Exploring issues to create awareness can be addictive. Ask the right powerful questions or offer an illuminating observation, and you often see light bulbs turning on above a client's head. Once you start building momentum with exploration, you can become so engrossed that suddenly, your session is expiring in five minutes! When this happens, instead of walking away with polished gems in hand, clients have to push home a wheelbarrow full of dirt, and you leave to chance that they will sift through that dirt to locate, clean, and cut the most precious stones. Clearly, it's preferable to collaborate on those tasks during the closing phase of a coaching session, but you must leave enough time for this.
A conscious shift from a coach can help contain the size of this "awareness dirt pile". This shift involves moving from exploration of issues to reflection on the client's awareness created to this point. Simple questions like, "What is your most important learning so far?" or "What key insights have you gained that you didn't have before this conversation?" will help clients pause to reflect, contain their awareness to a manageable mound of dirt, clarify and integrate their insights, and then move seamlessly into designing actions.
A coach has two natural cues for sensing the right time to invite this pause for reflection. The first is the size of the dirt pile. How much insight can anyone integrate in one sitting? Once you have witnessed a significant degree of awareness become present, it will serve the client better to pause at that point than to continue exploring. The second cue is elapsed time. At the mid-point of a session, you may have helped create enough awareness to pause and reflect. If 2/3 of your time has passed, you will have to quickly shift to reflection for your client to have any chance of walking away with a perfect gem instead of a heavy, overflowing wheelbarrow.
If exploration remains addicting despite using these cues, another strategies is using mantras before a session. Here are some simple ones to test:
"I will pause to reflect"
"1/2 exploration, 1/2 reflection"
"I will limit the dirt pile"
"Less dirt, cleaner gems"
Repeating these mantras for a minute or two before a session will make it harder to fall into the pattern of runaway exploration, improving the likelihood of shifting to a reflection stage, and creating more valuable outcomes for clients.