Let’s explore the importance of ‘checking in’ with our clients during a coaching conversation. What I notice is that most often it happens towards the end of the conversation only and yet, if done more frequently, can often lead to more and deeper learning and awareness for clients. It can also support us as coaches to remain curious and present with our clients and keep out of their way as they process and learn and helps us to avoid deciding what needs to be worked on.

Here, we will explore:

  • The purpose of checking in with our clients.
  • How often to check in naturally.
  • What a ‘Check In’ might sound like.

What is the Purpose of ‘Checking In’?

Let’s first look at which competencies support coaches ‘checking in’ with their clients.

The main sub competency for this is Core Competency 8.6 (Partners with the client to summarise learning and insight within or between sessions) or PCC Marker 8.1 (Coach invites or allows the client to explore progress toward what the client wanted to accomplish in the session). PCC Markers 8.2/3 are also good ‘check in’ type questions as well. The PCC Marker 8.1 gives a very clear reason to ‘check-in’ which I find helpful and useful.

In CC3 Establishes and Maintains Agreements, item 3.6 invites the coach to: ‘Partner with the client to identify or reconfirm what they want to accomplish in the session’. This idea of reconfirmation could also be considered a form of ‘check in’, in that sometimes the desired outcome will change, and we need to ensure we notice this and re-establish the agreement. Therefore, we check in to ensure that we are still talking about the right thing and, if necessary, re-establish a different outcome.

Given those aspects of competencies, what is the purpose of checking in with the client?

  • To ensure we are still working on the right outcome. As a client reflects and thinks, they may realise in fact there is something else that really needs their focus.
  • To understand where and how the client’s thinking has progressed. They may be ready to move on with their thinking and by ‘checking-in ‘ we are able to partner with them more effectively as to where to go next in the conversation. Always recognising and honouring that it is the client’s choice of direction.
  • To ensure that learning and thinking are captured, by the client. In an hour-long session, many things could come out and the client may not capture the gems and pearls that they are coming up with. Therefore, punctuating the session with a check in really supports the process of inviting the client to leverage their thinking, learning and insights, thereby maximising the benefit of their work.
  • It supports people who like to process things verbally to manage their learning. I am often asked how to most effectively work with very talkative clients. Obtaining permission and agreeing to ensure you ‘check in’ with them regularly during the session, this can be very helpful. We have also shared a previous blog on Working with a Stream of Consciousness.
  • At the beginning of the session,  it may be that you contract with a client to start each session with a ‘check in’ on their actions and learnings between the sessions. It can be helpful for you as the coach to hear, acknowledge and celebrate with them their progress toward their goals.  A word of caution…make sure that you agree and allocate a specific amount of time for this so you can then move into what the client wants from the ‘today’ session. Hold them to that time. For people who are very verbally expressive,  it can be a helpful learning to know that they need to ensure conciseness at times for their coaching time to be of most value to them.

How Often do we ‘Check In’?

This can be like how long a piece of string is. There is no rule as such, but a rule of thumb might be in a 60-minute session at least:

  • About 20 mins in – to check we are still talking about the right outcome.
  • About 40 or 50 mins in to obtain some learning and to see what’s left that needs focus for the last 10-20 minutes. At the very least 10 minutes from the end.
  • When it seems perhaps the client is going around in circles and the forward flow has stopped. It is useful to find out what they have got so far, what they have learnt and then asking where to go next. I sometimes find myself not knowing where to go next, so I will ask the client and invite them to share where they are and then where to go next. It keeps our clients at choice. We have shared more about the Power and Importance of Choice in a previous blog.

What a ‘Check In’ might sound like

There are many ways to check in and remembering that we are endeavouring to find out what someone has got, in terms of their, insights, learning, possible actions etc., we need to ask clear, open questions. I sometimes hear newer coaches asking what they believe is a ‘check-in’ question say:

‘Are you getting what you need today?’         Which may get the response – Yes

‘How are we doing in this session?’               Which may get the response – Great

Neither response is particularly helpful to know what they have really gained so far and what still needs to be looked at.

More useful questions would be:

  • Where is your thinking know on the outcome you were wanting?
  • What has changed for you now?
  • What have you got so far? (answer) … what should we look at next?
  • What have you learnt about the situation?
  • What insights have you now got about this topic?
  • What new awareness do you have now about … ?
  • What is shifting or has shifted for you in your thinking about … ?

What this enables the client to do is summarise for themselves their new learning, their ideas, and their action steps. Without check-ins, the coach can be tempted to summarise for them, and the coach may or may not state what the client actually thinks, has learnt, or wants to do.

As you reflect on your coaching, ask yourself whether you ‘check-in’ enough with your client during a coaching conversation. Even if you think you do, perhaps add in another one and see if that supports your client to get a little further than they would have done, or indeed come to new insights, actions, or learning. I would invite you to try checking in more and simply see what happens!

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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