The seven conversations at play in a single coaching session
Posted on: 03 Jun 2020
In reflective practice, when identifying where your coaching dialogue is most and least effective, few coaches realise that they need to pay attention to seven conversations (Megginson and Clutterbuck, 2009), rather than just the one that happens in the immediate coaching session.
Typically coaches focus their reflection on how they engaged with clients within coaching sessions i.e. the conversations happening between coach and client, when in fact, as effective coaching supervision will reveal, there are quite a few other conversations to consider.
Clutterbuck (2011) suggests that any real issues which can arise in coaching relationships tend to relate to “unconscious conversations either they or the client [are] having internally” (p. 55) before, during or after the actual coaching conversation. Indeed, Clutterbuck says that “Expanding the coach’s perspective of where the coaching conversations were taking place [offers] an alternative and arguably faster method of exploring the relationship and conversational dynamics” (p. 55).
Here’s an overview of the seven conversations coaching supervision model with some guidelines for how you might work with it:
Before the session
- The coach’s initial inner dialogue: An inner dialogue in which “the coach considers how they have helped so far and in what ways” (p. 56) by reflecting not only on progress, but on the client’s context, avoidance on both coach and client side, and the coach attitude i.e. how the coach feels generally about the relationship. Expanding your awareness of this conversation helps you become more aware of how you are arriving at the coaching session.
- The client’s initial inner dialogue: An inner dialogue in which the client may reflect on what they have learned so far and since the previous session, what they want help with next, as well as “their own attitudes and motivations towards the coaching conversations and the coaching relationship” (p. 57). Expanding your awareness of this conversation helps you become more aware of the client’s responsibility in the coaching process.
During the session
- The coach’s inner dialogue during the spoken conversation: An inner dialogue which happens concurrently as the coaching session transpires, as the coach not only participates in the session, but observes it at the same time. Expanding your awareness of this conversation helps you become more aware of your observations, so that you can “begin the process of including them in [your] intuitive repertoire” (p. 58).
- The spoken conversation: The actual coaching dialogue between the coach and client in the session. Expanding your awareness of this conversation by focusing on the process, helps you become ”more fully attentive to the client” (p. 59). Remember, this is only one dimension of effective reflective practice.
- The client’s inner dialogue during the spoken conversation: Just as coaches have an inner dialogue that happens concurrently as the coaching session transpires, so too do clients e.g. they choose what to say, and equally or more importantly, what not to say. “Part of a coach’s role is to act as a mirror on this inner conversation, helping to surface unspoken thoughts and to heighten the client’s self-awareness” (p. 59). It is also helpful for the coach to “help the client develop their own skills of self-observation” (p. 59). Expanding your awareness of this conversation helps you become more aware of both your own, and your client’s responsibilities in this regard.
After the session
- The coach’s inner conversation after the session: An inner dialogue in which the coach reflects on the session which has just taken place for the purpose of continuous improvement. In addition to the above five conversations, a coach may consider: “How I helped … What choices did I make? … What did I learn? … What concerns do I have?” (p. 60). This inner dialogue is in fact where reflection like that of the seven conversations (or other coaching supervision models) takes place.
- The client’s inner conversation after the session: Just as coaches have an inner dialogue in which they reflect on the session which has just taken place, so too do clients. This extends beyond obvious outcomes and includes reflection on learning, intention and process and behaviour. This can be where they start taking action, and Clutterbuck urges coaches to help “the client develop the skills, ability and motivation to reflect purposefully and hence gain full value from the session” (p. 60). Expanding your awareness of this conversation helps you become more aware of reasonable expectations around client’s post-reflection and how the coach manages these expectations.
Clutterbuck lists several situations when “the seven conversations” are particularly useful:
- When the coach feels in some way inadequate or that they have ‘failed’ the client;
- When the client procrastinates constantly, leaving the coach frustrated;
- When the coach feels too close (intimate), or too distant from the client;
- When the coach has a sense that there are unidentified others in the room;
- When conversations are repeated, with no sense of significant progress in the client’s thinking or behaviour;
- When the coach simply has the intuition that they are ‘missing something important’ in the conversations or the relationship;
- When the coach feels there is a moment (or longer) of “disconnect in the conversation but can’t pin down what was occurring” (p. 61).
If any of the scenarios listed above sound familiar, and you would like to reflect more deeply through coaching supervision, join a ReciproCoach supervision group. 2020 Ongoing Monthly Supervision Group 7.1, including three sessions over three months with MCC and coaching supervisor Frances Penafort, is due to start early next month (only three places left – register here). There are also casual single session rounds available for registration across the next few months, or you might like to book a session with one of our individual supervisors. Whether you engage in coaching supervision or not, I encourage you to consider reflecting on the conversations to get more wholistic insight into your coaching practice.
Clutterbuck, D. (2011). Using the seven conversations in supervision. In T. Bachkirova, P. Jackson & D. Clutterbuck (Eds.), Coaching & mentoring supervision (1st ed., pp. 55-66). Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Megginson, D., & Clutterbuck, D. (2009). Further Techniques for Coaching and Mentoring. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann.
Supporting you in your ongoing reflective coaching practice,
Kerryn Griffiths, PCC, PhD and Global ReciproCoach Coordinator