The reality of ‘Reality’

Yesterday we met with a Key Account Manager who has just started a coaching assignment with her peers. Her own Manager is making this happen to get her more experience, so she is better prepared for her first management position (way to go Manager!) and the team appears to be bought in to her coaching them.

She is loving working with people to help develop their skills but has already started to feel a bit stuck.

Why so?

Well, by her own admission, she ends up spending a lot of time discussing the ‘Reality’ of coaching situations (The ‘R’ of the GROW Coaching Model – Coaching for Performance, John Whitmore) and ends up getting bogged down there. In her own words, “it’s frustrating for me and the person I’m coaching as it gets harder to make any meaningful progress”.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard people say this, so it got us thinking….is the reality of ‘Reality’ really that relevant? (OK so we didn’t really think that but that reads so much better than what we actually thought)


The traditional perspective

The GROW model tells us that when coaching it is important to explore the ‘Reality’ of the situation from the coachee’s perspective because it helps to determine:

  • What is actually happening at the moment
  • Whether the ‘Goal’ that has been set is realistic
  • What the barriers to achieving the Goal might be
  • The importance of the situation that is being discussed.

The intention here is that the person being coached gains insight that helps them to figure out what is happening and why it’s happening, so they can come up with genius ideas to change things for the better.

Sounds good to us. So why do we keep hearing about people getting stuck here?

Well, when you spend time talking to people about what is happening and why it is happening, you can end up with two people becoming experts in the problem! And when you are an expert in the problem, it can become more difficult to see what the solution might be. John Whitmore himself said “you get what you focus on” so surely we should question whether focussing on the problem really will help with finding a solution?


What is your role?

We are sure that one factor in this depends on what your true role is when you are coaching someone. For example, if you are someone’s Manager and you are using a coaching approach with them then you never can really get away from the fact that you are their Manager, and maybe you do need to know a lot about what is going on in your team. It can help to spot trends, show understanding and empathy, and help you understand your team members business.

But if you don’t have the Manager role lurking in the background and you are working predominantly as a coach (a bit like our Key Account Manager here) then do you need to know as much about ‘Reality’?


Other coaching approaches

Whilst the GROW model is probably the most widely used coaching process across the globe (we have no evidence to support this claim) there are numerous other coaching approaches that can help to shift the focus within the coaching discussion.

The Solutions Focus (Mark McKergow & Paul Z. Jackson) provides a way of coaching that approaches positive change within people, teams and organisations by sidestepping the search for the causes of problems and heads straight for solutions. “Focusing on solutions and doing more of what works is often much faster and more effective for clients than analysing problems and difficulties and their causes.”

Effectively, focussing on the ‘Goal’, ‘Options’ and ‘Way Forward’ parts of the GROW model provides the momentum to change and morphs GROW into GrOW, with a reduced focus on ‘Reality’.

Well Formed Outcomes (from the wonderful world of Neuro Linguistic Programming) is another approach that can help to focus on what is wanted (The Goal in the GROW model), rather than what is stopping the outcome happening (Reality).

Our personal favourite parts of this are the sensory based descriptions of the outcome (stated in ‘see’, ‘feel’, ‘hear’ terms), describing in specific terms how you will know that you have achieved the outcome and how the outcome fits with the individual being coached and significant others to them.


The professional coach’s opinion

OK so n=1 here (we’re not claiming to be scientifically robust) but it was interesting hearing the opinion of a professional coach…someone who coaches for a living and is pretty darn good at it too (some of us here can vouch for that personally).

She told us “I never take my clients into the ‘Reality’ part of the GROW model because I know they will usually take me there. My choice is to decide how long we spend there, depending on how helpful it is.”

OK, so what makes it ’helpful’ to stay there?

“If I feel it will help to build some more rapport that I need with the client, otherwise I don’t find it helpful. They are paying me to help them find solutions, that’s it.”


 Give it a try

So we asked the Key Account Manager to give it a try….try coaching like GrOW and see what happens.

And she did.


“Well… worked when I tried it! I do feel a bit harsh sometimes getting them to focus on what they want when they clearly want to tell me all about the problem, but I’ve learnt to bring up my different approach with them in our contracting discussions. I’ve realised that I’m more help to them if I can help them figure out solutions.”

(again n=1 here, we’re not advocating that this will work all the time for every person but it’s not a bad start)

So why not give it a try yourself? Focus on the ‘Goals’ and Outcomes and see what happens when you focus less on ‘Reality’. Maybe the reality of ‘Reality’ really isn’t always that relevant!