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Setting Myself Up to be a Better Coach


I’ve discovered that one of the best ways for me to prepare for coaching a client is to use the Clean Set Up process with myself.

Clean Set Up is one of the tools in Systemic Modelling developed by Caitlin Walker to help teams to pay high-quality attention to everyone in the group. It comprises three questions that help to identify how someone can be in their best state possible for an upcoming task, shared project or experience. It also helps identify what kind of support the person will need in order for them to have just the kind of experience they want.

Here’s how I used the Clean Set Up to help me prepare for a coaching session with a client I had previously coached, and the difference it made in my coaching. The Clean Set Up questions are in bold below.

The client was a CEO who, in the past, I had been trying to rescue during the coaching session. She had a tendency to make derisive remarks about herself and rather than staying clean, I would offer her comforting remarks in the hope that I could make her feel better.

The other thing I did in those earlier sessions was, I kept asking her, “What happens next?”when she presented me with a problem or challenge. That meant that I was moving her attention forward to the next moment, when it would have been more helpful to stay with what she knew and help her develop that further.

In preparation for more sessions with this client more than a year later, I read through the transcripts from our previous sessions. And I took note of my supervisor’s comments to notice the client’s and my patterns.

And then before I coached her again, I asked myself the Clean Set Up questions:

1. For this coaching session to go just the way I would like it to, it will be like what?

It will be like staying in one place, so that we can go deeper. It will be like treading water and then going under for just a bit until the client needs to resurface and breathe again.

2. And for it to be like treading water and going under for just a bit, I’ll be like what?

I’ll be like a swim coach saying, “Stay, stay, stay. Keep treading, and now, go under and see how long you can hold your breath to discover what’s under.” And when we’re underwater, I will point out things around her and say, “And is there anything else about that? And is there anything else about this?”

3. And for it to be like treading water and for me to be like a swim coach, what support or resources do I need?

I’ll need to have enough sleep before the session so I can be fresh and supremely focused on where I need to keep her attention. I’ll need to get clear about her outcome and stay focused on that. I need to remember to stay, stay, stay, and not ask her to move her attention to the next moment or thing that happens. I’ll have my swim goggles on my table to remind me of what I need to be like during this coaching session.

The Difference It Made

This coaching session with her was markedly different from the earlier sessions. I didn’t rescue her at all, even when she looked perplexed and didn’t knowhow to answer my question. As her swim coach, rescuing her would have prevented her from learning how she could tread water and dive under on her own.

And when she grappled with a question that she didn’t know how to answer, I didn’t ask any questions that would take her attention off what was happening in the moment. In the past, I would have asked, “What happens next?” or “Then what happens?” to ease her struggle in that moment. Instead,I stayed for as long as I could with what she was experiencing. It was as though we dove under to find out more about what was under the surface of her experience. And when there was no more information she could discover about a concept or feeling or symbol or metaphor, I pointed to something else close by so that we could dive under again to see if there was anything she could glean from that.

The client said she found the session useful. It provided her with information about what her current workable strategies were, and how important feeling safe was to her. And I felt more confident about being able to stay clean throughout a coaching session.

About Jacqueline Ann Surin

Jacqueline Ann Surin's avatar

Jacqueline Ann Surin is a Level 1 Clean Facilitator, the first Master Level Systemic Modeller in Asia, and is qualified as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with the ICF. She is an associate of Clean Learning and Training Attention in the UK, and a specialist-partner of the Singapore-based BeInClarity. She was previously an award-winning journalist and has a published chapter in Clean Language Interviewing: Principles and applications for researchers and practitioners.

She can be found on LinkedIn.

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