Extraordinary expectations – extraordinary results?

I’m still drawing from my recent Coaching Lab session with Siawash.

One question he asked me at the very start of the session was:

         “What would make this session extraordinary for you?”

I had already come in with pretty high expectations based on him charging extraordinary fees, and this question really invited me to dream even bigger about what could change based on this encounter.

Based on my experience, it really made me think about how to set, manage or expand clients’ expectations when they come to coaching.

On one hand, I appreciate that it can be super helpful to invite people to think bigger, to create an experience of a future where huge shifts will have happened for them and they live their best lives, and just for a moment to drop all of their stories about what might hold them back, to create a powerful vision of their future. The sparkle in someone’s eyes based on such a line of inquiry can move mountains, shift the entire focus of the conversation, and also make someone enthusiastically part with whatever you charge them for coaching.

On the other hand, a question like that can also set unrealistic expectations (especially if you’re asking about this session, rather than from the coaching relationship as a whole). When the results don’t end up being particularly extra-ordinary, the breakthrough doesn’t occur, and the client is more or less in the same space after the session (keep in mind that most of the time, the big shifts happen in between sessions, and they take time), setting high expectations without managing them can end up in frustration and even blaming oneself or the coach for not fulfilling the potential that’s inherent in such a session. It’s a risky question to ask in that way.

So the key here seems to be to introduce or follow that sort of question up, by putting it into the context of the coaching agreement. Something like:

“Now that we’ve got a powerful vision to work towards, and arrived at a best-case example for our time together (and beyond), how can we use this to inspire you? How lightly or tightly do you want to hold on to this vision? What’s our time frame for letting this transformation take place? What do you bring to the table that’ll help you? What’s in the way? How sedimented are these obstacles? Where might we start to take one small step towards this?” And so on…

In my business coaching session, it wasn’t followed, because we only had the one session, and working on complex issues takes time, and so I’ve left somewhat disappointed.

Well, good thing that I know coaching, and I knew the coach well, and I’ve not paid for this session, so it’s easy for me to walk away having taken lots of learning about coaching.

In a real life setting, asking such a powerful question (without considering the potential impact from multiple angles) may backfire, and add a lot of pressure to both the coach and client. I hear the stories from coaches regularly in supervision, and experiencing it myself was a powerful reminder about why reflecting on whatever powerful tool you’re being encouraged to use by coaches out there is an important part of our practice.

Yes, it is great to set a big dream and an extraordinary vision, but we also need to be careful with this. It can, on occasion, do more harm than good.

With Love

Next event: Psychodynamic Coaching with MCC Julia Rogers


Our featured coach in the Lab in April is ICF Master-Certified Coach, trainer and supervisor Julia Rogers. I’ve known Julia for a while now and I was struck by her love for Freud and psychodynamics. Traditionally placed in the therapy space, we’ve been talking a fair bit about how these concepts show up in the coaching and supervision room, and so I can’t wait to finally see her in action with a client.

We’ll get to be a fly on the wall for this session, live on 4th April at 7:30pm CET, and the recording (if released) will be available to our members. Individual tickets are available via Eventbrite and MeetUp.

More info about Julia and her approach on the “Next event” section on our website.