Episode 33: The Four Types of Coaching Sessions

This week we discuss what I have found to be the four most common types of coaching sessions. We also explore the balance of providing some routine and expectation within a session, while also creating space for exploration and creativity.

33: The Four Types of Coaching Sessions

As coaches, our job is to create the container in which extraordinary discovery can occur for our clients.   In order to do that, we have to find a balance between providing some routine and expectation, while also creating space for exploration and creativity.

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Show Notes

As coaches, our job is to create the container in which extraordinary discovery can occur for our clients.

In order to do that, we have to find a balance between providing some routine and expectation, while also creating space for exploration and creativity.

A clear structure is an important part of partnering with our clients as it defines both the overall coaching relationship and an individual coaching session and helps us as coaches to gain a sense of confidence and our clients to feel supported.

Everything that we're talking about today is at the heart of powerful coaching and is key for us to have the confidence that when we partner with our client, we are going to co-create something extraordinary. That's why I went into coaching and I know that's why you're interested in it as well.

Topics covered

  • How structure in coaching helps both you and your clients
  • Making room in your coaching structure for the magic of spontaneity
  • Why it's helpful to be more structured when you're just starting out as a coach
  • How creating a structure for coaching sessions fits in with the International Coach Federation's core competencies
  • The four main purposes of coaching sessions
  • Why you may find yourself addressing multiple purposes in a coaching session
  • How you can help your clients through an inspiration-focused coaching session
  • Supporting your clients effectively with brainstorming
  • Recognizing a perspiration-oriented coaching session
  • Techniques you can use to help your clients achieve their desired session outcome
  • Why transformation sessions are more of an internal process
  • How you can guide your clients through a transformation session
  • Centering the client's lived experiences in your coaching
  • When a restoration session is helpful
  • Why the focus of a restoration session should be synthesis

Resources mentioned

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Well, hi there, my friend, I am so glad you're here for another episode of the Coach with Clarity podcast. My name is Lee Chaix McDonough, and I'm going to give you a little behind the scenes look at how this podcast gets made when I share with you that the topic I'm going to be discussing today was nowhere on my editorial content calendar. In fact, I have a plan for topics I want to discuss or people I want to interview or coaching calls I want to conduct, and I have this calendar that guides me over the next, let's say three to six months. And I find it really helpful to have that kind of calendar because it allows me to plan out content that I hope will be valuable for you, and it allows me to connect that with other things that are going on in my business or in the world. And so having that kind of schedule gives me some direction, some clarity, and some purpose, and then this week, I was presenting to my first-ever cohort of students studying to be Certified Clarity Coaches. So this is my initial coach training program that just launched in September, and so we're wrapping up our first month, and we were talking about the importance of structure in coaching, and why it is important to have a clear structure that defines both the overall coaching relationship and the individual coaching session. 

We need to have some sense of structure in the work that we're doing because that helps the client and the coach, not just identify the goals that the client wants to achieve, but it also gives a known sense of format and routine, to do the work to achieve those goals. And that is great for the coach because it gives us a sense of confidence from knowing what we're going to do and how it's going to unfold, and it also gives a sense of confidence to the client who feels taken care of and feels supported, knowing that they are being guided through a process or a structure. But at the same time, we want to make sure that that structure isn't so tight and isn't so restrictive, that we cut off all ability for spontaneity, nuance, creation, and the magic that often happens during a coaching session. There have been so many times in my experience, both as a coach and as a client, where something happens in the session that I could not have predicted, something magical occurs, and all of a sudden, there's a new idea or a new thought or a new approach that changes everything. And when that happens for me as the coach, I love seeing that flare of inspiration in my client’s eyes as they recognize a new way forward, and they're inspired, and they're motivated, and they are just off to the races. And we spend the remainder of the session exploring that and determining what the next steps would be. So that's where that structure comes in. But had we been so rigidly focused on – we must do this, followed by this, followed by this – we would have cut off all the oxygen for that fire of inspiration. 

