Coaching Presence – Sigrid Schirdewahn

Coaching presence

In coaching we talk a lot about coaching presence. The International Coach Federation defines this concept as the “ability to be fully conscious and create spontaneous relationship with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible and confident”.

My frustration has often been that although we talk about coaching presence as though there are techniques, bottom line, nobody in my coach training ever sat me down and taught me to train my brain to be more present. While I don’t discount the importance of intention, and more particularly the intention to be present with my client, I am much more comfortable when intention is supported by skill.

Interestingly, coaching presence sounds a lot to me like mindfulness. Mindfulness involves a moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations (in our body) and environment. It also involves not judging what we observe, not getting caught up in the need to deem it right or wrong, good or bad. Sounds a lot like coaching presence to me, the ability to sit with a person and be there with them, hearing them without judgment, and without getting caught up in their story. It might be useful to note that becoming more mindful, although often relaxing, might also bring to light elements of the present moment that we would prefer to deny. This might actually make mindfulness the least relaxing thing you can do at times!

Mindfulness has been studied significantly in the past few years and it turns out that we really can increase our ability to be present through mindfulness practices. Two impacts of a consistent mindfulness practice in particular point to the link with building coaching presence. Mindfulness leads to actual changes in the brain, in the areas linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation and empathy. It has also been proven to help us focus and tune out distractions.

Although many teachers and proponents of mindfulness suggest formal meditation as a method to increase one’s mindfulness, the practice becomes about living our entire lives from a place where we are more present moment by moment. In order to practice this kind of presence, I invite you to consider the following activities for yourselves to enhance your mindfulness and coaching presence.

  1. The body scan is typically one of the first mindfulness activities taught in the more formal multi-week mindfulness programs. It involves focusing your attention on one part of your body at a time, becoming aware of sensations in that part of the body, learning to notice without controlling or changing anything. This is often taught as a guided exercise and there are many versions of guided body scans online.
  1. Walking meditation is one of my favorite forms of mindfulness. It involves becoming aware of your body as you move, step by step, aware of your feet touching the ground. Although it is often done more formally, I like to include walking meditation as a way to ground myself in the present on my way to a meeting or when going to get a coffee.
  1. It’s almost impossible to write about mindfulness and presence without mentioning formal meditation. Meditation is a practice of focus upon a sound, an object, an image, the breath, or movement in order to increase our awareness of the present moment. Although it is sometimes associated with a religious or spiritual practice, it can also be used outside that context. If you are just starting out, I invite you to try the following 3-minute practice:
    • Sit or lie down comfortably in a way that you can remain in for the 3 minutes, if possible without moving. If you are comfortable doing so, close your eyes. If you prefer to keep your eyes open, gently look upon something slightly ahead of you.
    • Notice what you are sensing as you sit/lie… the sounds and smells that you usually would not notice, the feelings in your body, the breath moving through you.
    • When you notice a thought, recognize that you can let go of it. The practice is not one of not thinking, but rather one of observing our thoughts and letting them go.
    • Once your 3 minutes are over, open your eyes and give yourself a moment to adjust to a return to your activity.

The exercise of a quick meditation is one I have found useful before a meeting or coaching session. It has the effect, for me, of being more present.

I hope you choose one of these practices and try it for yourself. Ultimately, you’ll find out what works for you. I hope you’ll also let us know what works for you so we can enhance our practices with your wisdom.1