Often one of the things that people say coaching is about, is that its  providing ‘feedback’ to our clients. How I like to characterise that is that feedback is like holding a mirror up to our client, in support of them, to see what perhaps we and others see in them that they may not see themselves… Sometimes, and perhaps many times, we don’t always see our strengths and attributes that make us who we are.

By holding up that mirror and offering feedback through an acknowledgement, we are in my belief, acknowledging the person and celebrating who they are in, order that they can see, believe and use that information to support their forward movement.

I want to review those aspects of the core competencies that relate to acknowledging and celebrating, look at how that might sound and why it is so important that we do acknowledge and celebrate with our clients.

First, I want to look at some meanings of Acknowledging and Celebrating in the context of coaching:

To Acknowledge

  • To recognise the importance or quality of someone or something.
  • To show that they have been seen and ‘understood’.

To  Celebrate

  • To observe something ‘good’ in someone and speak it out loud.

There are many meanings of the two words, however if you look at the meanings above, you will see that they have similarities and are connected. To acknowledge someone is often to celebrate them. As coaches, we might acknowledge and celebrate our clients, especially as many of them might not acknowledge or celebrate themselves.

Where do we find these behaviours in our competencies? Let’s start at the beginning:

CC2 – Embodies a Coaching Mindset
CC2.1 – Acknowledges that clients are responsible for their own choices. 

In this case ‘Acknowledge’ takes on the meaning of ‘understanding and partnering’. As coaches we must allow our clients to choose the agenda, to choose the direction of the session, to change their minds if they want, to determine what actions they will do and what their learning is.

As we develop as coaches, we realise more and more the importance of enquiry and exploration of our client’s thinking, rather than offering our own thinking and expertise! Even if we think our ideas are good!

CC4 – Cultivates Trust and Safety
CC4.3: Acknowledges and respects the clients’ unique talents, insights, and work in the coaching process.

CC4.5: Acknowledges and supports the client’s expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs and suggestions.

An African Zulu greeting, which is used on a daily basis, is ‘Sawa Bona’ – which literally means ‘I see you’. It is more than just a polite ‘hello’, it means that the person recognises the worth and dignity of the person in front of them. When looking at the two sub competencies within CC4 my sense is that they do help us as coaches to ensure we recognise what is unique in our clients and support their ideas, their thoughts, and their  beliefs, and say ‘I see you’. This really creates and cultivates the trust and safety needed and links very much into being present with our clients.

CC6: Listens Actively
CC6.4 Notices, acknowledges, and explores the client’s emotions, energy shifts, non-verbal cues, or other behaviours.

This part of the competency is focused on ensuring that the client knows they have been seen! Then we go on to explore what we have noticed means for the client, without making any assumptions. That then also allows us to let them know that we have ‘seen and understood’ them and not made assumptions about what we are noticing.

CC7 Evokes Awareness
CC7.11 – Shares observations, insights, and feelings, without attachment, that have the potential to create new learning for the client.

Although not explicitly an ‘Acknowledgement’ – our comment or observation could be one of offering to the client something that we have seen in them that might be helpful for them to know or be reminded of. In other words, to recognise the importance or quality of our client or something in them.

CC8 Facilitates Client Growth
CC8.3 : Acknowledges and supports client autonomy in the design of goals, actions, and methods of accountability.

 In this sub competency, the acknowledgment is that we believe in them and what they decide to do etc. We may acknowledge this by stating what the strengths have been that brought them to know that these actions are the right ones for them. Not that we think they are right, more that the client believes them to be right. Which brings it back to a coaching mindset where we believe our clients are responsible for their own choices and that we invite them to remain at choice.

CC8.7: Celebrates the client’s progress and successes.

In facilitating our client’s growth, we also want to celebrate their achievements and progress. This more than a simple ‘well done’, or a ‘I am really happy for you’ which is often felt as a way to celebrate. That could come across as someone being above them or even at times patronising. To celebrate in a coaching relationship, means to acknowledge the person, their strengths that brought them to this point; to acknowledge what challenges perhaps they have overcome and support them to look back and see the complete path they have trodden, so that they can also celebrate for themselves. It is a way for us to offer them what we see in them and invite them to leave our sessions having increased their own level of self-worth, and perhaps be buoyed up and even more committed to whatever action or change they have committed to.

A key reason we also acknowledge our clients is to support them to empower themselves. In a previous blog called Empowerment, I shared a poem which talked about ‘dropping keys’ for our clients to pick up. Our acknowledgements and ways of celebrating the ‘who’ of the person, could be considered as some of those ‘dropped keys’.

So, how might acknowledgment sound as a coach?

Rather than saying: “Well done on getting there”
We might say: “Sounds like you have found the right conclusion for yourself”
Or even: “You really showed determination in this session to make sure you challenged yourself to come to the right outcome for you”.

In order to make acknowledgements or celebrations really meaningful, it is really important to offer, not just what they have done, but more so what was the strength or quality that enabled them to get there. It is not just to make our clients feel good, it also about them knowing why, what they did and perhaps how they can use that strength in the future.

We believe that our clients are creative, resourceful, and whole and sometimes they may need a little nudge to remind them of that, through a well-placed acknowledgement.

Question: How will you know acknowledge your clients going forward so that they know you have seen them?

Hilary Oliver, MCC

Hilary Oliver is a Master Certified Coach (MCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She is also a trained Coaching Supervisor and Mentor Coach. Hilary trains coaches and works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability. She works as an International Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, a leadership development designer and facilitator working with a wide range of organisations. Hilary also specialises in working with organisations to support them develop coaching culture. She has been the President of the UK ICF Chapter and is a Past Chair of the ICF Global Board.

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