So when we are creating structure, we want to make sure that we do so in a way that provides some continuity, and also allows for flexibility. I have certainly felt that as the coach and I have felt that as the client as well. When I've gone into a session and I've had a coach just kind of say, all right, so what are we doing, and neither one of us really has a plan for the session. It can feel really disconcerting. It can feel kind of unmoored or unanchored. And then on the other side, when I enter a session, and I have a coach who's like, “Okay, so today, we're going to do X, Y, and Z, let's go”, sometimes I feel like I've been given a set of marching orders, and it's time for me to respond. The happy medium between the two, I find to be the sweet spot where the coach understands the overall flow and process of the session, and uses the process of inquiry or asking questions in order to elicit ideas and generate new ways of thinking and new approaches to a topic from the client. But the coach is doing so from a place of true curiosity. So they're not superimposing their thoughts, or their beliefs, or even their sense of structure, on the client. They are asking the right questions to empower the client to think about things in a new and different way. So when we're talking about structuring the coaching relationship, I think it's really important that we seek to find that happy medium, that balance between providing some routine and some expectation, while also creating plenty of space for exploration and creativity. So as coaches, our job is really to create the container in which all of that extraordinary discovery can occur. And so in order to have a container, we do have to have some boundaries, we have to have some structure, but we don't need excessive structure within that container. Or else, we run the risk of squelching our client's creativity, so that I find to be the true art of coaching. That is what takes practice and what evolves over time, so that as you coach more, you become more comfortable with the idea of establishing a structure that guides, but that doesn't force. And so if you are a new coach just starting out, and you are trying to determine what that looks like, sometimes you may be following a To Do list, you may have a very set structure to follow, and I think at first that is okay because we do want to kind of lay a foundation and create the expectation of what will happen in the future. But the more you practice, and the more that approach becomes your own, then it feels natural. You've built your own confidence and you can start to assess where it's time to deviate from that structure, when it's time to come back, and you are remembering that it's always a process of co-creation with your client. So that it's not just about you coming in and asking questions, and getting answers, but it's about you and the client partnering together to create this shared experience. And as a result of that shared experience, the client will receive whatever they need too. Whether that is a shift in thought, whether that is more directed action, or if it's simply a time to reflect on what they've accomplished, to celebrate those accomplishments, and to take stock of where they're at today and where they want to be tomorrow. 

So that's just a little bit about what's been on my mind this past week, and even though this idea of creating structure in your coaching session was not on my editorial calendar at all, I felt called to make some amendments to my calendar. Again, finding the flexibility in that structure so that we could talk about that this week and we could really explore what it looks like to create structure in a coaching relationship, and within a coaching session. And the other reason I think it's important to do this is because this is in alignment with one of the International Coaching Federation (ICF) Core Competencies in the revised Core Competencies that came out in November of 2019, and that will go into full effect in 2021. 

One of the Core Competencies that ICF describes is establishing and maintaining agreements, and within that core competency, we really are exploring what it looks like for the coach to partner with the client to, not only define what the client wants to address or resolve in session, but also what that looks like. What does a successful outcome look like? How do we measure it? How can we create a timeframe within the session, and within the relationship as a whole, in order to ensure that the client meets or even exceeds their goals? So, structure is a very important component of partnering with the client to create the plan and empower them to take action so that they are hitting their goals. So everything that we're talking about today, in terms of structure, is at the heart of powerful coaching. And isn't that what we all want? To become more powerful coaches, so that when we partner with our client, we know that together, we are going to co-create something really extraordinary. I mean, that's why I went into coaching. I know that's why so many of you are interested in it as well, and so let's remember that one of the key elements of creating that success for our clients is structure. And what I have found is that part of creating that structure is establishing the purpose for the coaching session. And there will always be a specific purpose that is unique to that client so that there is a reason that they are meeting with you. But over time, what I've noticed is that all of those individualized unique purposes, fall under four main categories. And so today I thought I would share those four categories with you, and even share some examples of what that might look like and even questions that you might ask your client based on the type of session that you are conducting. 

So I'm going to start by sharing the Four Types of Coaching Session Purposes I've noticed in my career, and then we'll do a deeper dive into each one of them before we get to this week's Clarity in Action Moment. But the Four Types I want to share with you today are: 

  • Inspiration
  • Perspiration
  • Transformation 
  • Restoration

So those four elements, Inspiration, Perspiration, Transformation, and Restoration represent the four main types of coaching sessions that I have witnessed, and we'll walk through what that might look like, what the client may be sharing that might indicate, “Oh, this is going to be a Transformation session today” versus an Inspiration session, and then we'll talk about some questions that you as the coach may want to consider incorporating into that session to really maximize its effectiveness for your client.

Now, I will also share that sometimes you will have a session that has more than one purpose, and maybe you start out with one type, and then you move into another. You may have a session where you hit all four of those – and that's perfectly normal. So I want to share this with you as a way of conceptualizing a session without having you feel limited by it. So if you find that the session evolved, and you're addressing more than one purpose, that's totally okay. But for the purposes of our podcast today, I'm going to walk through each four as individual separate concepts that you will address in a given session. 

