A Road Map for Defining - and Staying in Your Lane
Coach Relatability in Diverse Environments
As Coaches, we know that we have a specific role and function in support of our clients who are trying to be healthy and well. We also know that we are part of something bigger – a service to the global community that is constantly trying to maintain optimal wellness. With this task, we are usually working one-on-one in session, as we encourage and support each client on a journey of behavior changes, and all that is required to be well.
It might seem odd but all of this makes me reflect on my days of coaching in a corporate setting. It bears repeating that this form of coaching may be the most ideal set up for a Certified Wellness Coach; you can influence a whole group of people while still having the option to make time for individual consults. The rewarding feeling of knowing you helped an employee to make a change is both incredible and humbling at the same time, maybe because the coach realizes that coaching change still happens one person at a time. One of the most fulfilling jobs I’ve had, definitely the highest paying job of my career thus far.
I had a client in Milford, Delaware. I would visit this client on the same day of the week, it was the day after my gig in downtown Washington, D.C., where I served a smaller crew of insurance lobbyists in their high-end office. To drive 75 miles to Milford the next day was always a complete change from what the day before – and the day after, would bring. Milford is a bucolic town, dotted with chicken farms and populated by very hard-working people who do not always take to out-of-towners without pause.
My site in Delaware was a steel fabrication plant, where very large heat transfer units were made and shipped all over the world. They can be found on top of large buildings, hospitals and, shopping malls all over the globe. The work required to get the product out the door is hard. Shift workers, sometimes with more than 25 years of experience, hardly want a healthy Wellness Coach to approach them with wellness initiatives. Not without the expected tension or suspicion. For me, as the coach, I realized I had to present myself at a level that they could relate to. We had to be equals. This was paradigm shift No. 2. No.1 was learning to white-knuckle it over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
I had to work on making an even playing field and one of acceptance. I had to mitigate fear and perceptions that I was going to crack down on risky, unhealthy behaviors. This is not what Wellness Coaches do. Especially when the population they serve is guarded, ambivalent and, often, reluctant.
Milford is extremely hot and humid in summer; the employees must wear denim to prevent lacerations from the steel they handle. The hot, heavy, damp air of the Chesapeake makes focusing on safety difficult on a long shift; heat exhaustion or stroke became a real challenge for this group. I had to learn to deal with temperature extremes and workers who were often on extended hours with heavy demands. I often wondered if I could work that hard. I was keenly aware of how easy I had it when compared to the demands of their work. Paradigm shift No. 3.
Balance: Making your goals happen, working within someone else's ecology
After realizing how much of a distraction my presence could be for the employees I served, I knew I had to overcome any obstacles if I was going to be effective as the on-site Coach. When we have less distraction – or disruption – to our workflow, and can make ourselves available for those who want to work with us, we cherish this scenario as one where we are better able to focus on client goals – and use the skills for which we are trained. If we fail in this regard, we risk being seen as unapproachable. We aren’t present. We are seen as not showing up to meet the moment. From the Coach’s perspective, we see these situations as opportunities lost.
So, exactly what are we seeing in our clients? What challenges do they have? What key actions and behaviors are we looking for? How does this impact your service delivery?
Well, the first question is easy. Just like the employees I served from different backgrounds than my own, we have to believe that, regardless, our clients are facing about the same stress and uncertainty as the rest of us. The pandemic we are in currently is an example of something that has served to make us all equal in our struggle back to normal life. We are still in the information gathering process of our current pandemic but one day we will look back on things and have much more clarity. For now, we are all “just in it”. But we are all fishing for more information to get out of it. This is a huge part of Wellness Coaching ` fishing!
Employee clients are often more stressed than normal when we encounter them at their place of work. Coaches will report seeing this every day. You may not realize it but this is because of the level of intimacy we create with our clients. We get to know them. So, we have effectively put ourselves in this position. We have to be able to handle what we’ve set up. We want our clients to stay communicative with us and we want them to be honest with their thoughts and emotions. But it may come to us from a place that is not known to us because it is not our own experience.
Balance V 2.0: What you want is not always what corporate wellness employees need.
Employees we coach with unique circumstances may feel more stress than others – picture a working Mom who juggles work and family life as a single parent; or think of the worker who struggles with mental illness but still functions adequately for their job. Or an employee/client who manages a chronic illness or condition. The challenges to be well are constantly becoming more challenging. Can you imagine if we were to add wearing our clients’ stress on our shoulders, too? But it is because we are not personally invested in our clients that we can take a more objective approach to Coach them. Reassurance, support and empathy become universal Coach traits in times like this – nearly everyone needs these behaviors from their Coach in times like we are in.
Luckily, we don’t let our client’s particulars weigh heavily on us. This frees us up to be able to talk to our client about real-life strategies to stay healthy, well and safe in these times. We talk with them about how making changes can improve the burdens of their daily routines. With current events in mind, we might even address how the pandemic fits into changes they are working on in terms of behavior. For example, the client that you referred out to a Personal Fitness Trainer for a detailed program design – that change effort has to temporarily be put on hold.
The Coach might see when an employee/client engages in negative self-talk. When we see it, we identify and it and redirect the client by connecting their actions and words to their positive core. We say “Well I know that you feel like giving up on your diet and exercise program, but I also know that this is something you said was very important to you”. This shows the client that we’ve been listening to them, we have helped them determine what they identify as the bigger priorities of their life and we are also making them accountable when we hear negative talk. We are also clarifying what exactly is going on – since it is not in alignment with what has been discussed before.
Fishing: In. Negative Self-Talk: Out
One unwritten rule of coaching is that, regardless of our own beliefs and values, we want our client to live their best life. Negative thinking or talk is just one example of a behavior that may have changed with a client during our current pandemic. We have to recognize how current times all have a unique effect on each client. We want to not only be aware of this but we also want to ‘fish’ for what the effects are. When we are being our best as coaches, we are aware of our coaching presence and we adapt and adjust our actions accordingly. The results of our hard work depend on our ability to apply some of the same cornerstones of coaching while observing the unique differences between the clients we serve (sometimes, employees) and the environment we are in.