The seventh core competency of the International Coaching Federation’s (ICF) Core Competencies is the ability to “evoke awareness.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “awareness” as “the quality or state of being aware: knowledge and understanding that something is happening or exists.” However, what is awareness when applied to executive coaching? Why do executive coaches need to adopt “awareness,” and how can they? Continue reading to find out.
“Awareness is a key ingredient in success. If you have it, teach it, if you lack it, seek it.” - Michael Kitson
Dr. David Hanscom defines awareness as “being fully connected to the present moment” (2021). The ICF states that the aware executive coach “facilitates client insight and learning by using tools and techniques such as powerful questioning, silence, metaphor or analogy.” The aware executive coach is intentionally aware of the “client experience,” as well as their “thinking, values, needs, wants and beliefs.” They are aware of “what is working” for their client as well their potential challenges (ICF, n.d.). When an executive coach practices awareness, they will know “how to facilitate the session” and “the right questions will come at the right moment” (Kumar, 2020).
In summary, the aware executive coach is intentionally aware of all aspects of their coaching relationship, how it affects their clients, and how it affects themselves. The aware executive coach uses their awareness to provide more impactful and personable coaching.
4 types of awareness
When examining awareness for the executive coach, it is important to understand the different types of awareness. By breaking down the various forms of awareness, executive coaches can further ensure that they are maintaining intentional awareness of their executive coaching. Dr. David Hanscom outlines 4 types of awareness.
#1: Environmental awareness
As defined by Dr. Hanscom, “environmental awareness involves placing your attention on a single sensation—taste, touch, sound, temperature, etc.” This awareness draws your attention to what is happening in the present moment and allows you to notice not only your surroundings but also your client's non-verbal communication. As the adage goes, most communication is non-verbal. Some even report that non-verbal communication is up to 90% of all communication (UTPB, n.d.). The Society of Human Resource Management states that “managers who rely solely on verbal cues to communicate with employees are missing the majority of what their employees are saying” (Talley, 2010). This is also true for executive coaches. By noticing your clients’ non-verbal cues within your coaching environment, you begin to gain awareness of questions that your clients are not open to, or challenges that are particularly stressful, as displayed by their body language and tone of voice.
#2: Emotional awareness
Executive coaches should also be aware of emotions that are displayed during a coaching session. Being aware of emotion requires not only awareness but also a vulnerable acceptance of emotions. Dr. Hasncom shares a quote from a fellow doctor in his article which states, “you have to feel to heal” (2021). Without emotional awareness, executive coaches risk being reactive to the behaviors, failures, successes, and challenges of their clients (Hasncom, 2021). This reactivity can displace powerful questions, time for reflection, and insightful discussion. When executive coaches are aware of the emotions that their clients display, they can better address their needs and challenges.
“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.” - Abraham Maslow
#3: Judgment awareness
It is also important for coaches to be aware of their judgments, unconscious biases, and preconceived notions. Types of judgment can include labeling, perfectionism, and negativity. Dr. Hasncom states that by gaining awareness of these thought patterns, you can work towards “more rational thought patterns.” Furthermore, judgments can also get in the way of powerful questioning. When judgments are made and accepted without being confronted by awareness, curiosity is left far behind. By embracing awareness and questioning preconceived notions, executive coaches can protect their sense of curiosity, ask more powerful questions, and better help their clients achieve their business goals.
#4: Ingrained thought patterns
Dr. Hasncom states that “your thoughts and beliefs are your version of reality” (2021). The thought patterns and beliefs that you have influence your view of your challenges as well as your view of your clients’ challenges. Being aware of your thought patterns and beliefs can help you recognize unhelpful patterns or beliefs such as negative assumptions about client behavior. Furthermore, learning to recognize your own ingrained thought patterns can help you start recognizing the thought patterns of your clients as well. This new knowledge can be a great source for powerful questions and deeper discussion.
Applying awareness to the executive coach
Using the four types of awareness above, we can examine different ways that awareness can be applied to executive coaching.
“Yet the deepest truths are best read between the lines…” - Amos Bronson Alcott
Environment: Awareness of body language
By participating in environmental awareness, executive coaches can begin to notice changes in a client’s body language throughout the coaching session. For example, if a client gets quieter when discussing challenges or failures, the executive coach can bring awareness to this change and ask questions such as “I noticed your volume changed when we discussed… Is there a reason for that?” This can open up a discussion about accepting failures and challenges as part of the learning process.
