Create safe space for clients
1 | Prepare BEFORE the session
- Select a quiet, well-lit, distraction-free environment where you can be fully present for the client.
- Allow adequate time to decompress from other activities before engaging in a coaching session.
- Take time to review coaching notes, commitments, and loose ends from the last coaching conversation with the client.
- Pray for the client, their desired outcomes, and that the Spirit may guide you in bringing out God's best in that person.
- Encourage the client to also create space in their schedules so that they can be fully presence and not preoccupied by other matters.
2 | Create safe space DURING your sessions
- Some coaches light a candle, offer a prayer, or suggest a moment of silence before the coaching session begins.
- Set up you coaching space so that you're not looking for a document or a pen, or anything else that might be needed.
- Listen deeply to what is said and not said, and how you respond to these cues.
- Pay attention to the pace of the coaching conversation. Allow adequate time to pause, reflect, and to not feel rushed.
- Train yourself to be fully present. Avoid thinking about what your next question will be.
- Use language that is neutral. Share observations without offering interpreting the meaning of these observations.
- Follow the clients lead, and avoid playing the role of a fixer of someone else's problems.
- Seek to understand rather than be understood. Keep the focus on the client.
- Practice active listening where you expect to hear something new or surprising.
- Ask open-ended questions to help your client explore himself or herself more deeply.
- Recognize that silence is okay - in fact it's a gift. This allows clients more space to share what’s on their mind. Often we feel the need to fill in the gaps during a conversation and this can sabotage your effectiveness as a coach.
- Smile when appropriate. Pay attention to you body language.
3 | Create safe space AFTER the session
- Help the client identify where they can find safe space for further reflection and experiment after the event.
- Invite the client to identify people in their lives that can be life-giving dialogue partners for them.
- Invite the client to find ways to slow down, be more mindful, and more open to joy and abundance in their life.
The best coaches are keenly aware of the conditions may help or hinder the creation of safe, sacred space. Invite you to make a list of the things you can do to create an environment that's conducive to great coaching conversations.
QUESTIONS | APPLICATIONS
- List 3 things you do to create safe space with clients.
- How do you help clients to create safe space wherever they are?
Having a safe and quiet space is essential. I have had too many very "important pastoral" conversations that are sometimes distracting because of the environment that I happen to be in. There is nothing better than to have someone listen to you and have their full attention on you and your issues/problems/situations. Being "fully present" to someone is a gift that the client receives and a gift that the coach gives. As coaches we have to be mindful that the session is about the client not us.
I've had several pastors share with me that I'm one of the few people they have in their life where it's safe to share what's really going on in their life. Being fully present is so important. Any thoughts about what you'd do to eliminate distractions in your settings?
One of the things that attracts me to coaching is the ability to coach from anywhere. I have aspirations of being able to travel and work as a coach. And that also brings up the issue of how you secure space around you that holds - where you are not interrupted. I am thinking I might be able to create safe space talking on the phone inside a locked car (that is not moving). Just something I'm thinking about.
I also appreciate the thinking about the before, during and after - but find the number of things included in the lists above a little overwhelming to manage. I'll have to work on articulating this for myself in something simpler that still prompts me to take similar actions.
The car actually works quite well. What's been helpful for me is to look at my calendar for the day and then anticipate where I will be and what I need to do to create that safe space. It's usually when I don't plan ahead is when I get in a situation that isn't optimal.
My experience as social worker and pastoral care provider has always involved the spiritual, biological, psychological, & social perspectives (spiritual now becoming more prevalent in the therapist world) it is encouraging to see the spiritual aspect in the coaching model.
That said, I've always seen/experienced coaching from a secular perspective. I'll add that it's doubly interesting and encouraging to hear talk of praying and using the Holy Spirit as a part of the coaching model, too. I'm actually interested in talking about using our full spiritual toolset in addition to our cerebral ones and secondly, how you market/expose your self in the professional circles with this intentionality.
When we talk more in later sessions about creating norms and expectations for the coaching relationship, remind me to talk about ways to intentionally lift up the spiritual element of a coaching relationship.
