Coaching and needs-based coaching

Coaching is about getting from one place to another. It’s for people who are not satisfied with how they are living or the experiences they are having, and who also get that they themselves are the key to changing these experiences and creating the lives they truly desire.

A coach is not a taxi which takes us from A to B without any effort on our part. But nor is the coaching client left to struggle alone. The coach is there to inspire, encourage and support. The client chooses the destination; the coach may suggest both shortcuts and scenic detours, but they work out the route together.

An important aspect of mainstream coaching is that the coach works with the client to set goals – and also to continually reposition the goalposts so that the client is stretched to achieve her or his full potential, whether that be defined in terms of better relationships, a more fulfilling career or a more profitable business. To help the client along, many coaches use a mixture of advice and education, typically with a generous dose of positive affirmations. Life coaches may give a nod to ‘values’ or ‘needs’, but these are often presented as ‘optional extras’ for those on a spiritual path, rather than as fundamental drivers of behaviour, and are not clearly defined anyway. Moreover, needs are not linked to feelings, and any emotional ‘reactions’ to the process are likely to lead to the coach bowing out and referring the client on to a therapist. Mainstream coaching seems to be mainly an intellectual and action centred process: think smart so you can act smart and achieve ‘success’ in some form.

Well, that’s my view anyway. Back in 1997, when I hadn’t heard of NVC, I was one of the first in the UK to sign up for coach training with the American CoachU organisation, founded by Thomas Leonard, who pretty much invented coaching as a profession. He was clearly a smart and ‘successful’ guy, but there was something missing from the CoachU understanding of human behaviour, for all the clever-sounding aphorisms and top ten lists. It did not seem to be a ‘path with a heart’, and I didn’t pursue coaching as a career. But I kept my course notes – over 2,000 pages of typescript – in case there was something valuable I had overlooked or not understood.

Not long ago I went through these notes and saw that the missing piece had already been offered by Marshall Rosenberg: connection with the universal human needs which motivate all our behaviour. I kept ten pages from the 2,000 and condensed the useful ideas on them down to a single sheet. I already knew how to coach the way I wanted to do it: starting and finishing with my clients’ feelings and needs.

In Needs-based or empathic coaching, we don’t jump to setting goals in terms of specific outcomes, such as doubling the client’s income, winning a battle with their ex-partner or losing them a stone in weight. We stay open to different solutions to what are presented as the problems or issues in people’s lives. But first, we reframe them in terms of the human needs. The feelings present in the body are our guides to where there are need-shaped gaps in our lives. Are we looking for security, for connection, for acceptance…? For respect, for ease or for adventure…? How do those needs live in us now? How would we like their energy to flow? How many different ways could we create such a shift? Where would we like to start today, with what particular concrete steps?

Coaching has a special role in the lives of students of NVC. Many of us got very excited when we first discovered the NVC model, and then perhaps disappointed when we found it not so easy to put into practice in the real world. It’s not just a matter of using the ‘right’ language, it’s changing our whole way of thinking and the habits of a lifetime, and applying the shift in an environment which may not have tolerance for our as-yet-imperfect mastery of the processes. The old ways don’t cut it any more, but we’re not yet fluent and confident with the new. That’s why we all need support. This is what I offer.

“Many participants have stated that the coaching relationship is the most effective way to integrate NVC concepts and awareness. By working with situations that apply specifically to your life experience and your relationships, the learning is greatly intensified”.

Thom Bond, New York City NVC trainer and coach