Coaching Conversations – Book Review

Coaching Conversations
by Michael Hall Ph.D and Michelle Duval – Master Coach
Reviewed by
Reg Reynolds

At last, a coaching book that deals with how to conduct a coaching conversation.

Every so often a book comes along that is different to others in its genre, and this is just such a book.

Coaching Conversations is a well needed book as it fills a huge gap in the coaching literature. Coaches so often ask me to recommend good coaching books, and as often as not I refer them to the peripheral literature, such as Goleman’s books on emotional intelligence, various NLP books, and books by authors Peter Senge, Ken Wilbur, Tony Buzan, and the like, where they are more likely to find practical tools to help them than they would find in most books about coaching. Finally, here is a coaching book that I am happy to recommend as the book of choice.

So many coaching books address what coaching is, and what it is not,  the applications of coaching, the formats and styles of coaching, coaching models, listening skills, questioning skills, discussing what coaches should do, but omitting  to tell how too do it.

No book I have encountered until this one provides practical demonstrations of actual coaching conversations.

Whilst many coaching books address the importance of questions and detail many types of questions, they fail to provide a sample dialogue, or address the art of questioning as well as this book does. Inexperienced coaches, and sometimes even experienced coaches, so often express concern about not knowing what questions to ask, or how to ask them.  This book is effectively the training manual that addresses those concerns, as, to quote the authors, it:

“…uniquely focuses on the power of questions to invite the client to new places for new transformative possibilities”.

Coaching Conversations is a book for all coaches, both experienced coaches and wannabe coaches alike, regardless of their niche or specialty. Indeed, it is even a useful book for people who are not coaches but who deal in the human dynamic.

As might be expected of a book by these two authors, there is significant application of NLP principles but it is not a book about NLP, or even a NLP coaching book. I regard this approach as a maturity in NLP related literature as the book comfortably weaves NLP and Neuro-Semantics into the text alongside other modalities.

Coaching Conversations is intrinsically written at multi-levels, or meta-levels. The non-NLP reader will gain enormous benefit and insights in reading this book, whilst the NLP Practitioner, because of their training  will gain insights that the lay person might  not have access to, and those who have undergone even introductory Neuro-Semantics training, such as  Accessing Personal Genius, or Coaching Genius training, will no doubt gain the greatest benefit of all.

This is the first, but I would guess not the last, book in which the newly formulated Axes of Changes, as a cognitive-behavioral model of change is introduced.

The authors also introduce the concept of meta-coaching, a unique approach that distinguishes between structure and content.

Style

The Authors bring to this book there respective strengths; Michael his incredible knowledge, research, and experience in the human potential psychologies and General Semantics and how they relate to NLP and Neuro-Semantics, and Michelle her vast experience in coaching across a wide spectrum of people of all ages and from many walks of life.

As with other books authored or co-authored by Michael Hall, the style is conversational, mostly in the first person present tense. There is much less E-prime than in many of Michael’s earlier books, but he still displays an aversion to the verb ‘to be’. And as with so many other books Michael has had a hand in, almost every sentence is loaded with information, insights, revelations and points of interest. This can slow the reader down, but the serious reader will probably read the book at least once again. I have read it three times now and I still find new information, or discover new insights.

The reader might also like to closely study the differences in style and approach of the coaching conversations in the examples demonstrated by Michael Hall, Michelle Duvall and Robert Dilts.

As evidenced in his other books, Michael has a penchant for conceptualization, elaboration and repetition.  This book is no exception. Some might find this style a little daunting; personally I find that it helps to enlarge on what might otherwise be vague or difficult concepts.

The authors are generous in sharing and imparting information.

Content

The book starts with a Chapter on the Art of Coaching (although I even found the Forward interesting as a pre-frame). The rest of the book is divided into two parts.

Part I provides the framework for powerful coaching conversations, and contains nine chapters

Chap.2       Conversation as Transformative Magic

Chap.3       The Transformative magic of Questions

Cahp.4       Questioning Models for Coaching Power

Chap.5       The Magical Attitude and Spirit for Questioning Excellence

Chap.6       Mirroring as the Basic Coaching Skill

Chap.7       Invitation to Experience

Chap.8       The Conversation Dance.

