What do we mean by “Coaching inspired interviewing”?

My desire to engage with and further develop transformative interviewing tools grew hand in hand with my training as a coach, first at Integral Coaching Canada and then the Clean Coaching Centre in the UK. Both coaching and transformative interviews share the goal of supporting participants to deal with problems or challenges. Thus, it makes sense that some tools can be borrowed and incorporated into the interviewer toolbox.

However, as I started working with research participants using this method, I noticed that the term coaching is not always well understood, creating ambiguity regarding what to expect of the interview process. This post explains what coaching is and how it has informed our perspective of transformative interviews.

What is coaching?

Bachkirova, Cox, and Clutterbuck (2018, p.xxix) define coaching as “a human development process that involves structured, focused interaction and the use of appropriate strategies, tools, and techniques to promote desirable and sustainable change for the benefit of the client and potentially other stakeholders.” Coaching is a popular method to support individuals in advancing professionally, developing skills, increasing performance, developing leadership skills, engaging in a career change, adjusting to cross-cultural situations, and achieving personal goals.

Sometimes it is easier to understand what something is but explaining what it is not. Coaching is not therapy, training, consulting, or mentoring.

Coaching is not therapy. While coaching has borrowed some tools from clinical psychology and therapy, coaching is not therapy. Coaching deals with healthy and functional individuals looking to improve performance in an area of their lives. As such, coaching is focused forward, identifying solutions and a path towards a desired future. Unlike therapy, coaching does not look at the past, does not address clinical issues like depression or anxiety, and does not focus on understanding the source of problems.

Coaching is not training. Training is about teaching participants particular skills and providing information that will help individuals perform those skills. The training agenda is designed by a particular organization or trainer based on what is believed to be necessary to achieve specific goals. In coaching, the agenda and the breadth and depth of exploration are set by the participant. The coach is not (necessarily) an expert on the topic, but rather an expert in the process of guiding the client towards identifying and developing the skills they need to succeed in many areas of life.

Coaching is not consulting. Consultants provide advice based on their expertise to help clients achieve their goals. Coaches, on the other hand, support clients in the process of setting and achieving goals. The need for expert information may emerge in the process, and the client may be supported in finding expert knowledge elsewhere. 

Coaching is not mentoring. A mentor is someone with experience or expertise in a particular area. The mentor shares their knowledge, skills, and experience in support of protégés growth and development. Coaches do not (necessarily) have the knowledge and experience the client requires but can support the client to identify and achieve goals, including recognizing the need for particular types of mentorship.

Coaching techniques are developed based on some basic assumptions (Grant & Greene, 2001):

  1. People can solve their problems.
  2. People are experts in their lives, and we accept their definition of their situations.
  3. Focus on solutions, not problems.
  4. A problem is something one has, not something one is.
  5. Acknowledge and celebrate success.

Coaching tools in transformative interviews

Traditional research interviews focus on collecting or “extracting” knowledge from individuals with a particular experience to generate knowledge based on integrating, comparing, and analyzing multiple individuals’ experiences. In a traditional interview, the interview tries to understand the problems facing participants, the solutions they have tried, and the outcomes they have experienced. Most interview researchers attempt to avoid introducing biases in the interview process and focus on gathering knowledge without offering anything in return.

Transformative interviewing rejects the notion that interviews are neutral activities in which knowledge is transferred from participants to researchers. Instead, it assumes that the interviewer influences the participants’ sensemaking process and aims to intervene with intention. These interventions create self-reflection opportunities in which new understandings are made possible. In our transformative interviews, you should expect the following:

  1. Questions around your goals for the conversation itself – how can this conversation be helpful to you?
  2. Questions exploring what is wanted and how it can be achieved.
  3. Questions exploring successful experiences.
  4. Questions exploring assumptions guiding your behavior in the present and the future.
  5. Questions engaging symbolic meaning – construction of metaphors to guide exploration.

How do I benefit from a transformative interview?

Based on our experience so far, we found that individuals who have a clear idea of something they would like to explore during the interviews (e.g., making peace with the decision to immigrate; exploring a new career path; communicate more confidently in interviews) benefit more from the process than those that are focused on the barriers they are facing (e.g., Canada is not giving me opportunities; I have done everything and did not get any job). 

We also found that individuals who are more willing to engage in introspection and explore things they may not have thought about before, sometimes even feeling emotional in the process, get more out of the process than those who want to preserve a coherent story throughout the conversation.

If you decide to participate in a study using transformative interviews, take some time to think about a process-oriented statement that would help you deal with your career situation better. This statement is a sentence that would typically start with “I would like to be better able to…”. This exercise should help you identify and articulate the challenges you are facing and develop skills or competencies to help you better deal with these challenges. Then come ready to explore this topic with an open mind. I hope to see you soon.