As AI continues to improve and develop, more and more coaches and players (coachees) alike wonder about the difference between being coached by a generative language model-based ChatBOT or a flesh-and-bone human soul. In this journal post, I aim to observe the nature of coaching next to the key unique “features” that both options bring about. I do so with the intention to through some light in your decision to be coached by a smart ChatBOT or an imperfect human coach.
Spoiler alarm, both might bring about value, yet in fundamentally different ways, so in the end what matters is being able to choose why, when, and who is the the best coach for you (the player).
Here we go!
1. Great (human-based) coaching is made up of a partnership-based relationship among equals.
That means that there is no power dynamic between the involved parties. This is distinctive of similar learning and development relationships that often get mixed up and confused, such as mentoring. A great coach is ‘not better’ nor do they ‘know more’ than the player. On the contrary, the fewer assumptions they make, the better they will be able to coach and support, unlocking potential and possibilities. A great coach assumes that they do not know what is going on on the player’s end. They build up the habit of deeply understanding the perspective the coachee brings by curiously questioning things out loud, and exploring the individual meaning nuances the player gives to what is shared. It is from that open and non-judgmental “unknown” that the coach can best support you to listen and better understand yourself. As Master Coach Marcia Reynolds wisely points out, the (human-based) coach supports the player to ‘hear their thinking, in a way that they cannot do by themselves.’ (1)
Also, a great coach challenges your thinking. A Coach is an external disruptor that helps you see things in different ways to overcome blocks and more consistently move forward in the direction of what you are trying to achieve. That is why a great coach is observant and mindful of the (consciously expressed or not) player’s thinking patterns, intentions, beliefs, worldviews, emotions, aspirations, and energy.
It is relevant to observe that the human brain’s primary function is to keep you safe; that’s why it will naturally take you again and again to known places and known ways. As Master Coach Marcia Reynolds highlights, this neurological fact constrains the level and quality of our free will. She dares to say it boldly: “If you don’t have a coach, you don’t have free will, no matter how smart you are. And the smarter you are, the better you are at rationalizing the way you see the world. The smarter you are, the more you need a coach” (1). Yes, you are reading it right, to become more of your full potential you might be the one that needs to get out of your way.
2. A great (human-based) coach makes you genuinely feel seen, heard, and understood.
Great coaches know that making their players feel seen, heard, and understood is a fundamental part of assisting them in becoming more of the unique exceptional humans they are. This is supported using voice (words) mirroring and gestures (body) mirroring. The coach is an energetic mirror that aims to sense and deeply understand beyond any judgment. A coach see your potential (all you could become) and challenges and supports you in actualizing it. Feeling seen, heard, and understood creates a safe space in which we are at ease to share our deepest desires, fears, and aspirations. The field of possibilities is expanded by it.
A great coach deeply listens, not just to what is said, but also beyond it, and more importantly, to what is not said. They attend to what has heart and meaning. This includes paying attention to and creating necessary moments of silence to allow for quality thinking, integration, and digestion. It also involves creating space for the emergence of ‘other ideas’ or ‘alternative’ lines of thought to arise, surface, and be expressed. Master Coach Marcia Reynolds alerts us: “When you tell people what to do it pacifies their brain, when you coach them it activates their brain”(1).
What is more, a great (human) coach dares to speak the truth without blame or judgment. Your coach is your trusted partner. Someone who is committed to telling you the truth so you can more consistently further develop.
A ChatBOT can be an amazing tool to explore ways to say things differently or even better. Additionally, a ChatBOT-based app might provide you with an on-the-spot thoughtful perspective to aid your thinking process and even spark a certain level of creative thinking. However, it’s important to be mindful that ChatBOTS are built based on statistical language models.
As Dr. Thilo Stadelmann, Director of the Center for Artificial Intelligence at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, explains AI models are trained on large datasets containing diverse examples of human language. They learn the statistical patterns, relationships, and structures present in the training data. It’s important to note that while statistical language models like GPT are powerful and versatile, they may sometimes generate outputs that are contextually incorrect or nonsensical, known as “hallucinations”(2).
Upon asking ChatGPT he confirms:
“While I can process and generate human-like text based on the input I receive, it’s essential to understand that I don’t have feelings, consciousness, or self-awareness. I lack personal experiences, beliefs, or subjective understanding. My responses are generated based on patterns learned from diverse data during training, and I operate solely within the scope of language processing” (3).
In this sense, the quality of the input data defines the quality of the output results. Even when counting on the fact that the ChatBOT has the best possible input, it’s important to observe that, although it might provide a very powerful answer, this will not necessarily be a unique one based on the energetic interplay between you and your coach.
We should additionally observe that the (emotionalized) articulation of your thinking – the way you ask the question – will determine the results and quality of the obtained answers. When using a ChatBOT, we should be extra mindful of the question before considering the value of the answer. Using new technology requires learning how to best do so. In AI, a good prompt (what you ask the BOT) makes all the difference.
In this regard, there is an important point to consider: a ChatBOT is programmed to provide an answer, regardless of whether it is a valid or invalid one. Therefore, it is of fundamental importance to validate (cross-check) ChatBOT results with other trustworthy sources of information.