Chap.9       The Evolution of Change Models

Chap.10     Dancing through the Axes of Change.

 

There are three kinds of coaching; Performance, Developmental and Transformational coaching.

Performance coaching occurs at the Levels I and II of Bateson’s levels of learning, and is about refining and honing the client’s skills and strictly concerns the outer game of actions and activities.

Developmental Coaching at Level III stems from Developmental Psychology. Here we work with the client’s beliefs, values, understandings, self identity and similar states of higher consciousness.

At the heart of coaching is conversation. Coaches initiate the kind of conversation that have the potential to transform the client’s inner games so that the outer games are enriched and empowered.

Language is a powerful tool that influences and enriches transformation of mind-body- emotion states.

Transformational Coaching occurs at Level IV where we explore and facilitate complete paradigm shifts in the client’s thinking, feeling and relating. We facilitate paradigm shifts in the inner game that can absolutely revolutionize the client’s outer game.  It is revolutionary change in purpose, meaning and direction.

(Note: The authors appear to use the terms “transformative” and “transformational” interchangeably).

The key variable for quality transformation is how we represent things, frame them and give meaning to them. We play events as a mental movie which we frame, attach emotional states to, evaluate and label. This is how we create meaning and ultimately it is the meaning that transforms us.

Transformational coaching requires robust dialogue and questioning, and this in turn requires a lot of ego strength. Coaching is therefore not for those in need of therapy and counseling.

The authors devote two whole chapter to the importance of questioning, discussing various kinds of questions. They introduce the concept of “meta-questions”, which are questions about questions that enable us to formulate even better questions. Meta-questions invite us into the realm of questions and questioning itself.

Chapter 4 alone details and discusses six questioning models, viz:

  • The Precision Questions of the Meta-Model
  • The Meta-Questions of the Matrix
  • The Questions of Appreciative Enquiry
  • The Questions for having a Fierce Conversation
  • The Questions of the Frame Game Model
  • The Questions that Structure a Well Formed Outcome

“If questions drive coaching, then high quality questions drive quality coaching”.

Attitude too plays an important part in asking questions. Although the words may be the same, an interrogative style of questioning, or a lethargic indifferent style, will elicit completely different responses from a client than one where the coach is compassionate and curious. However a coach may be required to be loving and caring enough to ask tough questions that get to the heart of things.

Key variables that make up a powerful questioning attitude are: a curious fascination, know-nothing innocence, a willingness to discover, the chutzpa to boldly ask what no-one has asked before, being totally present in the moment and truly caring for the client.

We ask questions to initiate experience.  We coach by questioning to invite people into the experience of life and emotion. We know so much more than we do, the “knowing –doing” gap, and this undermines our performance, success and most importantly passionate engagement in life itself.

“So we ask questions”.

The information elicited by questions is really of secondary importance to the experience. We further ask questions to engage and ground our clients into their present state, and we do this by asking questions about how they feel in their body and emotions. Because emotions are just signals between our map and our experience, they are neither right nor wrong, good nor bad. We therefore have no need to fear emotions; instead there is every reason to stand in awe of them, and to fully explore them.

The coaching conversation is a dance, an art that needs to be learned, and that requires the coach to access certain states of mind-body-emotion, such as flexibility, openness, focus held on the client’s person and need, stepping out of ego, the willingness to be wrong, and the willingness to not take credit.

Change is the domain of the coach. Coaching Conversations introduces The Axes of Change Model that integrates within a unifying framework the Trans Theoretical Model from Prochaska, Norcross and DiClemente, Richard Bolstad’s RESOLVE Model and Bateson’s Levels of Learning.

Part II describes the theoretical framework, followed by the script of actual coaching conversations, and then debriefing of eleven different types of conversations.

  • The Outcome Conversation
  • The Resource Conversation
  • The Matrix Conversation
  • The Possibility Conversation
  • The Fierce Conversation
  • Narrative Conversation
  • Time-line Conversation
  • The Neuro-logical Conversation (Robert Dilts)
  • The Metaphorical Conversation
  • The Hero Journey Conversation
  • Archetype Conversation.

