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A deaf coach: a contradiction in terms?

Posted 749 Days Ago in: Coaching Articles

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Yes. That's correct. A deaf coach. And no, not a joke. But - I 'hear' you say - coaching is all about listening. Right. But listening is not the same as hearing.

Yes. That’s correct. A deaf coach. And no, not a joke. But –I ‘hear’ you say – coaching is all about listening.  Right. But listening is not the same as hearing.

Imagine this. You're in a room coaching a client. Suddenly someone turns all the sound off. You cannot hear either your client’s voice, or your own. what will you do? panic? escape? If you could not do either, what would happen? If you had to carry on coaching in silence, what would you notice about your client that could be new?

Body language signals?

Facial expressions?

Gestures?

Atmosphere in the room?

All of the above?

And consider this: If all the factors above became part of your coaching ‘armoury’, how might this positively affect your work?

I became deaf as a young adult. I was a musician at the time, so it was the last thing I would have wished for. Making your way in life is hard enough without a disability which makes communication and social contact so challenging.

Self-belief and a love of work helped. Oddly enough, had I not become deaf I may well have remained in my then chosen career of teaching. I did in fact do so for several years then moved into editing work (deaf-friendly) then after experiencing discrimination big time, in the diplomatic service, i needed communication support at varying degrees to do these jobs, but this enabled me to use my skills and potential rather than diverting my energy in trying to lipread often untelligable speakers.

It taught me an important lesson about our reliance on others. John Donne was right, ‘No man (or woman) is an island’. For me this is ‘writ large’ because I am deaf, but it’s true for all of us.

I started coaching pro bono for a disability charity while working full time as a diplomat, then coached Foreign Office colleagues as part of their internal cadre. When the next bout of discrimination raised its ugly head (denial of a key promotion posting due to my support needs) – I needed to decide how to best use my experience and skills. Coaching, combining personal development training, felt right.

So how does it work? Well I sometimes coach on-line . This popular for some, including those with particular conditions which make face-to-face communication harder (Have you ever considered whether that may be the case for some of your clients?). But when coaching face-to-face, I have a support worker, called a lipspeaker, with me. So there are three of us in the room. Three’s a crowd? You may think so, but once I have explained the role the lipspeaker plays (including confidentiality principles), clients seem to quickly forget they are there and the coaching continues as ‘normal’. Except, of course, there are things about being deaf which could be considered an advantage:

·       People show what they feel before they say how they feel.

·       Body language is primary, verbal language is secondary – if one conflicts with the other (e.g. saying ‘that’s fine’ when the body is sreaming ‘I’m very unhappy about that’) then it tells you something as a coach.

·       Paradoxically, when deaf and working with support, you don’t have the ‘luxury’ of filtering out redundant language – you have to concentrate to understand each word. So you have to focus very closely on all the words your client uses. This can make it easier to spot ‘revealing’ words or phrases.

But what is probably more important about being a deaf coach, or a coach with any acquired significant disability or long-term health condition, is the personal resilience and perspective you need to develop to handle it. A positive mindset, problem-solving ability, people skills and empathy have to come with the territory if you are going to survive and thrive. Working with marginalized individuals and groups at Result CIC, this is by far the most important thing.

So, can I hear? No, but can I listen and coach? Definitely!

Jane Cordell became profoundly deaf as a young adult. She is a Director of Result CIC (community interest company) which specialises in coaching and development training for people from marginalised groups.

If you would like to see one of your articles feature here, send this to qualifications@the-coaching-academy.com for us to consider and potentially schedule. 

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