Untangling – with a ‘Clean’ approach to Supervision

Sam (not their real name): I have a client who sort of outmanoeuvres me; she keeps telling me what to do, how I could be running the sessions.  We’ve had three now but it’s sort of unsettling.

Ken: And is there anything else about telling you what to do?

S: It feels very competitive.  I know she has had some coach training.  It’s as if she wants to test me?

K: And when she “wants to test me” what kind of “me” is it that me?

S: You know (she pauses and sits back), she reminds me of my sister-in-law.  We have this sort of jealousy thing going on, we feel uneasy with each other.  Yeah, it’s just like that.  It makes me feel small and awkward.

K: And is there anything else about “small”?

S: I can feel myself shrink back and wait for instructions.  As if I’m not good enough.

This is, of course, a small part of longer supervision but just in those few moments of reflection, giving back to her a couple of her own words, my supervisee suddenly realised that her client was evoking in her feelings she had in another relationship, in another part of her life; that a similar dynamic was being played out.  The question: “what kind of me is that me?” can be a felt quite strongly by the person receiving it and is perhaps one to be used with caution; but my supervisee and I had worked together a few times now and, with other things she’d said previously, taking the conversation towards a closer look at her sense of herself when she’s coaching seemed worthwhile.

We went on further in our exploration – some of it using more Clean Language, some of it more openly conversational – talking a little about the process of this dynamic with her sister-in-law, what it might suggest about how she works with clients; and, coming out of this, how she wanted this particular coaching relationship to be different.  And what occurred to her about “what kind of “enough” is it when it’s “good enough”.

At the end she said that being clearer in her mind about how this echo of a personal relationship was playing out in the sessions with this client, could help her become more resourceful as a coach; and ultimately to be of more service to this particular client.  She had done a little untangling of herself and knew a little more about what was her “stuff” and what was her clients.

Untangling – with a ‘Clean’ approach to Supervision was written by Ken Smith

As well as being an Executive Coach, Ken is also a coaching supervisor. Ken has a particular interest in supervision for internal coaches, where the impact of the wider system and the coach’s unspoken role as representing the organisation may add an extra layer of complexity to the coach-client relationship.


Read more blogs from Ken Smith – The Perils of Friendliness