I think the creation of safe and sacred space begins with my own inner work. We bring a presence to the physical space. If I am not centered and present it will be difficult for the client to be centered and present. This article holds for me an image of contemplative prayer and deep listening - the coach listening to the client, the client listening to herself or himself, and the coach and client together listening for a Word, the movement of the Spirit, and how that Word can become flesh, embodied and enacted, in the client.
I really like your comment about the inner work we need to do as part of the coaching process. I also like the way you've categorized the types of listening that occurs during coaching sessions.
In these days of back-to-back-(to-back!) Zoom meetings, I appreciate the suggestion to leave enough space between coaching sessions to get centered, focused, and to pray for the client. The most efficient use of time is not always the most effective. It is important that the client knows I am fully present and listening closely to their insights and concerns. This can only happen if I am not feeling rushed or anxious about time.
What I'm going to say here is mostly about "set up." I have noticed how important my "coaching space" is when coaching on Zoom. Things like lighting, positioning of the camera, what's in the background, possible distractions or sources of interruption and having what I need nearby all contribute to creating a safe and trusting environment. Even how I arrange my screen top so that I can be looking my client in the eye. My camera and the image of my client need to be close to each other so that it doesn't appear that I am looking at something else. Its hard, but eye contact on virtual coaching seems important to me. I've been learning while doing and each time I learn something new to hopefully help me create the most safe and trusting environment possible.
This piece around virtual coaching space really resonated with me as that is something that I had not been as cognizant of as I should about my surroundings. I do it well in person (therapy sessions), but I had not put as much attention into the virtual which actually may be even more crucial. I too believe the eye contact piece is important to give more intimacy and being connected to the client.
Yes with the eye contact and screen arrangement! I have had the problem when using two screens
Carl Horton, you would be a MAGNIFICENT coach! Background distractions can be a challenge, for sure. I'm always trying to mitigate the camera angle to manage that.
Creating a safe and sacred space is truly a two way street. I have found myself in meeting with people where I am fully present, but they are not because of those who might be in their home with them. I have in the past pushed through in those conversations, but I wonder if it would have been more helpful for me to name the distraction at hand and see about rescheduling. I also wonder if this is something to ask before the session with the client actually begins to make sure that the time we will have to be together will allow them to be open and honest without the fear of others listening in.
It's more common in business meetings now to turn off or leave phones outside of a meeting room. I have mixed feelings about devices since I like to organize my thoughts and notes via iPad or iPhone at meetings. I like your idea of making it a point of conversation with clients.
I like the idea of starting off with inviting the client to do a quick scan of their environment and of their physical and mental state to help them be fully present in the session.
I appreciate this emphasis on making sure the client is able to be fully present also, especially at the onset of a session.
This discussion about a safe and sacred space for coaching is very helpful. I was blessed to have a wonderful clergy coach who made a point for us to end each session in prayer. Our hands were stretched across the table and locked together, as the words of her heartfelt/thoughtful prayer washed over me. Our sessions helped to redirect and enlighten me as to my ability to serve well and live well. But this blog, its comments and our coaching class have shown me why the location and setting of our meetings were not ideal: in a local coffee shop, usually seated in a "semi-private" stall...IF we could nab one, with people we knew passing by and even stopping on occasion to interact with us.
I plan on making a different arrangement for location of coaching sessions I hold, but realize its not as easy as it may seem. I'm thinking phone or zoom sound like best options, but even for that I realize: (1) My office is far too cluttered and busy...the phone rings at random times and there is no one but myself to answer it. (2) My home may have a spot or two, but there is the 15 month old labradoodle who could easily cause a problem.
I will definitely have to put more thought into the setting.
I will also mirror the lessons learned by observing my former coach: always arrived early, always prepared, (almost) always fully present, and the best cheerleader a person could ask for!
