Being the Best Coach or Mentor You Can Be 3: Sensory Acuity

Sensory acuity is essential to effective coaching and mentoring.

The ability – to sense in the moment those tiny yet crucial signals that provide an insight into what is going on for your client at different levels – is a key facet of Being the Best Coach or Mentor You Can Be.

Capturing through our senses what is being communicated at an unconscious as well as a conscious level is part of being human. It is, and has been, essential to our survival as a species. It is responsible for triggering key instincts including, for example, our fight or flight response to danger.

So, if it is a natural and automatic reaction

. . . why am I highlighting that sensory acuity is essential to effective coaching and mentoring?

Because, like anything else that is automatic, it goes on in the background and for most of the time is below our level of consciousness. If we do not bring it to consciousness we lose the opportunity to use it consciously. As a coach the ability to ‘catch’ something of relevance to the task in hand and to bring it deliberately into our consciousness enables us to use it purposefully in our coaching or mentoring.

In the couple of blogs we have considered the importance of ‘absolute focus’ to our coaching and mentoring practice. The more sensory aware you are the more likely you are to be able to hone in on the ‘real’ issue. The clues will be all around you.

When was the last time

. . . for example, that you responded to a piece of sensory information – perhaps the noticing of a quickening of breath, a tapping of a foot, or a movement of the eyes – in a way that led to a moment of illumination for your client?

Then, at the end of the session, when you reflected on your part in that illumination did you capture that sensory clue that led to your action?

If sensory acuity is essential to effective coaching and mentoring what do you need to do
to sharpen it?

The ability to notice what your client is communicating to you – and what you are communicating that is impacting on your client – is of particular importance in Neuro-Linguistic Programming. NLP, with its focus on the observation of excellence, places a major emphasis on a coach’s ability to calibrate – or to have sensory acuity. To be able to notice, to pay attention to, to lower your perceptual threshold so that you can notice more and more of what is going on around you. To see more and more about less and less!

Taking time out

. . . to lower that perceptual threshold is important and very easy to do. You can do it right now by placing your focus on an individual sense.

For example – extending what you ‘hear’

Close your eyes and focus on the sounds around you and, for each one notice:

  • Volume and any variations in volume
  • The pitch and tone
  • The source of the sound
  • The direction – and any changes in direction to your right or left, up or down, front or back
  • Is it static or moving away from or towards you

Unsurprisingly sensory activities such as this have lots of similarities to what you do when practicing mindfulness or meditation – both of which require you to be exquisitely aware of your focus.

In coaching and mentoring the aim of becoming more sensory aware, however, is not to narrow our focus but rather to sharpen our senses so they can alert us when there is something important being communicated . . .

A narrowing down to lead to an opening up!

A topic for another day?


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