Coconsulting – a basic structure
Coconsulting is a peer process where people take equal time to help each other. As long as the consultant (helper) is sincerely interested in assisting the client in a way the client can accept, many methods will work.
The rest of the note suggests a basic structure and method that will work in most cases. It may be beneficial for people who are starting to learn and use coconsulting. Reviewing what works and learning from experience are built into the process, so simply doing coconsulting will help you do it better and better.
Before you start
Agree on a time to meet, how long, the vehicle (face to face, phone etc.) and where.
Remind each other of the “rules”. Have equal time and take turns, keep your attention on the client’s concerns, respect confidentiality, and use an acceptable working method.
Decide who will go first.
Now you know what to do and what to expect.
Listen, pay attention to the client, look interested, and don’t listen to your inner chatter. Remember that your job is to help your client make progress, not to solve the problem for the person. Remember that the client is doing their best.
The clearer you are about your role, the easier and the more effective it will be.
It can be helpful to occasionally summarise what you have heard and play it back to the client in your own words. Check you have got it right.
Summarising helps the client know you have heard them. You can clarify anything you have misunderstood.
Stages of a session
- Listen warmly to the client’s story. Notice everything, their energy, contradictions, assumptions, posture, and tone of voice. Don’t interrupt!
Your listening will help the client feel supported, valued and heard. Being interested may be enough to help them find a solution.
- Ask questions that help the client think more broadly or deeply about the issue or see it from a different point of view.
Questions will help the client develop new insights
- Ask, “What have you concluded?” and listen to the response. Then ask, “What do you need now?”
The answers might be “More listening” or “Nothing, I know what to do”. So listen some more or go straight to reviewing the session below. The client may say, “A solution!” If s(he) does.
- Ask, “What is your best idea now about a way forward?”
The client will own an idea they created and want to act on it.
- If the client seems stuck, say, “Would you like an idea or two from me?” If you get a “yes”, offer your ideas gently.
Be careful, and make it clear that it is entirely the client’s decision about what to do. You won’t be upset if they think your ideas are absurd. Offer your ideas tentatively, so it is easy for the client to reject or build on them.
- Ask, “What have you decided to do?”
We often know what to do. The critical step is deciding to do it. If your client says “I’ll try to…” or “I might….”, it’s worth asking them to rephrase it to “I’ve decided to….”.
Finally, review the session.
- Ask, “What are the one or two things you will take away from this session? What was good about it? What could we do if we did it again to make it better?”
The first question gives you an idea of the value you added, the last two help you learn what works and possibly how to do it even better. The feedback will help you get better and better at delivering coconsulting.
- Be open and honest about your thoughts, feelings, wants and experiences. Take a calculated risk of trusting the consultant and the process.
The more open you can be, the easier it will be for the consultant to be there for you and be truly helpful.
- Be assertive with the consultant. Say what you want explicitly. If you don’t feel listened to, say so. If some questions help or don’t, say so. Remember, this is your time for you.
If you do this, you are more likely to get what you want, and your consultant will learn too.
- Have fun with this. You don’t have to talk about “problems”. It’s enriching to use your time to celebrate, even show off, about something you’ve done you are proud of.
You will learn more about why it was so good and what you did to make it so good, and your learning will inspire you to do it again!