followed the Clean Space process and kept my instructions clean – and new knowledge emerged. I was able to honour both the client and the process.
Clean Space was devised by David Grove and you can find out how it works by reading Insights in Space by James Lawley and Marian Way. Marian and James are also running a practical 4-day Clean Space workshop in June this year, for those wanting to learn how to use Clean Space for working with individuals and with groups.