Creating a safe and sacred space is a critical aspect to the coach’s responsibilities with the client. A clean, tidy, warm, and welcoming environment can make a big difference not only in the client’s perspective of you as a professional, but can also put them at ease mentally. This can especially be true when connecting remotely, while working from your home office. I think about the coaches I’ve worked with, and I’ve particularly enjoyed one coach’s setup where she has house plants, warm colors, and even a candle burning in the background. It makes the environment seem very cozy and welcoming. Ultimately, we want the client to feel comfortable during their session. This is my goal as I build my coaching business.
WOW! I really like the idea of a candle and even a plant in the background with the warm colors on the wall. Good food for thought for online coaching sessions I'll hold in the future.
It's not unusual that coaches will create a "coaching corner" in one of the rooms in their homes. Felix has a corner like that that creates an inviting atmosphere. I like the idea of a candle. Some of groups I meet with light a candle to signify Christ's presence in the coaching space.
I was so excited to see the candle mentioned! YES! Inviting Christ to be present in the room for the conversation through the lighting of a candle is a wonderful ritual for creating a warm and safe space for coaching!
For me, I think I am pretty good in the moment, but I lack a lot of the preparation. I think as a coach I need to do a better job of centering myself. I feel it is easy for me to drift off in a different direction because I didn't take the time to focus on this session; I didn't prepare by laying out the paper work and my note taking supplies; and by limiting the up coming distractions. I think if I am doing in person or zoom coaching I will turn off my phone. I have been noticing that the incoming texts remind me of the stress of my day. Maybe another good thing is to take a physical break before the coaching session so that I can collet my thoughts and work off some of the stress. Preparation will be that one area I am really going to start working on.
Isn't it amazing just how many things in our day-to-day lives interrupt...even highjack our thinking! I've turned off a lot of my notifications on my phone, but even the few that remain can physically startle me when I'm wrapped up in a project. Think about how we've been encouraged to be multi-tasing
(finishing my previous reply) multi-tasking throughout the day, which doesn't offer us the opportunity to learn how to fully focus on one thing/one person/one conversation at a time. One thing this class is teaching me is, is the value of slowing down and being mindful of my own state of mind and how to be more fully present in conversations I'm having with others.
Well said. I think with how fast paced everything seems it is important to be slow and be intentional when entering these conversations. I like Amelia suggestion of centering myself with breathing prior to beginning a coaching session to sort of get into that mindset.
So agree with you on this. I grew up with parents who rarely took time out for themselves. I had to learn the hard way that taking time to "be still" actually helps me to get more done and done well.
What would that preparation routine look like for you? Would you be scheduling time on your calendar to ensure that you have adequate time?
As a Reiki Master Practitioner, I schedule an additional half hour before and after each appointment. The first half hour is to prepare myself. The last half hour is to reset the room. Scheduling time for coaching appointments would be similar. Knowing I need to prepare myself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically for the appointmet, I would need to plan appointments with adequate time in between for preparing myself before and "resetting" after.
I love the idea of taking a physical break. It is amazing what some fresh air can do for one especially if you are in an office all day long:)
I appreciate the idea of a physical break. My morning exercise helps me to be centered and focus on the tasks for the day, but also is a time when I can block out all the externals and focus on just putting one step in front of another. After my mind is clear, often fresh ideas will arise.
One of the things that can sometimes pose a challenge for me being fully present is not leaving enough time in between clients or between appointments. I need to remind myself that each upcoming session deserves to be treated like the first where I am centered and prepared. That sometimes means I need to be really mindful in how much I can do before needing to recharge.
OOOOH! a five minute physical break -- riding the recumbent bike, using the resistance bands, taking a walk -- a way to refocus while also accomplishing a healthy goal and calling it necessary for work. I always like it when I can do that! ;)
I am realizing more and more as I read the blog that what is energizing, creative, and keeps me present isn't probably what a client would need. I like the idea of setting up a coaching space in my home for zoom sessions. At work, it may be more difficult because of how our office functions. I do know that one step I will take is to figure out how to silence the ringer on my phone so it doesn't disturb the meeting. I aware not only of the importance of getting myself prepared to be with another, but, I plan to incorporate breathing together at the beginning of a session so that we are unity, letting go of what is around us thereby creating a holy safe space together.
