Becoming a Coach or Mentor 5: Challenging Assumptions



At the heart of effective coaching and mentoring is a deep understanding of self. Being willing, as a coach or mentor, to challenge your own assumptions is essential to effective practice.

This is how one of our programme participants challenged her assumptions during Module 1 of the Optimising Coaching Level 5 ILM Coaching and Mentoring Programme.


quote-marks-openModule 1 of the OC Coaching and Mentoring Programme presented a number of challenges to me as someone who is used to running my own classroom.

I had plenty of assumptions, for instance, about how the course would run. There would be me sitting with my book and pen, writing furiously; I would then take my notes home, digest them, and turn them into a record which would be accessible whenever I wanted them. I had always done this on ‘courses’. That was how courses worked; the tutor spoke and delivered lots of information and the participants made notes and acquired knowledge.


When Sue coached me on Day 2 – by asking me what it would feel like if I put my pen down and simply listened, I was completely out of my comfort zone. Without a pen in my hand, how could I possibly learn anything?

I decided to try it – but reluctantly, feeling really uncomfortable, convinced that not only would I never remember anything, but that what I did remember would be superficial and pointless.

Yet the process of learning how to listen was probably the most valuable and significant lesson I have ever learned . . . I do mean EVER!

When I stopped looking at ‘my page,’ performing the act of simply hearing the words, I began to understand the essence of coaching. There is so much more to listening than hearing. Without a pen, I could appreciate the environment in which the words were uttered, the way they were uttered, the way the body language of the person uttering them influenced their possible and actual meanings. I began to understand there are grey areas.

As someone who is comfortable with black and white, whether it is page of writing or a point of view, I struggled with grey areas to start with. The concept that what people say out loud in terms of words is not always what they mean in relation to their thoughts and feelings. We disguise, we run off on tangents; we often say what we think people want to hear. Thoughts and feelings can change even as they are born as words. A whole new world of nuances of communication and personality traits and preferences opened up to me.

To describe myself as reborn as a coach may make no sense at all to those who avoid grey areas. It is so important in a coaching relationship, I learned, to recognise what you as a coach can and cannot do and to be open about that, with the person you are working with. This is not a teaching and learning environment where knowledge is delivered and the coachee takes notes and goes away to digest them; it is present and fluid. No session will be the same because we are working with human beings.

How liberating to realise that grey areas in coaching are OK!

I used to consider reflection as a luxury that people have when they aren’t trying to juggle outcomes, objectives, aims, targets, goals – whatever the word or phrase of the day . . . to describe what we want out of a situation.quote-mark-close

Working with Sue and experiencing her coaching demonstrated to me very clearly that without time for reflection there can be limited success. I find my own values and beliefs are under the strongest scrutiny by this being I call ‘me’ as I head towards Module 2.

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