The Art of the Drop-In

from The Coach's Way by Eric Maisel, PhD

Posted 5/3/23

A medical doctor may have a certain exam routine that works for her and from which she rarely deviates. An estate lawyer may have his way of going over a will or a living trust with his clients. A baker may stick to their baguette recipe or their cinnamon bun recipe year after year. These routines make their logical sense, and no one would suggest to the doctor, lawyer, or baker that he or she do anything differently.

By contrast, take an inventor who is trying to solve a certain difficult problem in his head. One day he might sit at his laptop for hours on end. Another day he might swim laps. A third day he might watch old movies. A fourth day he might tinker with hands-on solutions, building models and, if they don't solve the problem, tossing them away. He may well have no set routine for inventing. Instead, he intuits what might work on a given day. His motto is "Process, not routine."

A coach is rather more like an inventor than like a doctor, lawyer, or baker. A session doesn't come with a road map, and you can't follow standard exam procedures or baguette recipes. You must improvise. Practically speaking, this may mean that right in the middle of the chat you are having with your client, you realize it might prove really helpful to stop everything and drop something in: maybe an exercise, an anecdote, a bit of teaching, a bit of rehearsing, et cetera. And so you do that.

You would do this for no other reason than that you think it makes sense to do so and you think it might help. Take the following scenario. Your client announces that she has finally gotten some literary agent interest in her memoir about her mountain-climbing experiences: an agent wants to chat with her next week about possible representation. Then she nervously rushes on to talk about an unrelated subject. This is a moment when a coach might well want to stop everything and say, "I wonder, do you have a good sense of what that agent might ask you? And how you would reply?"

Your client will almost certainly say, "No, I don't!" You might then decide to offer the drop-in of a dress rehearsal. I certainly would, because I know that my client would benefit from rehearsing. In fact, so important is that meeting with an agent, and so important is it to rehearse that meeting, that the ten or fifteen minutes we might spend rehearsing might make the entire difference between her garnering or not garnering representation.

Of course, you might not feel equipped to engage in this particular rehearsal. But imagine that you find yourself in an area that you know very well. Maybe, say, you are a trained mediator, and your client has an upcoming meeting that is analogous to a mediation. Might not that be useful to rehearse? Or say that your client is highly anxious about an upcoming audition, and you are trained in a certain anxiety-reduction technique. Might a little sharing and teaching not be in order?

Here, let me repeat the headline. Baking rather demands that you follow the recipe. If you need yeast, you need yeast. But coaching rather demands that you think on your feet and respond spontaneously. You improvise in the interest of helping your client. Coaching is an inventive, creative enterprise — enjoy that about it!


Easy. Say, "I can improvise in session."

Easy. Think about a time you successfully improvised. Feel that success.

Medium. Feel through what it might be like to stop a session and make an invitation. Does that feel terrifying? If it does, what might help you relax into a willingness to improvise?

High bar. Picture a hypothetical coaching scenario. Get a good sense of what you and your client are working on. Now, create a moment where it might make sense to drop something in. See yourself doing that and working with your client in that way. If you can, relish the experience.

Food for Thought for Informal Coaches

When you informally coach, do you have a rule book you follow? Or are you obliged to improvise?

Writing Prompt for Self-Coaches

Write to the prompt "I think that I can use the idea of improvisation as it relates to my own self-coaching in the following way …"

©2023 Eric Maisel. All rights reserved.

The Coach's Way

Excerpted from the book The Coach's Way: The Art and Practice of Powerful Coaching in Any Field. Published with permission from

Eric MaiselEric Maisel, PhD, is the author of more than fifty books in the areas of creativity, the creative life, coaching, life purpose and meaning, writing, and critical psychology and critical psychiatry. ...