I really like that idea of breathe to begin the session. It gives a time to sort of cleanse the palette, like a lemon sorbet does so that you can really appreciate the meal or in our case the conversation to come.
I also resonate with figuring out where to do this coaching. Probably from my home would work best because, church can be a little busy with people dropping in and out. An idea that hit me, is maybe seeing if I could do some coaching from another church space, like one of the neighboring churches that is close to me. Hmmm....I will have to think about that a little more.
Two important things from this particular blog for me personally.
1. The importance of preparation. I have always been extremely good at "flying by the seat of my pants" and yet I am finding more and more often that is not working for me the way it once did. There is too much specific information I need that I don't have if I am not prepared and then I feel frantic. On the one hand coaching isn't a space that requires us to guide the conversation, so having all of our facts is not a bad thing, especially if that would lead me to try and fix the situation. But, this also means a different kind of preparation is in order, preparing myself to be present (and not distracted) in the conversation and for someone who takes a long time to unwind this can be challenging. I will need to give a lot of thought to location and preparation so that I can be truly present to the person I am coaching.
2. The second thing flows from the first, but the importance of active listening as central to coaching and how I prepare so that I can engage with what folks bring and are wanting to talk about in the coaching time.
Your post made me think of not just preparing but doing the of preparation of a coach. Preparing to be present and not the problem solver or seeing my own challenges in the challenges of the client.
I appreciate the comments and perspectives shared as they have helped me process my thoughts on sacred space. The idea of internal and external sacred spaces resonates with me. For me the sacred begins not so much with me but the client. Reminding myself of the sacred within the person keeps me grounded in the reason I'm entering coaching in the first place-seeking to love my neighbor as myself. Before the person became a client or coachee, the person was (and is) a beloved child of God - a human being with hopes and dreams and fears and wounds. Helping another person become more of who God created them to be is a sacred act of birth and rebirth, redemption and resurrection. Its holy ground.
Great perspective. It's so important for us to remember who this person is, and why we're coaching in the first place -- to help these individuals (children of God) grow, excel, and be the best version of themselves.
Tom, thanks for the powerful reminder to focus on the sacred within the client.
Oh, wow! Thank you for this!! I have really been struggling with the "do not have to agree with them, but must support them" concept, and this is really helpful, Tom. Thank you!
I like the reminder that the role of the coach is not to be the fixer of someone else's problems. So often in our world we want quick answers and sudden results. Sometimes digging deeper takes time and some significant work. I like the idea of walking alongside (like the spirit) to move towards a preferred future.
Thanks for this Brian. Walking alongside and not trying to 'fix' anything or solve some deep issue is really important. I need a note next to my monitor: the client is a whole person and has the solutions they need-NOT YOU" lol
This discussion on creating safe space was very helpful. All of these details may seem like small things but together they can make a significant contribution towards supporting the key tasks of actively listening and being fully present. I intend to incorporate a number of these supporting practices into my own practice in the future (even it's a bit of a struggle currently). The suggestion to invite the client into these practices may prove fruitful as well.
I feel that the ultimate gift we can give to our clients and ourselves is to be fully present. I really like the idea of taking the time before meeting with the client to scan my environment not only for possible distractions as well as what could set a soothing setting for my client and myself. Something simple like a lit candle or the color of my background such as having colors that soothe like muted blues, greens etc. Most importantly I need to scan myself to identify any mental, physical or spiritual imbalance that may inhibit my being able to be fully present. The imbalance could present a challenge for counter transference in the session.
I noticed that I was much more in tune with setting up the space for therapy clients in person and less attentive to say for example the lighting and what might be in the background that could be distracting and feeling that the coaching may be heavier on the virtual piece, I would need to be much more intentional about all of the aspect that I normally would do for in person, for me and notice the clien'ts as well.
As I think about starting a career as a Life Coach, learning these practical helps is so beneficial. After reading this and attending our Zoom class I see the importance of building in time to decompress and to organize thoughts in between sessions. Thank you for sharing these!
