Encouraging a client, or validating a person’s identity is the most powerful kind of affirmation. It’s great to hear you that you did something well: “You did a tremendous job organizing the retreat.” But to have someone call forth what is great in you is even more powerful: “The way you handled the retreat shows what a tremendous organizer you are. You are really gifted in that area.” A coach should be constantly tuning in to what is great about a client, so that when the opportunity for some real affirmation comes along, you are primed and ready for encouraging a client and offering something significant.
The acronym G.U.E.S.S. is a memory device you can use to recall the characteristics of good affirmation when encouraging a client:
Genuine: You mean what you say
Unequivocal: Affirm decisively and confidently—no maybes!
Energizing: Your response should match the client’s enthusiasm and bring the energy level up
Specific: It is tied to real performance and character qualities
Substantiative: It says something important about who the person is
When encouraging a client, if you affirm this way, the client never has to guess about how you feel things are going.
If affirmation doesn’t come naturally for you, working on developing an enthusiastic tone of voice can increase your effectiveness. To see the difference, think of a friend or relative who has recently achieved a major breakthrough or accomplishments. Take a few moments and sketch out what you might say to affirm that person using the G.U.E.S.S. model.
Now, sit down with the person and deliver the encouragement that you sketched out in three different ways:
1. Using your natural manner and tone of voice.
2. Again, consciously attempting to be more enthusiastic than normal (using the same words).
3. A third time, consciously attempting to be less enthusiastic than normal.
Let your friend know beforehand that you are working on your affirmation skills and voice tone, but don’t let on which of the three ways is “normal” for you. Now, ask for some feedback: “which of these three approaches seemed most genuine and energizing to you? How did the other two approaches come across? Why?”
If you combine the characteristics of the G.U.E.S.S. model with the proper enthusiasm and voice tone, you will be prepared to offer significant affirmation to your clients.
A pioneer in Christian leadership coaching, Tony Stoltzfus has trained thousands of coaches, founded several leadership- and coaching schools and created a wide range of leadership resources used around the world.