Pacy Coaching – Be more Challenging 5

I’ve written before about pacy coaching.  There’s an assumption that good coaching takes time, but I’ve experienced great, challenging coaching (as coach and as client) in a 20 minute session.  I’m learning all the time about what keeps the momentum going; here’s what I now know:

  1. Contract
  2. Cut to the chase
  3. Ask permission to interrupt their speaking
  4. Cut them off at the pass
  5. Focus on what they say they want to achieve
  6. Focus on new thinking
  7. Talk about time
  8. Re-contract
  9. Highlight the essence; notice the emotions
  10. Ask succinct questions

Let’s address each one in turn:

Contracting for pacy coaching

I’ve written many times about using STOKRS (by 3d Coaching) to create a robust enough contract at the beginning of each session.  When you both know where you are headed, you head off in the same direction rather than pulling against each other with different perceptions of what the coachee needs.   You can see how that would add pace, even though it might seem to slow you down a bit at the start.

Cut to the chase for pace

Michael Bungay Stanier talks about the difference between typical coaches and great coaches.  It’s all about how long it takes the coach to get to the point of the conversation.  Typical coaches meader and take their time to get to what matters most.  Great coaches cut to the chase and get there much faster, so that the bulk of the session can be spent on moving forward.









How do they do that?  They ask questions that help the coachee to get clear about what they want to cover – their goal.

So if they bring a whole list of challenges to the session, ask them:

  • Which of these is most important?  Or which would add most value today?
  • If they talk in the abstract, ask them: what’s the real challenge here today?
  • If they talk about other people, ask them: what’s difficult here for you?
  • If they are seducing the two of you with their story, ask them: what’s the bottom-line here?
  • If they seem to be avoiding the real issue, ask them: is this really the big challenge for you?

(Thanks to Michael Bungay Stanier for these questions).

Ask permission to interrupt their speaking, to keep the pace

Oftentimes, coachees get carried away with their story, or providing you with the context.  They know all of that stuff already – it’s not new to them.  You don’t need to know it all to be able to be of use to them.  So as part of your contract, when you ask them how they would like the two of you to work together, ask them whether you can have their permission to interrupt them if you feel that it would be of service to their thinking.  I’ve never known anyone to say no, so this gives you legitimate reason to interrupt them if they do appear to be talking about everything including the kitchen sink.

Cut them off at the pass, to keep the pace

They may give you a big clue that they are about to start story-telling, by saying, “let me start by giving you some context”.  Cut them off at the pass, by gently saying that if that’s useful for them to remind themselves of the context, that’s fine, but they shouldn’t feel they need to share it all with you, as you can support them to move forwards without that information.

Focus on what they say they want to achieve

In the contracting phase, listen closely to what they say they want and how they know they will have got that.  Keep them on track by reminding them what they said they wanted.  For example, “at the start, you said you wanted X? where are you with that now?”  Or “how does this relate to your stated outcome of Y?”

Focus on new thinking, not known thinking

You will be able to see when they are talking about something they already know, because they will not pause for breath.  If they have been thinking about this for a while, or if they have talked it through with a friend, then they will simply be regurgitating an old script.  Your role is to get them onto a new script, new thinking.  You know it’s new because they will be pausing to think.  There will be more silences as they try to access new thoughts.  This is when you need to simply stay out of the way, and allow that good thinking to happen.

Talk about time as a way to keep pace

Your Mum may have taught you that it’s rude to look at your watch while you are in conversation.  But your job as coach is to keep time, and to manage the process within the time you have.

It is also incredibly useful to say it out loud, so that you both know what amount of time you are working with.  I talk about time at least three times in a coaching session:

  • In the contracting phase: So in the 20 minutes we have together, where would you like to get to?
  • In the middle: We’re half way through our time, and we have a good 10 minutes left to play with.  How would you like to use that time to get most value?
  • Towards the end, to signal the wrap-up: We have 3 minutes left; where are you now in comparison to what you set out to achieve today?

That’s not so hard, is it?  And the benefit is that they will get to the point sooner, and their brain will start processing actions almost without you needing to ask.


When you or they are stuck, and don’t know where to go next; or when they appear to have gone off-piste from their original stated goal for the session, that’s a perfect time to recontract.  If it’s stuck-ness, then ask them where they are now, and where they want to go next.  If it’s straying from the original goal, notice out loud that they originally wanted X and now appear to be talking about Y – which direction would be most useful to them right now? If it’s the new direction, use STOKRS (by 3d Coaching) again to get clear about that direction.

Highlight the essence; notice the emotions

Some coaches have been taught to parrot back everything that they have heard the coachee say.  That means that the coach ends up talking about 50% of the time.  That’s too much.  The coach should be aiming for 20% or less.  It also doesn’t give the coachee any new insights, because it’s exactly what they said already.  What does give them insights is when we summarise – succinctly and directly – the essence of what we heard and saw.

Noticing the emotions can cut to the quick too.  If you get a sense of the emotion you see and hear, offer it lightly, for example: “you sound really frustrated…is it frustration?”  If you know there is emotion there, but can’t figure it out, you might simply say: “I’m noticing how tense your shoulders are.  what’s that about?”

Ask succinct questions

We can get in the way if our questions are too convoluted, with too many sub-clauses; or if we ask multiple questions at once.  Succinct, clear questions allow the coachee to get to new thinking much quicker than when they have to decipher our questions.

What else have you noticed that makes coaching pacy and challenging?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments…


5 thoughts on “Pacy Coaching – Be more Challenging

  • Victoria Coxen

    Such helpful article – we all have clients who get ‘lost’ in their own story and it can be hard to refocus them on fresh thinking and actions. Will be putting this into practice straight away, Clare! Thank you.

    • Clare Post author

      and how has that been going Vic, putting it into practice? Has it created more focus? More time for new thinking?

  • Cara Moore

    In my experience coaching never has to feel rushed. It is for the Coach to create an environment of ease, free from haste and urgency. When the Coach is relaxed and present in their mind and body, that sense of ease is palpable to the client and even 5 minutes can feel expansive and enough time to achieve new thinking and action.

    • Clare Post author

      yes, I agree Cara. Even within pacy coaching, there is still space and time for reflection, that is created by focusing on the most important issue and getting to the point. There’s a real paradox about how much space being pacy actually creates.

  • Rachel

    Great suggestions – looking forward to using these. I like the idea of setting the tone by asking if its ok to interrupt, letting them know ahead of time, and by prompting them to leave out all the contextual details. Thus giving them a sense of urgency to be concise and focused.

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