The pace of my life is so fast with so many moving parts it can take my mind a long time to slow down and to be present in the moment. Having taught contemplative prayer for years- I know how to be present, but it can definitely be a challenge in practice sometimes, but I know it's really important to prepare before meeting with others, whether for coaching or otherwise.
My sacred space for work, zoom, and conversations is in a recliner in my office with laptop on lap. This may not be a best practice. A better practice would be a laptop on desk and me in a chair making sure my face is near enough for best communication. (Even standing, as you do Jim.] Natural light flows well through the windows and on cloudy days, a lamp will enhance lighting. Finally, I'd like to put in a background picture other than the stack of books of the bookshelves, that would create calm and warmth for my clients.
Centering beforehand with a candle and prayer is beautiful, and my office is set for that.
Creating margin afterwards for reflections and jotting down notes and steps & questions will be helpful.
As a Social Work Major I was trained in practicing open-ended questions, good eye contact, prompts, and attentive listening skills. As a pastor, I have had ample opportunities to hone these skills. Coaching will step this up a notch as powerful questions become a greater norm and prompting towards action steps becomes the ultimate goal.
I am always looking for a balance in my meeting spaces (in person and on Zoom) between warm/inviting and too cold/impersonal. The best is if the background can fade away and the focus can be between the two people - lighting, neutral artwork, furniture that is comfortable enough to sit still but not so comfortable someone falls asleep or leans back. I have told people who think they can focus while in a car, in a backyard minding the dog, etc that it is important for them to have a calm, focused space as much for me as for them - if they have a lot going on in their background or I see their attention moving elsewhere, it doesn't allow me to be fully present to them. I learned the hard way it is better to ask to reschedule when they can be in a quiet place rather than let myself remain distracted from what's going on in their surroundings.
I appreciate the emphasis on preparing a space for coaching: psychologically, spiritually and physically. Some of those are easier than others, and are related to socio-economic factors. My own home is 1300 sq ft with 7 people living there. My office is a shared space with other coworkers. The earlier part of this thread had someone suggest coaching from a vehicle. At first consideration that seems like an unprofessional background, at least for the beginning of a coaching relationship. On the other hand, it may be one of the few uninterrupted spaces people have. I know if my own context, arranging for safe and attentive spaces will take some creativity.
I think that this is a really important piece of preparation. Now that everything is digital and online, I find it harder to be present during online conversations and make the mental shift from one type of meeting to another. I can already sense that I could feel like, I can just "pop on" to a session and be "there" with a client, but I cannot. I know that I will need to likely move to an entirely new space in my house for this work and take at least 15 minutes to center myself before I can be in a productive and healthy headspace to be a good coach.
To create an environment conducive to safe conversation (whether a congregant or team member), I play instrumental music (upbeat for casual or brainstorming; relaxing for personal conversations). I might have a candle or essential oil going, as well as ambient light - not too dark, though. If I don't need to look at my desktop calendar, I move away from my desk and sit in a chair angled toward where my friend, teammate, or visitor is sitting. That helps me internally be fully present as much as it messages to the other person that I'm fully present.
List 3 things you do to create safe space with clients.
-Turn off phone and close all internet tabs and email
-Bring positive body language and pay attention to facial expressions
-Do a few moments of breathing and embodiment exercises to focus myself into the present moment
How do you help clients to create safe space wherever they are?
-Remind clients of the wins they have already had
-Remind them that they are in control of the time together and if they need something in the moment they should feel empowered to do it.
-Communicate roll of coach and expectations for the time together clearly so they don't wonder what will happen next.
Thank you for offering "remind them that they are in control of the time." This is helpful language to state at the beginning as the coach asks what they want to talk about. It is a good reminder for the coach, too, that we are not in control. We need to let the client be in the driver's seat as much as possible.
Love this list!! I am going to print this post out so that I can have it to revisit!
When I coach, I do the following:
-Place my phone out of reach facedown
-have an index card of my favorite questions and a pad and pen within reach
-make sure that all extraneous windows on my computer are closed or minimized (ex. I don't want to see my email number tick up and have my brain wonder who is emailing me)
I ask my clients to avoid checking phones, emails, etc during our meetings. I now wonder about what additional things I could suggest.
