I still remember, vividly, it was one of the most poignant moments of my time as a PTS (Person-led, Transitional, Strength-based) Coach. I had been coaching for around a year and if I’m honest; meeting in a coffee shop had not yet revealed real purpose. It did appeal to people and me, to meet in their local café, as any 2 people would and have a real conversation. Conversations that in the first weeks of coaching would often be about the weather or trending Netflix shows. This did not feel work related and at times I’d wonder if I was getting coaching right, but then there’d be infrequent glimmers, something real and honest about a person. I started to pick up on raw glimpses that a person would voluntarily reveal about themselves or what they were experiencing. Meeting in the community; coffee shop, library, park, shopping centre, driving range… Wherever the person chooses, is intended to have purpose for coaching meetings. Also, be comfortable and familiar to the person, so that coaching can take place as a real-world experience and be a relevant way of working alongside people.
I have known Jon for around 3 years, the backstory that I won’t get into is long. If a risk assessment was to land on your desk it would identify Jon as: ‘high risk to staff and himself’. He is described in professionals’ meetings as ‘complex’ and ‘a nuisance’ also ‘is an adult with capacity and has no social care needs’ and he ‘chooses’ to act in ‘self-destructive ways’ and ‘refuses to work with services. Jon has never demonstrated what it says on paper in front of or towards his coach.
Thankfully, a PTS Coach does not become overly familiar with a risk assessment. I become familiar with the person. The first year or so of meetings with Jon, hardly scratched the surface and I learned quickly that he did not want to answer questions and when he felt he was being questioned or judged, he would leave, coaching is organic and naturally allows for someone to come and go as they please. But he would always call the next week, or month and ask me to meet him.
I still remember, vividly, it was one of the most poignant moments of my time as a PTS Coach. I had found the confidence to stay restful and patient in the silence, for the first time I didn’t fall into a prescriptive spiel about Jon’s situation or say something professional to kill the awkward stillness between sips of steaming tea. In that moment we both sat equally awkward and equally human. Jon snatched that moment of balanced power and a wave of feelings, thoughts, emotions all spilled out. I just listened.
The most important lesson coaching has taught me is that listening empowers. Listening builds trust. My job is to listen and to empower people, fulfilling this would not be possible if I too wasn’t listened to. I am fortunate to work in an environment where listening is valued and enthusiastically put in place. An authentic voice is heard beyond coaching sessions. At The Brick, we are working towards offering meaningful and valuable provision for people who are going through tough times.
We are listening to people to be able to respond with action and create the changes, opportunities and support people tell us they want and need. When people are truly heard, it becomes obvious that in so many instances the barriers that prevent someone from moving forward are systemic. The very services that are intended to ensure people who have struggles and turn to us are helped. It is now being widely accepted that a ‘fixing people’ approach is at best demoralising and at worst: dehumanising. To move forward with service delivery that allows people to be in control of their choices and have autonomy over the changes they want to make, listening is key. By listening to people as individuals with their own unique experiences of tough times and services, we can identify the systemic barriers and remove these by relinquishing power systems hold over people.
I listen to individuals, as others in support and similar roles do, but it takes more than public facing staff to listen for people to truly be heard. It takes more than a charity to listen from the bottom, up within its own walls. So much learning for me has come from the opportunities to share with and listen to others through networking, partnership working and social media platforms. There is no doubt, a collective voice is growing, calling for system change. A collective voice can be loud, but an authentic voice, one person’s whisper is equally as powerful.
By PTS Coach Sam Abram