Too often, coaches and therapists (CTs) open sessions by asking, “How was your week?”
That question doesn’t set you up for the real work of coaching/therapy. It sets you up for venting. Before you know it, you’re recalling details, rehashing emotions, digging up old arguments you feel you should’ve won, and the hour’s over before you’ve done anything constructive.
That’s not what we pay CTs for.
And we pay them a lot, so we should expect them to come correct.
I’ve been getting coached and going to therapy for years. Over time, I’ve come to develop some expectations of the process that go much deeper than simple venting. The CT-client relationship should be a true partnership, founded on honesty, growth goals, and transformation.
Here are three things every CT should bring to your sessions:
1. Radical candor. The term “radical candor” comes from Kim Scott, whose book “Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity” sparked a shift in leadership principles.
In coaching/therapy, radical candor is about helping you see your own blind spots. CTs see us every week; we should expect them to point out when we’re repeating a type of thinking or behavior without realizing it.
Setting a standard of radical candor means your CTs won’t simply sit back and listen to you pour out your frustrations. They’ll challenge you directly, in a way that expresses both confidence and care. For CTs, pointing out someone’s blind spots is an inherently caring act—it means they believe we can use them as the building blocks of personal growth.
2. Growth context. Your CTs are humans just like you. They have experiences. They’ve undergone rigorous training (especially therapists). They have other clients. All of this should form a context for your growth process. In every session, your CTs should be asking themselves (and you), “How is this client performing relative to what I know to be possible?”
Of course, all coaching/therapy relationships are individual and unique. It’s impossible (and unhealthy) to measure yourself against other people’s progress. Instead, you should expect your CT to combine their experience and what they know about you to help set growth goals. Where were you three months ago? Where do you want to be six months from now? Where are you today, and what do you need to do to hit your growth objectives?
3. Discussions around limiting beliefs and personal narratives. CTs including prominent voices like Jordan Peterson and Rebecca Walker talk about the importance of reviewing your own story. Peterson recommends actually writing it down—not necessarily penning an autobiography, but outlining the key events that guided you to this point in your life.
Writing down your story not only shows you what happened, but also (more importantly) shows you how you think about what happened.
I once did a version of this exercise with a spiritual guide, who pointed out that I tended to frame my childhood in negative terms—the racism and classism I experienced as the son of immigrants. He challenged me: Could I also view it in terms of its beauty? The rare experience of living on four continents before the age of ten? Could I hold both at once, the ugliness, and the beauty, and know that the truth is never just one or the other?
Having set a foundation of radical candor, CTs can use your personal narrative to expose limiting beliefs. Limiting beliefs prevent us from realizing our full potential, and are rooted in blind spots about who we are and what we’re capable of.
The bottom line is that like any pursuit in life, if you let your CT relationship get passive and habitual, it won’t be the growth driver that it can and should be. Think about where you’re money’s going and what you should expect in return. Demand that your CTs care enough to challenge you to grow.