Coaching Research: Creating Flow in Coaching Conversation

‘Flow’ is a state which many of our clients want to reach in their lives or work. However, ‘flow’ is also something we as coaches may strive to cultivate during coaching sessions. In her paper, Flow in coaching conversation, Karen J. Wesson (2010, International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, Special Issue No.4, pp. 53-64) explains the characteristics of flow, the factors facilitating flow and the post-flow experience within coaching sessions.
In this study, fifteen clients and twenty-seven coaches completed questionnaires, plus four coaches were interviewed.  Flow was defined as:
…a subjective state that people report when they are completely involved in something to the point of forgetting time, fatigue, and everything else but the activity itself… The defining feature of flow is intense experiential involvement in moment-to-moment activity. Attention is fully invested in the task at hand, and the person functions at his or her fullest capacity. (Csikszentmihalyi et al., 2005, p.600 in Wesson, 2010, p.54).
Participants were asked to “describe a time when they experienced flow in a coaching session and to answer questions relating to this incident” (p.54). Through analysis of all of their responses collectively, several major characteristics of flow in coaching conversations emerged, including: intense and focused concentration on the task at hand with loss of reflective self-consciousness and a transformation of time;  merging of action and awareness in which the doer and observer came together as one; a sense of control, wherein effortless and calmness arose, and; autotelic experiences, as clients felt a deep sense of satisfaction/fulfillment.
There also emerged six categories of factors which facilitated flow:
1.  Relatedness: when people feel they can relate to the person/subject under discussion
2.  Commitment: when both parties are committed to “the work of the alliance” (p.58) which must be the client’s agenda
3.  Facilitation: particular styles of coach-client engagement in which “perceived levels of challenge and skill were high and in balance” (p.59)
4.  Continued successful engagement: when clients experience a sense of achievement or growth
5.  Physical and mental resources: both coach a client being in a sufficient physical and mental state
6.  Situational factors: that the physical environment in which the coaching took place was comfortable and free of distractions
Finally, a post-flow state was described in which clients felt exhilarated or as though they had an expanded sense of self.
This research may help you evaluate your coaching. For example, you may like to create yourself a simple survey (e.g. on Survey Monkey) using the above listed characteristics of flow to find out if your clients are actually (or ever) experiencing flow in your sessions.
If you find that your clients are not experiencing much flow in your sessions, then try examining each of the six categories which facilitate flow to identify what might be missing, then, start focusing on enhancing these flow-facilitating characteristics one by one.
If you’d like to read the full paper about “Flow in coaching conversation”, you can here:
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Comments (2)

Thanks Suzi. Flow is such a critical experiential part of coaching for me. Upon reading this article a few insights occurred – one was an affirmation of how the flow was choppy when i was meeting clients in a Starbucks.(#6) While i was able to completely tune out the surroundings, i found my clients were more challenged in that regard. Thanks for the reminder.
See you at CAM!

Thanks for your comment, Mike! And I’m so excited about CAM!!!

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