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Event Recap - Connecting Through Coaching: To Oneself and to Others

Speaker: Lynn Simon
Blogger: Mani A. Farhadi
Location: Hawley Peterson Snyder, Sunnyvale, CA
Date: April 18, 2018
Time: 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Sponsor: AIA Silicon Valley, Women in Architecture Committee


What happens when a group of architects gathers into a circle to share personal stories? Magic!


About 18 women and 2 men attended the April 18, 2018 WIA event Connecting Through Coaching: To Oneself and to Others, led by speaker and Coach extraordinaire Lynn Simon, FAIA, and hosted by Hawley Peterson Snyder. Simon is a Vice President at Thornton Tomasetti in San Francisco.

Light snacks and drinks were provided by WIA. A synopsis of the workshop activities follows: intriguing stories, a quick lesson on coaching, an amusing group activity, eye-opening role play with the coach and volunteer, and a take-home exercise.


Would you share a ‘defining moment’ in your life? Simon kicked off the evening by asking each person to recount a significant turning point. These moments included:

  • Gaining unexpected perspective from a landscape architecture professor;
  • Acquiring confidence when thrown into a challenging business situation;
  • Witnessing engagement at an international congress of women architects;
  • Almost quitting, only to turn it around and open a practice;
  • Inspired by the intersection of art/architecture making an impact;
  • Finding one’s voice after joining WIA, then becoming its Chair;
  • Influenced growing up surrounded by ancient architectural heritage;
  • Fascinated by the joy and satisfaction of interior design projects;
  • Learning from harsh critique in school to reevaluate meaning in one’s work;
  • Translating athletic teamwork into a successful trio of architect/client/contractor;
  • Taking a solo feasibility study as an opportunity to launch a practice;
  • Seeing the path from a greener environmental future into a healthcare practice;
  • Transforming the fluidity of dance into designing better flow of space;
  • Bringing a background in architecture into the high-tech industry;
  • Evolving surreptitiously from a drafter into a technical architect.

The stories were unique and personal. People felt it was a safe space to tell their story. It gave me a glimpse into how resilience, inspiration, trauma, risk or evolution played a role in transforming each of us from where we were to where we are today.


Can you define the difference between Training, Mentoring, Facilitation and Coaching? Simon explained the various overlaps and distinct skills in each of these areas. Training involves the transfer of learning; Mentoring is helping someone with career development; Facilitation requires a content-neutral party to move a group’s work towards an outcome; Coaching is designed to improve performance and/or personal growth. Simon emphasized the importance of a coach’s role in providing positive reinforcement, having a mutual understanding, and identifying objectives together. A coach is there primarily to listen.


Ever heard of somatic movement? We found out by doing a group exercise. One group was told to share their happiest moment, while the other group was told not to pay attention to them and avoid eye contact. It was difficult not to show reaction to a person who was sharing with such enthusiasm! Then we switched. One group was told to share their saddest moment, while the other group was told to be empathetic and interested. Afterwards, we analyzed the difference in these experiences. We talked about the effect of body language in dialogue, cues in engagement and how to create a connection. Simon described somatic movement is when you follow and mimic someone by being attuned to them. Many shared examples from relationships at work or with clients that could be improved by understanding these techniques.



How does individual coaching work in real life? Simon conducted an intake session with our WIA volunteer, Leah Bayer, as those of us in the ‘audience’ observed quietly. Bayer was anxious, since she was in the midst of making a life-changing career decision, which she needed help with. First, Coach Simon asked her to close her eyes, stay grounded and relaxed, connecting to the earth. Taking a deep breath, Simon guided Bayer through her major decision. Bayer shared what she was worried about, and how the decision had not only frozen her, but was causing her to be ill. In response, Coach asked Bayer to picture herself making a ‘no’ decision, and imagine what that would feel like having made that choice, to which Bayer replied ‘suffocating.’ Contrastingly, Simon asked Bayer to think about how a ‘yes’ decision would make her feel afterwards, to which Bayer said ‘freedom,’ as her face beamed with happiness. Once the session was complete, we chimed in with advice for Bayer, respectfully and organically. It wasn’t a space for judgement, but rather for helpful suggestions. It certainly was brave for Bayer to open up in front of the group.


Any questions? We asked Simon about her coaching practice, how often to meet with a coach, how long each meeting is, and the type of advice that would be given. To conclude, Simon distributed a handout which guided us to work on our listening skills. She suggested that we practice paying attention to our daily communication with others, and to turn up our awareness around conversations. Via a journal method, we were asked to capture our dialogues, then reflect on those conversations on a daily basis for 3 weeks.


How did it end? The evening wrapped up on a positive note, with everyone feeling empowered; knowing we had learned about relationship skills, we had participated in softly coaching a colleague and we had shared an evening of empathy. We were nurturing, connected and transformed. It was what I hoped would happen when a group of architects came together in a circle. Magic!