3 Why coaching works
Yates (2014, pp. 3–4) suggests that while career coaching is still an emerging field, research from other disciplines supports the efficacy of the tools and techniques it uses. For example, she cites studies demonstrating that:
- one-to-one and group career support are effective (Whiston, Sexton and Lasoff, 1998 – quoted in Yates, 2014)
- an effective outcome is influenced by a positive relationship between the client and practitioner (Heppner and Hedricks, 1995 – quoted in Yates, 2014)
- the use of exercises within career support makes it significantly more effective (Brown et al., 2003 – quoted in Yates, 2014)
- clients find it particularly useful to have support when articulating goals and identifying specific plans (Brown et al., 2003 – quoted in Yates, 2014)
- coaching has a significant positive impact on behavioural change (Grant, 2003 – quoted in Yates, 2014).
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that coaching works, but why does it work?
Cox et al. (2014, pp. 6–8) set out three theories of adult learning that they feel underpin all of coaching practice:
- Malcolm Knowles’ (1978) work on andragogy (the method and practice of teaching adult learners) – focusing on what motivates adult learning, including self-direction and a need for relevance. These motivations are clearly reflected in coaching practice, which supports the client to identify their most relevant issues and to come up with their own solutions.
- Mezirow’s theory of transformative learning (2003), which explains how something, for example, a life event or a coaching interaction, can challenge our thinking and give us a new perspective that leads to change.
- Kolb’s theory of experiential learning, in which he suggests that our ideas are not fixed and irreversible, but are ‘formed and re-formed through experience (Kolb, 1984, p. 26).
There isn’t time to cover all three theories in detail on this course, so you’ll focus on Kolb’s theory. This is a process that you can usefully apply when reflecting on your own experiences. References are given, should you be interested in exploring the other theories further.
Reflecting on an experience, drawing conclusions, and implementing what you’ve learned is key to making progress, and a coach can provide support throughout that process.
Activity 3 My experiential learning
Use the process outlined by Kolb to assess an experience that you have had. For example, it could be a disagreement with someone at work, a difficult issue you’ve had to discuss with a child, a leisure activity you’ve tried for the first time etc.
In the boxes below, make notes for each stage:
1. Concrete experience
Describe the experience.
Who was involved?
Where did it take place?
2. Reflective observation
Was it a positive or negative experience?
Did something go wrong?
Did something go particularly well?
Was the outcome what you expected?
Were you surprised by what happened?
3. Abstract conceptualism
What did you learn from the experience?
Did you receive any feedback? If yes – how did it make you feel?
What would you do differently next time?
Is there anyone you could discuss it with to get their perspective?
4. Active experimentation
When can you test out your learning?
Will the situation occur again or do you need to organise it?
Although this activity is a self-reflective exercise, the questions outlined above are the types of questions a coach might ask in a discussion about a particular situation or issue.
Cox et al. (2014, p. 8) conclude that these three adult learning theories ‘are at the heart of all adult learning and development and consequently are at the heart of coaching practices’.
Now that you’ve got a better idea of what coaching is, in the next section you’ll explore what coaching is not, by looking at some common misconceptions.