Emotional: Avoiding reactiveness
Using emotional awareness, executive coaches avoid reactive coaching. For example, consider a client who presents an unmet desire from the coaching relationship. A reactive coach might respond in offense or shame, while an emotionally aware coach would accept the emotions that arise from themselves and their clients, and start working towards a solution for both himself/herself and the client.
Judgemental: Overcoming bias
Through awareness, executive coaches can begin to overcome unconscious bias. For example, instead of assuming a client fits all the biases associated with their gender, race, or religion, an executive coach who is aware of the judgemental stance would intentionally ask questions to better understand the client as an individual, ultimately overcoming these unintentional biases.
“Change can either challenge or threaten us. Your beliefs pave your way to success or block you.” - Marsha Sinetar
Ingrained thought patterns: Challenging beliefs and perspectives
By having an awareness of ingrained thought patterns, beliefs, or perspectives, executive coaches can identify thought patterns that are unhelpful or untrue. From this point, executive coaches can begin to replace these negative thought patterns with more positive ones. This can help executive coaches walk their clients through the same process. For example, when a client shares that they are having difficulty with an employee, an executive coach who is aware of the power of ingrained thought patterns can begin to walk the client through discovering how their own thoughts are affecting their perception. This can help clients overcome barriers to success such as negative beliefs or distorted perspectives.
Overall benefits of awareness
Regardless of the type of awareness you participate in, there are several benefits to adopting a stance of awareness. Most notably, executive coaches who are self-aware increase their levels of confidence. According to Elevate Corporate Training, research indicates that there is a “concrete connection between self-awareness and confidence” (2019). The Executive Coaching Consultancy also shares that self-awareness is “a key element of a very interesting virtuous cycle for greater confidence” (Tenney, 2015). Research by Silvia and O'Brien also indicates that self-awareness supports confidence levels (2006).
Executive coaches who are aware of their environment and verbal/nonverbal communication are also more likely to ask powerful questions based on what has, and has not, been said. When executive coaches adopt awareness during their coaching sessions, they are better able to understand their clients’ needs and goals.
Finally, when executive coaches are aware, they inspire awareness in their clients. Like the ICF standard “evokes awareness,” executive coaches who have first mastered their own sense of awareness can begin to help their clients in their own journey to awareness.
The main takeaway
Evoking awareness is a core competency outlined by the ICF, which can be broken down into four types of awareness: environmental, emotional, judgemental, and thought processes. Each of these types of awareness can be applied to the executive coach as they seek to gain awareness for themselves and their clients. As coaches become more aware, they are able to meet the needs of their clients with more accuracy and help them more readily achieve their goals.
“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” -Eckhart Tolle
Elevate Corporate Training. (2019, February 14). Executive Coaching: The Value of Self-Awareness. https://www.elevatecorporatetraining.com.au/2019/02/14/executive-coaching-the-value-of-self-awareness/.
Eurich, T. (2018, January 4). What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It). Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2018/01/what-self-awareness-really-is-and-how-to-cultivate-it.
Hanscom, D. (2021, November 17). Flip Your Consciousness: 4 Types of Awareness. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anxiety-another-name-pain/202111/flip-your-consciousness-4-types-awareness.
Kumar, J. (2022, January 4). ICF Core Competency 8: Creating Awareness. Authentic Journeys. https://blog.authenticjourneys.info/2020/08/icf-core-competency-creating-awareness.html.
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Awareness. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/awareness.
Silvia, P. J., & O’Brien, M. E. (2005). Self-Awareness and Constructive Functioning: Revisiting “the Human Dilemma.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23(4), 475–489. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.23.4.475.40307.
Talley, L. (2010, October 4). Body Language Cues. SHRM. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/bodylanguagecues.aspx.
Tenney, M. (2015, August 30). How self-awareness boosts confidence. Executive Coaching Consultancy. https://executive-coaching.co.uk/ecc-articles/how-self-awareness-boosts-confidence/#:%7E:text=Self%2Dawareness%20is%20also%20a,virtuous%20cycle%20for%20greater%20confidence.&text=Being%20more%20clear%20about%20where,our%20overall%20sense%20of%20confidence.
UTPB. (n.d.). How Much of Communication Is Nonverbal? | UT Permian Basin Online. The University of Texas Permian Basin | UTPB. https://online.utpb.edu/about-us/articles/communication/how-much-of-communication-is-nonverbal/.
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