The Authors

Michael Hall is a well known contributor to Anchor Point, and the author of more than thirty books.

His views have not been without controversy, but Michael has always “walked his talk”. His profligacy is awesome, and his views are well researched.

Michael earned his doctorate in cognitive-behavioral psychology with an emphasis on psycho-linguistics. His dissertation dealt with the language of four psycho-therapies; NLP, RET, Reality Therapy and Logotherapy.

After years of practice as a psychologist, Michael studied NLP with Richard Bandler and then went on to model resilience and flexibility of mind.

Together with Dr. Bobby Bodenhamer he co-developed the field of Neuro-Semantics and the International Society of Neuro-Semantics.

Michelle Duval is an International Coach, Speaker and Trainer. She founded her coaching practice, Equilibrio, in Sydney in 1997 and within six months her practice was overflowing.  Equilibrio has since become one of Australia’s first Super Coach Organizations, providing Executive, Career and Personal Coaching to individuals and organisations. Her clients are from many fields and walks of life, including IT, Marketing, Telecommunications, Radio, Photography, Film, TV, Hotels, Finance, Theatre, as well as individuals, couples and families.

As the developer of the renowned Equilibrio Transformational Coaching Program™ Michelle and her team have facilitated hundreds of people aged 10 to 70 through this life changing program to achieve exceptional professional and personal results.

Michelle uses technology from the Cognitive Behavioral Sciences, including NLP and Neuro-Semantics. She is a Master Coach and certified Trainer in NLP and Neuro-Semantics.

Michelle was the founding Chair for the Professional Development for the International Coaching Federation Australasia and is a Board member of the Australia Society of Neuro-Semantics.

In 2003 Michelle was nominated for Australia’s “Business Woman of the Year”.

Discussion

I enjoyed this book enormously. It is very different from other coaching books on the shelves, and has immediate practical application. I had some fun in closely following the coaching conversations in the second part of the part. After the client had answered each question posed by the respective coach, I would mull over what my own response, as a coach, would be to the client,  would be before reading the coach’s response. I found this to be both illuminating and insightful.

The difference in styles is apparent. Michael’s style is more provocative and convergent; Michelle’s style is more divergent. She probes more and checks more frequently. Neither is right or wrong, just different, as they both achieve resolution.

The authors invited Robert Dilts to contribute to the book.  Robert is a giant in the field of NLP in terms of his contributions and development over the years. He has unquestionably provided a great deal of credibility to NLP, but I must admit to having initially had a sense of being stuck in a time warp when he introduces The Neuro-Logical Conversation (Neurological-Levels yet again!).

I am on record as having supported the use of the Neuro-Logical levels in numbers of applications, but I was looking for someone of Robert’s intellect to come up with something brand new and innovative.  He later proceeded to do just that with another conversation, The Hero Journey. But having said all that, and on reflection, a Neuro-Logical Levels conversation is appropriate as it provides a simple and workable framework.

The Authors introduce the concept of a coaching as a dance, using as a framework a coaching model they have derived and which they call the “Axes of Change”. Having encountered this model in two of their trainings now, and having put it into practice, I can happily vouch for this model, and the dance. However, I would suggest to the authors that in future editions they include the diagram of the model.

The authors also introduce the Matrix Model into coaching, a systemic approach to collating information, and for structuring questions, and meta-questions. The latter being powerful ways of probing the client’s frames of mind to assist the client to come to an understanding of his own thought patterns and for gaining some clarity in his own thinking processes. Again, I believe this would have been enhanced with a diagram or two.

There is little about this book that I did not like. I found it informative and very readable. It is seldom that I will find a book of this nature difficult to put down, but this was certainly the case with this particular book. Even rarer is for me to start immediately reading a book again, which I did, making copious notes and underlining sections of interest. .

This book might not be for the casual reader, but for the serious coach I would recommend this book highly. I intend making it the text book of choice in my future training programs.

The Reviewer:
Reg Reynolds is the Managing Director of The Metaskills Institute in South Africa, a training and coaching academy.
Reg is also an Executive Coach and Strategic Facilitator