If coaches are to benefit from the rise of Artificial Intelligence, then they will need to embrace the new technology and integrate it with their practice. But what does that mean?

The coach-AI partnership fulfils several functions:

  • It provides real-time information about what is going on in the conversation, in the client and in the coach
  • It allows instant access to other sources of relevant and potentially relevant information
  • The AI can suggest questions and lines of enquiry (meaning that you as coach have to spend less time thinking about what you are going to ask next)
  • You can check your intuitions for confirming or disconfirming evidence
  • It creates opportunities for in-depth review of each coaching session, from the perspective of alternative approaches (for example, “You chose not to follow this clue, but how might the conversation have gone, if you did?”) or better wording of questions. Of course, this is a learning process for both the coach and the AI.

Making the coach-AI partnership work

The key to successful partnerships will lie in questions such as the following:

  • What am I not noticing? For example:
    • The client avoids questions that address a particular area
    • The micropauses, skin temperature changes, posture shifts and so on that indicate discomfort or other emotions: for example, an AI can learn to recognise the physical patterns that indicate when a client is lying to themselves
    • How I am reacting to the client
  • What patterns are emerging? For example:
    • Linguistic: for example, repeated words or phrase that appear to have a particular meaning or emotive undertone
    • Narrative: for example, a tendency to self-sabotage or a set of limiting assumptions in the client about themselves or others
    • Conversational: for example, is it going round in large circles? (The structure of conversation is usually too complex for humans to follow in the moment.) What can I as a coach learn from the patterns of this conversation that will improve my practice?
  • What other bodies of knowledge might be relevant? For example:
    • If I am feeling manipulated by the client, what are the signs of sociopathy that I might look out for? (And the AI can, of course, compare the conversation with those signs.)
    • What do we know generally about people in the client’s situation?
    • What strategic planning models might be helpful here?
  • What’s too complex for me to analyse? For example, where the client is faced with multiple, complicated choices, you will be able to ask the AI to turn these into a decision-tree, which you and the client can work through together.
  • How can I test my intuition? The AI can either provide data relevant to the client in front of you, or a general overview of similar situations.


The dangers of an AI-coach partnership

Three main dangers stand out, tough there may be many more that emerge with practice.

The first is that coach and AI may become such a strong partnership that the client is left out and feels both under scrutiny and manipulated. It will be essential, therefore, to develop a three-way partnership in which the client is also able to access the AI. The process of pausing and reviewing during coaching conversations will become even more important than at present, as both coach and client take the opportunity to review not just the conversation as they have experienced it, but also to request observations from the AI. As yet, we have no protocols for this situation, but there will need to be an understanding of whether it is most beneficial to the client to have constant data feed from the AI, or periodic-pause interactions with the AI, or a mixture of the two.

Another related danger is that the coach (or the client, if they are also AI-enabled) becomes distracted by the flow of information that the quality of their listening and attentiveness suffers.

Thirdly, humans instinctively respond to complexity-in-the-moment by focussing on process. The journey towards coach maturity is one that starts with models and processes and gradually let’s go of them as we become more confident in letting the client and the conversation follow their own path. If we become overwhelmed with information, we may revert to mechanistic, plodding conversations. If that happens, it is we as coaches, who have become the robots!


© David Clutterbuck 2018