So let's kick things off with the very first one, which is Inspiration. So a session in which Inspiration is the primary purpose is going to be one where the client may come to you wanting to create something new, or perhaps to revise or even repurpose something that's already in existence. So there's this idea, there's this hopefulness, that something new, something exciting, is going to come out of today's session. And so sometimes I do find that clients present as hopeful or optimistic, they don't really know where they're headed, but they're, they're feeling really good about getting there with you. And then sometimes, clients may present as the opposite, maybe they're feeling kind of stuck, maybe they're having low energy, and sometimes they may present saying like, “I don't even really know what I want for today's session, I just know I want something different”. So no matter how the client is presenting, we want to meet them where they are, and we want to help them identify the ideal outcome for the session. And so in this case, the client may share that they want to leave feeling more energized, or with more clarity around how they're going to move forward with a given goal. Whatever that looks like, we know that there's this feeling of wanting to create something new and wanting inspiration to strike. So there are a few techniques that as the coach we can bring into the session in order to increase the possibility of that outcome. First, I like to start by clarifying how the client feels now, versus how they want to feel at the end of the session. Doing so creates a baseline measurement for the very beginning of the session. So we know where we're starting, and not only are we giving ourselves kind of something to work towards, and a feeling to engender, but we're setting the expectation that that is possible, and that that will happen. And so that's kind of a second technique that we're drawing in this idea of planting the seed or fostering the space for that feeling to occur, and as a coach, you can even set that expectation by saying something like, “You know, I just get the strong sense that by the end of today's session, you're going to feel more inspired, you're going to be ready to take action”. So we are bringing that into the session, we are giving it life, we are giving it words, and we are letting the client know that we believe in them, we know that this could happen for them. So after we've kind of done the temperature check emotionally, and we've set the expectation for how they're going to feel at the end, then we can move into brainstorming with the client. What it is they want to create or what it is they want to address in the session? And whenever we're brainstorming, it's really important that we allow the client to take the lead. So we want the client to come up with the ideas whenever possible. If a client is feeling stuck or uncertain, then perhaps we can introduce an idea or two of our own, making sure that we ask the client's opinion about that and giving them full permission to reject the idea if it's not going to work for them. But I think with brainstorming, we just want to make sure that all of the creative channels are open, that no idea is rejected offhand, and that we're creating space for even the wildest thoughts to come to play. Because what I have found is that oftentimes the best ideas come after we have exhausted the most outlandish ones. So I really encourage that coaches and clients approach the brainstorming process with levity, with humor, with fun, because that's really the energy that helps lead us into that creative, inspirational place that we want to be. 

So brainstorming is one technique that's very helpful. Again, let the client take the lead, don't be afraid to get a little wild and out there. And while all of this is going on your job as the coach is to follow the energy. So you are holding space for this conversation, you are contributing to the desired feeling or the desired outcome by showing up with that energy that's going to support it, and you're noticing when the client's energy is waxing or waning. And when an idea comes up, that seems to really catch their attention, that creates that light in their eyes – you are noticing that, you're reflecting it, you're asking the client to comment on it as well, and so you're really following the energy of the session. So as the coach, that is one of the most important things that we can do is to not just notice the energy within ourselves, but also notice the client's energy, and the energy of the entire session, and reflecting that back to the client so that they can see it too. So that's a little bit about Inspiration as a purpose for a coaching session. So what it is, what it might look like, how the client may be approaching it, and then some techniques that you as the coach can use, in order to help the client create that desired outcome of feeling more inspired and ready to take action. 

Once they're feeling that way, and they're ready to take action that leads into the second purpose of many coaching sessions, which is Perspiration, or essentially, this is when we get to work. So the client may present with having a very specific, even tangible result that they want to achieve either in the session or creating a plan in the session so that they can get to work afterward. But that's the thing, they are ready to get to work. So oftentimes clients will present as highly focused and motivated, and there's a level of confidence like they know that this is going to happen. However, with that confidence, and that focus, sometimes clients may also present with some confusion about the “how”. So it's almost as if, whether or not this is going to happen, is not an issue. “If” is not the question here, but “how” – how to make this happen – that is probably going to be the focus of the session. So there may be a little bit of confidence coupled with confusion. And so as the coach, our job is to just kind of tease that out, normalize it for the client, and then help them translate that confusion into clarity. So some examples of what the client might be looking for out of a Perspiration session. Maybe they want a strategic action plan to get their coaching business up and running. That's definitely something that my individual clients often seek when we're working together. Or maybe they want to create a launch plan for a brand new offer. That's something I do a lot in my VIP half-day intensives, where we create an entire launch strategy for a new offer for a coach. But of course, it does not have to be limited to business or professional goals. Perhaps it looks like creating a new healthy living plan, maybe it looks like establishing a morning routine for your kids and for your family. The thing that all of these examples have in common is that there is a clear result, there is something that will be accomplished, or that will be created, by the end of the session and the client is ready to do the work. 

