Can you get free coaching from your friends?

Someone said to me earlier: “It must be great for your friends — all that free coaching on tap”.

I thought about it because I rarely coach my friends. We have plenty of great conversations and sometimes explore ideas together, but I don’t think that’s the same as coaching. So this made me wonder about the difference I see between a social conversation and a coaching conversation.

They’re just labels of course, but for me they point in different directions.

I think of coaching as holding the space for someone to reveal themselves to themselves. It’s a process I find utterly absorbing, magical and transformative. In no time at all, someone can see themselves, their life and the whole world in a different way. Their attention melts through layers of thought to experience wordless wisdom from deep inside.

When I work with someone, I don’t want to sell them my own limitations. So I don’t teach them what I think/know/believe/trust and instead support and love their own inquiry.

I find it remarkable how quickly we can see beyond what we saw before; experiencing what was always there but previously clouded by old habitual thinking.

So here’s the big distinction: I see ‘holding the space’ as a technical skill. When I’m exploring with someone, I lead them into (a sequence of) specific states that are perfect for their particular exploration. Seeing beyond thinking is an activity and I can guide people as they do it.

Often people talk to me about their state of mind when really they mean the state of their brain. I’ve made this a key distinction in my work. Mind is a vague, ethereal concept. But brain states are tangible, measurable and easy to influence when you know how.

Patterns of humour and provocation are two great ways to generate different neurochemicals, for example. Voice rhythm and tonal shifts are two great ways to entrain brainwaves. And there are many, many more ways to guide attention. If we do this skilfully – and if we calibrate and include the rest of the body too – it may seem like a simple conversation but actually it’s really powerful coaching.

When I’m coaching, my attention is absolutely and unconditionally with my client’s internal processes. If the door bell rings, I probably won’t hear it unless they do. The main reason I’m able to go so deep with my coaching is that I can slide out of being Chris, suspend most of what I think/know/believe/trust about life and live entirely for the person I’m with. Literally I’m breathing for them, holding and guiding their attention.

With social conversations, it’s very different. I like having ‘meaningful’ conversations with my friends, but I’m not there to hold and guide their attention. I prefer just hanging out, listening to music and eating noodles.

My friends experience my personality: my manifestation of a separate self. I’m very much Chris with my friends, and I play all the usual games. I’m not only a coach; I’m also a man. And I like being a man.

Can we be human beings having a spiritual experience and spiritual beings having a human experience? It seems to me that denying either aspect is a denial of our wholeness.

One of the consequences of showing up as Chris is that I’ll filter what you say through my own ‘map’ of the world – my assumptions – and therefore I won’t give you my full attention. I might think you’re wrong about stuff or I might get bored of your habits. I might want stuff from you. And that’s why our connection will be different. My intentions for being with you will be different. So even if the topics are similar, and even if the conversation is useful, these social conversations are not the same as coaching conversations.

We can all find friends to support us, advise us and even sit into the early hours exploring the meaning of life with us. It’s easy to find people to inspire us, provoke us and challenge us. Many people will happily preach to us if we give them half a chance. But none of that is coaching. At least it’s not what I think of as coaching.

That’s why when I hear someone say they don’t need coaching because they already have ‘plenty of friends to talk to’, I think that’s a sign that coaching is pretty misunderstood in the public consciousness. I don’t think anyone needs a coach but I think everyone can benefit from deep coaching. Coaches fulfil a completely different function to friends, family, teachers and advisors. What we do is fundamentally different.

All of us who love coaching could probably be clearer about how magical the experience is and what amazing benefits can be created.