Three things I could do to create safe space for coaching clients include:
-- minimizing physical distractions in the meeting space ahead of the appointment
-- lighting a Christ candle to invite Christ's presence
-- practicing holy listening (listening attentively while the client talks without forming the next question in my head until they have finished speaking)
I can help clients create safe space wherever they are by:
-- inviting them to put their phone face down with the volume off during our time together and modeling that
-- encouraging the client to shut doors to the room they are in if other people live in the home or to reschedule for a time when they can be fully present
-- inviting the client to take slow, deep breaths for centering in body, mind, and spirit
My first experience with coaching was in a cohort over Zoom. My coach was able to create a warm and welcoming space even in the virtual world. She welcomed us with a calm, loving voice. She lit a candle inviting the Holy Spirit to be present. She said a prayer. For most of us, we were running from one appointment to the next, some with people popping into our offices to ask questions, but this simple way of beginning the session helped me see that this time could (should) be different. Coaching is a gift we give ourselves. And by setting up the session in a way that is peaceful and reflective, the client can think of this time as not just another meeting, but rather a spiritual time to connect with our best selves.
Three things that will allow you to create safe space with clients are to do away with outside distractions (turning off phone, putting away clutter, etc.), ask the client to introduce themselves in a manner that allows them to share key information that can help guide your session (what can you tell me about yourself that will help me coach you better?), and checking in throughout the session to ensure that your client knows they are being heard.
Helping clients ensure create a safe space wherever they are can be as simple as encouraging the client to take a moment at the beginning of the session to put away any distractions they may have and asking them to take a few deep breaths as they think about what it is that they want to discuss. Verbally reviewing the coaching agreement and reassuring the client that your time together will be confidential can also help the client feel safe.
I really enjoyed the video as an example. I realize that before your coaching session, you need to take some time to ground yourself. If you have some notes, take a look at what it is that the client is working on. Give yourself time to focus and be present.
This makes me curious about the differences in preparing safe space in a virtual session versus in a face to face session. Are there differences in the way that we should be approaching different spaces? I remember in our fall coaching workshop there was some conversation about coaching folks over dinner or coffee as well. How do we create safe space for this work in public spaces?
It always makes me feel more confident to review the previous session, even if I wrote 1-2 notes about it. Some meditative thoughts or prayers always helps alleviate nervousness as well. I get fairly nervous and I like to take some time to center around scripture or pieces of music to help me get ready.
I really am a huge fan of prayer, being sensitive to invite others into that process or simply listen. It reminds me that I'm also being coached as I serve.
Likewise, I want to come in as as a "safe space" myself through having paused before I offer myself. Even if life is crazy, I can find a moment to be available to God and know He's available to me before I am available to others.
Last, I want to maximize attention where I am. So if I can set up the chairs so we're all able to feel we're on equal ground that's ideal.
Eye contact and a listening ear helps the client also feel at ease. That's harder to do online, but I find staring into the camera versus the screen helps.
Such good introspective instruction here!! I love creating a distraction free environment - I'm trying to find a good way to do this in an office that operates more like a fish bowl!!
I also know I am the WORST at taking my own time as a coach to get in the right mindset, drop whatever was happening 10 minutes ago, truly be present in the moment. Working on a) just being honest about that when I'm struggling to get there and b) forcing my calendar into compliance so I CAN get there!
Coaches should ensure safe spaces for their clients. These spaces are personal and remove outside distraction such as messages or social updates. They also foster a place where the client does not feel like someone will overhear what they are sharing because their information is confidential. An element of preparation is helpful in centering the coach and the client about the conversation that will happen.
Creating safe space is important for any encounter. Having a quite, uncluttered space in person or on zoom is an essential first step in helping the client know that they are what is at the center of the coaches attention. Letting the client know that what is shared is confidential allows the client an opportunity to share what might be unsharable with others. And more personally taking time to pray for and really consider the client before the session begins, allowing me to center myself on the person in front of me.