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Is it appropriate to use slang in coaching?

This question came in our last Empowering Coaching Relationships training weekend.

In Empowering Coaching Relationships training weekend, we talk about empowering ourselves as coaches, our clients, and the relationship. We practice ICF’s Core Competencies Active Listening, Trust and Safety, Coaching Presence, and Evoking Awareness.

At the beginning of every training weekend, we ask our students what their goals from the weekend are. Goals are an important part of coaching sessions because they help us to focus our attention on what we want to learn.
That weekend, each student shared their goal and before I wrapped this up I declared my own goal: I wanted our time together to be a place for co-creation and I was curious about what we would create together.

We then dived into our material for the weekend. One important aspect of empowerment is believing in the resourcefulness of the individual. Usually, we see only a small percentage of our potential. When curiously start inquiring about our potential we can see it is so much more than we assumed. To illustrate the point we share a picture of a big square with smaller squares inside and ask how many they can count. Students here share much less than the real number. We show them all the little squares. Then we ask them what this has to do with coaching? They understand that it is about the potential.

When I asked the question “How many squares can you see?”, one student answered “sh#*t” load of possibilities”, we all laughed. I later used the phrase my student coined to say ” a lot”. This time the student got a bit apologetic saying she should be careful about her language in coaching.

Well, maybe, maybe not. It depends.

It depends on the client and the coaching relationship. And this was also the topic of our training weekend.

This connected to “Cultivating Trust & Safety”, one of the most important coaching competencies. The coachee can only express what she thinks and feels fully, which in turn, will evoke awareness and create insight when there is trust and safety. And the prerequisite of Trust and Safety is establishing rapport.

Rapport is being in the same wavelength that makes the other person feel at ease.

It is meeting the client where he is at in terms of energy, speed of speech, posture, gestures, language used, etc.. The work of the coach is listen to the “being” of the coachee, as if they can just get inside their body and be them. From this listening, the coach matches the coachees being in that moment so the initial rapport is created. If the client says “sh#*t when they speak, you also very well can use your “sh#*t” . If the client uses very polite language, usage of “sh#*t” would create disturbance and threaten the trust and safety.

After the initial trust and safety are established the coach can use more and more his/ her own language. The coach chooses the most appropriate language by considering what would serve the client best. Usage of “sh#*t ” might lighten the mood, invite the client to creativity, and being courageous. It can be a word uttered in the beginning by asking permission and might later turn into a part of shared vocabulary which deepens the intimacy of a coaching relationship.

We, in our training, kept on using the term “sh#*t load of”. And we even created a name for a style of coaching that uses these words. we called it punk coaching.

And with that my goal of the weekend was met: we co-created a new coaching style.

At the end of this story I want to leave you with two messages:

  1. Creating Trust and Safety starts with establishing rapport. You can establish rapport by listening for the energy, speed,
  2. Coaching can only happen when there is Trust and Safety. When there is 100% of Trust and Safety, there will be awareness, inspiration, insight and co-creation.

You probably know the ads with the note “Don’t try this at home”. For what I shared with you in this post, I highly encourage you to try these at home. And I invite you to try these at work with your colleagues, in private circles with your friends and family.

Let us know what you are discovering and how the rapport contributes to your relationships.