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Attempted “bathroom” coaching : A coach in training reflects on the coaching process for client transformation, by Kara Hanger

Dec 10th, 2009 | By | Category: Coaching Women - Guest Posts

Did you ever go to the bathroom in groups? I laughed watching an episode of Community, a sitcom based on the lives of a group of community college students. Shirley, a sweet, but gossipy woman takes a break during a study session to go to the bathroom. Having much to say, naturally she invites the other girls to go to the bathroom with her. Britta, the beautiful, blunt one apathetically mentions that she doesn’t need to go to the bathroom. The others stare at her in shock. How can she disregard an invitation to the bathroom? Surely she knows this is where women go to listen and vent. If you need to talk about the latest drama, or work through an issue in life, the bathroom is better than the local coffee shop. Though cliché, group bathroom trips represent an ever present reality: women commiserate with one another and are often sympathetic listening partners.

True Listening

As a new coach, I assumed that because I was a sympathetic listening partner next to the paper towel dispenser, I must be a natural coach. Instead, I discovered a fallacy: too often women assume they understand each other. Until I began coaching, I thought I listened. Unfortunately I am appalled at how little I listened deeply. Whitworth, Kimsey House, Kimsey-House and Sandahl describe listening deeply as levels II and III; engaging all the senses as you listen. Throughout the years, my well intentioned advice fell on deaf ears more times that I can imagine. Though I listened, I immediately gave advice based upon my own life experience. Little did I know that there was a better way; a transformational way to engage women. Tony Stoltzfus distinguishes between the advice-giving paradigm and the coaching paradigm. The coaching paradigm believes “the best way to help you change is to create a structured, supportive relationship that helps you take responsibility for your life and make the changes you want to make.” The key areas here are change, support, and responsibility. So what does a change centered, structured and supportive relationship look like?  

Beyond Assumptions

I will illustrate through a recent coaching scenario. Cindy[1] arrived on time for her second coaching session and wanted to talk about how to prioritize commitments on her schedule. She was overwhelmed by the burden she felt and had reached her limit emotionally and physically. As she spoke, I practiced listening at levels II and III. I felt her mood, engaged intuition, picked up on key words, changes in the tone of voice etc. About 30 minutes into the session, I realized that though we talked about her schedule, one name continually came up – John[2]. With that name came frustration, weight of responsibility, and loss of control. I turned the questions around to hear about the role he had in her life. He was present in everything but took responsibility for nothing. People constantly asked her to help them with the slack. She felt burdened by caring for him and pulling his weight. To make matters more difficult, they had broken up a few months prior and were adjusting back to friendship. As she let go the need to care for him, she experienced freedom in her commitments.

Had I listened to her busy schedule and failed to hear undertones of the coaching conversation, I might have recommended she work through over-commitment issues. The result? Well intentioned “bathroom” coaching. Instead, I listened with my whole being. I asked questions, kept responsibility with her, and refused to tell her what to do (even when she asked me to). Stoltzfus says that “when trainees do focus in on listening instead of trying to think up an awesome question or reply, they are always amazed at how well it works. People really can solve their own problems.”

Ultimately, Cindy’s daily life experience transformed through letting him go.  Did it happen in an instant? No. However, the beginnings of transformation happened within one hour. As with the example above, a good coaching model teaches women how to learn, holds them accountable for their personal growth and development, and subsequently aids in their transformation. Each of these three areas: learning, personal responsibility and transformation are connected and interdependent. Losing one severely constricts the others. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit does not charge coaches with the sole responsibility.

Facilitate learning in each session

New coaches can struggle to create a learning environment. After all, each woman is unique and learns differently. While true, Flagherty mentions three components which facilitate learning for all clients and cultures: mutual trust, mutual respect and freedom of expression. The coach chooses to trust and respect the client, and encourages freedom of expression through listening, modeling and questions. These three components must be present relatively quickly in a coaching relationship, but the key is relationship. The coach models authenticity and transparency from the first coaching session through to the end.  It does not matter if the woman is shy or a strong leader, from an individualistic or collectivistic culture; trust, respect and freedom are paramount to increasing a client’s ability to learn.

Transfer responsibility back to her

Clients augment levels of transformation by increasing personal responsibility. A coach who engages pedagogically may gain personal satisfaction, but she creates client dependency. Coaches are not parents, they are partners. Women must check their desire to be needed because who doesn’t take pleasure being a source of advice? Advice is not negative yet it cannot take precedence over personal responsibility. Coaching relationships provide deep partnerships, satisfaction and increased learning potential. Joseph Umidi, President of Lifeforming Leadership Coaching says “the movement of leaders who partner with God in lifelong learning rather than leaders hoping for wisdom by a moment of impartation is one of the brightest hopes for our future.” Coaches create a greenhouse for teachable leaders by relying on the Holy Spirit with an andragogical approach.

Recognize the Holy Spirit’s work of transformation

Ultimately, God is the only one who can transform and sanctify a client’s life. As a coach in training, this is a huge relief. If transformation is up to me, no woman will ever move forward. Thankfully, God asks for total dependency on the vine (John 15, NIV). It is he who brings the fruit. When a coach begins to see thought patterns change or forward momentum, praise should go to God. Umidi says that “since God initiates change through real-life experiences and relationships, what is already going on in the client’s life is the growth focus.” The coach simply recognizes the Holy Spirit’s work and calls it out. As a woman learns to take personal responsibility for what God teaches her, transformation begins.

Over the years I’ll refine my skills and accumulate a set of tools. Perhaps the coaching process will become second nature. I’ll teach women how to learn and hold them accountable for their personal growth and development and subsequently aid in their transformation. Yet may I never forget the moment I moved away from “bathroom” coaching to true transformational coaching.


Flaherty, J. (1999). Coaching: evoking excellence in others. Boston, MA: Butterworth Heinemann.

Maxwell, J.C. (1995). Developing the leaders around you. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Stoltzfus, T. (2005). Leadership coaching: the disciplines, skills and heart of a coach. Virginia Beach, VA.

Umidi, J. (2005). Transformational coaching: bridge building that impacts, connects, and advances the ministry and the marketplace. Virginia Beach, VA: Xulon Press.

Whitworth, L., Kimsey-House, K., Kimsey-House, H. & Sandahl, P. (2009). Co-active coaching: new skills for coaching people toward success in work and life. (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Davies-Black.

[1] Names changed to protect identity

[2] Name changed to protect identity

kara-hanger-4Kara Hanger is finishing her masters degree in Organizational Leadership at Regent University with an emphasis in leadership coaching.  Prior to coming to Virginia, she worked as a Capitol Hill Liaison, discipling  women in legislative positions in both the House and Senate.   She coaches women seeking balance and passion in their personal and professional lives. Email Kara at


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