Back to the flesh and bones, for a human coach, thinking through, exploring alternative perspectives, questioning assumed truths and beliefs, dismantling assumptions, connecting dots, and disconnecting lines of thought are all part of the job. This means that a great coach might be able to take you ‘beyond’ what the ChatBOT could offer, no matter how eloquent the ChatBOT’s articulation might sound.
3. (Human-based) coaching creates a space for possibility.
Coaching is made of human connection. There is an intangible energetic dynamic between the coach and the player, creating a subtle space for sensing that supports the surfacing of valuable information. Information that might even be communicated beyond conscious awareness. Whether in a remote or on-site setting, the higher the quality of the energetic relationship, the broader the field of possibilities to be explored and unlocked. The feeling of safety, the level of respect, the depth of genuine appreciation, vulnerability, openness, and empathy will exponentially amplify the quality of the energy field between the coach and the player.
The truth is that in coaching, there is no formula, no recipes, no magic coaching questions, and no infallible coaching models. Furthermore, coaching models and techniques should/could aid the coaching process, not drive it. As Professor David Clutterbuck says, “The best models and tools are the ones that your client needs.” (4) Discerning and critically understanding this is also an important “feature” that makes up a great coach.
As Master Coach Marcia Reynolds puts it, “We are unpredictable imperfect humans” (1). The imperfect factor is in fact what might allow for the unexpected possibility to arise. Some call it magic, others serendipity, flow, luck, or coincidence. You name it.
At the core of high-quality coaching, there is presence and (heart-based) energy. High-quality human energy interactions can be observed as a kind of quantum-potential ones, capable of facilitating unexpected leaps. In this sense, the field of possibilities goes beyond conscious awareness. The imperfect question you might articulate could perfectly trigger your counterpart to curiously explore something else that was not previewed by either you or them. Great coaching goes beyond statistical possibilities into the uniqueness of the coach-player/player-coach interplay.
A great coach prepares themselves to be open to the outcome, allowing the energy to guide both player and coach into what wants or needs to be said and understood.
A great coach chooses to show up and be present because they understand that coaching is made of a willing, vulnerable, non-judgmental energetic space held in the trust and truth-based, courageous, open, heart-centered interaction between the player (coachee) and the coach. If gained insights (awareness) are followed by response-ability (intentional change and habit building), then transformation happens. The coaching space creates the possibility for transformation to take place in the day-to-day life of the coachee.“It is not the questions that I say, It is the presence that I bring to this moment” says Marcia Reynolds, Master Coach (1).
Let’s recap! The ChatBOT is not better or worse, just different.
I admit it, the ChatBOT is pretty smart and able to access and process endless sources of information in the blink of an eye.
AI can help us access, research, and logically organize vast amounts of information. A well-programmed ChatBOT brings a wealth of knowledge and information. If you know what you are looking for, you might find very complete and amazingly articulated answers using it. You might even be asked smart questions and invited to question your approach by a top-programmed ChatBOT.
Then, what do I – as a human coach – bring to a coaching relationship that a smart machine cannot or does not?
Human connection, consciousness, and awareness—this encompasses the intangible aspects of a relationship, the energy, and the valuable information that comes with empathy, listening, and understanding. For example, my ability to interpret between the lines and beyond what is and isn’t said, and my capacity to sense and make sense beyond the obvious. I also bring my intuition and perception of subtle information across and beyond rationality, emotionality, words, statements, body posture, and composure.
I have observed that it is my heart and soul that make my coaching unique and most effectively help my clients, beyond any coaching processes, ritualistic models, modalities, strategies, or techniques. The more I am open to the outcome, to what is uniquely needed at the moment, the more I can support. There is something in my presence that, as of today, I do not believe AI can replicate.
Simply said, being coached by a great coach is a different experience that brings about different results.
As in other fields of life and business, such as creativity and innovation, we should explore ways for AI to support and reinforce, not substitute or compete with, the human-based coaching process. I view AI as an expansion of our logical thinking brain. As of today, AI might be a wonderful servant but a terrible master.
Having said that, I welcome the AI challenge to continue improving myself as a trusted partner in the service of my players. AI will indeed push coaches (and humans in general) to become more of ourselves and rediscover our core and true humanity. As a coach and human being, I am grateful for that.
The truth is that as technology further develops, BEING a coach is more important than DOING coaching. That is the key difference between machine-based coaching and human-based coaching. We humans are naturally and intrinsically made to ‘be a coach.’ This is the core from where great coaching value is to be unlocked.
Beyond great, exceptional coaching is made of a commitment to consistently and relentlessly getting better at what we do. The coach is a role model in the pursuit of growth and ongoing self-development that the player is aiming for. The coach is an expert in doing so, daily, which is why they can best help someone else to also do the same.
At this point, it is important to emphasize once again that a (human) coach supports and guides, but it is the player’s commitment and will that bring about real change.
Power to you ⚡
If you have any further questions or thoughts please do not hesitate to reach out. You are also invited to request a complementary exploration coaching session to experience the human side of coaching after completing The Journey to the Heart Leadership Self-assessment.