Excerpted from my regular column as published in, and reproduced with permission from, choice, the magazine of professional coaching. The column is called “Sticky Situations” and in each issue three master coaches respond to a scenario presented by another colleague seeking guidance.
Sticky Situation: How can I coach younger clients? “I’m an established coach with 20-plus years of experience, now coaching clients who are much younger. What should I be doing or learning in order to coach effectively across a
broader range of generations? How can I avoid the age difference becoming a barrier?”
Answer: What an insightful question, dear colleague! You are highlighting an important awareness masterful coaches consciously remain mindful of: we don’t know what we don’t know when it comes to our clients and how to best serve them. In this case, your question is pertaining to age and generational gaps that may or may not cause a barrier; however, it could also just as easily apply to any
cultural, religious, political, racial or life choice differences between the coach and clients. When we are aware that we don’t know what we don’t know, we can set about mindfully respecting that which we can’t possibly learn in advance and don’t even know to ask our clients.
Inherent in your question seems to be an assumption that there is something tactical for you to do or learn about generational distinctions, or that you’re lacking some specific knowledge. Rather than provide you with a list of tactical resources where you can learn about generational differences in communication, values, or approaches, let’s explore the mindsets that will allow
you as a coach to best serve your clients who may be different from you in any way. From this strategic place, you will find you may not need the list of books to read or courses to take or recommendations of what to do and learn in order to coach effectively across generations.
Three key service mindsets to bring to each client are curiosity, a beginner’s mind and authentic vulnerability. When you come from your natural curiosity, you can embrace the joy of learning about new cultures, generations or individuals and generate great questions that will illuminate for you (and perhaps for your clients) how they think, how they are wired and what matters most to them. When you bring a beginner’s mind, you let go of the need to already know and you give yourself permission not to be an expert. This frees you from the pressure to school yourself on the generational distinctions and allows you to seek to understand the generational (or cultural, political, religious, etc.) nuances in the context of your client’s particular worldview. When you employ authentic vulnerability, you can share with your client that there may be questions you don’t know to ask to best understand his or her generation (or culture, religion, etc.) and that you have legitimate concerns about not wanting to cause any harm or unintentionally create any barriers.
Thus, you give the client permission to correct your missteps and fine-tune your thinking in a respectful and mutual exchange of information. What do your younger clients need that you don’t yet know they need? What do they need that they don’t yet know they need? How can you and your clients partner to bring forth what would serve them best? Being willing not to know opens a wide landscape of possibility from which to coach and serve your clients of all ages.