In coaching, helping coaching clients to gain insight is a key part of the process. Insight can be defined as: “The capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something”.
For me as a coach, insight involves accounting for internal and external experience. This can be done through personal reflection, exploring different perspectives and seeking and responding to feedback. Through this insight, clients can learn new ways to respond to others and avoid unhelpful patterns of behaviour.
Barbara Traynor offers this simple model from Petruska Clarkson to identify stages of awareness experienced by psychotherapy clients. Although the coaching contract is different, the stages can also be helpful for coaches working with their clients.
Out of Awareness
The client is aware there is something causing a problem but does not think their own behaviours are contributing to the outcomes. Here, the coach can invite the client to reflect on their behaviour. This will need to be challenging yet safe and supportive. The focus will be on actions and behaviours that are working as well as what the client might do differently.
The coach can also invite the client to look at things from different perspectives. For example how others involved might see things. They can also encourage the client to study what makes others successful.
The client looks back and sees repetitive patterns of behaviour that have led to unfavourable outcomes. The coach can offer encouragement and positive strokes for noticing what is happening and for acknowledging their part in it.
Emphasising positive outcomes is important so the client doesn’t become self-critical or stuck in negative feelings about the past outcomes. The focus will move to behaviours the client wants to practice as well as what might stop them making changes.
The client can see they are repeating a behaviour pattern but can’t prevent it ending in the usual way. The coach can help the client to reflect on the pattern so they become more aware of the process. They can also review any changes they did make (or attempt to make). The coach may also encourage the client to identify and “rehearse” options for dealing with the situation the next time.
The client has good awareness of his / her own process, including how they may be triggered into unhelpful behaviours. They know they have a choice of response. At this stage, the coach’s role is to help the client consolidate the changes. They can give the client feedback on their ability to work through a difficult situation effectively. A review of the coaching process will provide another opportunity to reinforce the learning and highlight the options the client has.
In thinking about these stages, a coach can help the client to identify what is not working so well for them help them to develop options in a way that is safe and supportive. Recognising the different stages also provides permission for the client to work at their own pace.
 Stages of Awareness During the Change Process: Barbara Traynor. ITA News No.41 Spring 1995