So as the coach, there are a few techniques that we can pull into these more Perspiration oriented sessions. The first thing I like to do is clarify the journey with the client, so we know where we're starting from, and we know that the desired result is the endpoint of the journey. But what components are a part of the process? So what is the overall journey going to look like? What milestones do we need to hit along the way? So for example, let's say we're working with a client who wants to create a new plan for a healthier lifestyle. Well, we may want to approach that from a topic perspective. So what topics need to be included in the healthy living plan? Maybe we want to talk about nutrition, we're probably going to want to talk about movement or exercise. We may also want to bring in mental or psychological health, or what steps the client can take to ensure that their mind is on track with their body. So we can approach the journey from a topic perspective, or we can also approach it from more of a timeline perspective. And so thinking about the client who wants to create a morning routine for her family, a timeline perspective may be really helpful here. So as we're looking at what a routine might look like, we're starting from the moment we're waking up, and then the next stage may be getting breakfast ready, after that maybe getting dressed and ready for school or for work. So we're really chunking it up into the different time components of the process. So whether you take a topic approach, whether you take a timeline approach, or even if you create a hybrid of the two, we do want to make sure that both the coach and the client have a broad idea of what the overall journey looks like, so that you know what you're working towards. So that's the first technique that I recommend is really clarifying the overall process, and then as you're doing so, the coach's job is to really embrace the idea of inquiry by asking questions to open up possibilities and even to develop contingency plans. So sometimes asking a “what if” question can be really helpful. So, what if you exceed your goal? What if you create a launch plan for this new offer, and you hope to get 10 new people in a group coaching program, and you actually have 20, what then? What will that look like? Or what modifications might you need to make? Likewise, what are some possible obstacles that might come up? So we want to get the client thinking, reflecting, preparing, all while setting the expectation that what we're creating in this session is a starting point. So if you're creating an action plan of some sort, this will be something that you can put into place. And then as you're doing the work, you'll recognize what of the plan is working really well, and what elements may need some subtle tweaks in order to improve the outcome. So the metaphor that I really like to use with my clients is that this is an experiment, we have a hypothesis that we're testing, we are gathering data every time we take action, and that data can inform whether we need to change our experiment a bit, or whether we go on as planned. So that really normalizes the experience, if things kind of go a little bit off-plan, it's not a bad thing, it's not a failure, it's not even something to be avoided. It's merely data that we can incorporate into our decision-making process, and then we can decide how we want to move forward from there. So that is a little bit about Perspiration as a session purpose. And so your job as the coach is really to help establish the overall journey and ask thoughtful questions so that the client is able to create and then take action on their plan.

The third purpose that I want to talk about is Transformation. So whereas the Perspiration session is very action-oriented, the Transformation session will probably be more of an internal process. So there is some sort of block or obstacle that exists internally, and the client is going to need a shift in how they think, or how they feel, or what they believe, in order to work through that block. So whereas a Perspiration oriented session is more about the “how”, Transformation maybe a little bit more about the “if” or the “why”. And so it's the process of helping the client move from, “Can I even do this?” to, “Yes, I can”. As a result, sometimes clients who are seeking more of a Transformation oriented session, they might show up as feeling kind of doubtful or uncertain. There may even be some sadness or some anger present. And all of those emotions just point to the fact that there is some sort of shift that needs to occur internally so that the client can move forward. Sometimes it can also show up looking like cautious optimism or even like a “fake it till you make it” approach. And so ideally, the session allows the client to move from faking it, to really embodying the new thought or belief or feeling that will allow them to take action in their life. So a couple examples that I've seen, and even experienced myself, are imposter syndrome, so questioning, “Who am I to even do this? Who am I to be a coach, trainer, or create a podcast episode about coaching?”. Yep, I've dealt with that one too. And so that requires an internal shift in how I view myself and in what I believe about myself. And then sometimes right on the heels of imposter syndrome comes what I call comparison-itis, where we are comparing ourselves to other people or other businesses, and we really believe that they're doing it better than we ever could, “They're already doing it. So why should we even bother?”. Well, the reason we should even bother is because they're not doing it the way we are, and we bring our own strengths and gifts to the table, and that creates an entirely different outlook and different approach – so there's room for all of us. And that's that shift in belief from, “Someone else does it better than me, I shouldn't even bother” to really believing, “Nope, I'm important. I have a voice and it deserves to be heard”. And sometimes connected with that sense of comparing ourselves to others and not feeling like we're enough, is that sense of unworthiness, “I'm not smart enough, I'm not experienced enough, I'm not good enough to do this”, and so then we need to really tackle that deep-seated belief that on some level, something about us is deficient, and because of that we don't deserve, or we're not capable of, achieving what we want. And so those are some really, really significant limiting beliefs, that as coaches we can help our clients unpack, and we can help them shift how they view themselves, how they think and feel about themselves, because once they've done that, then they are going to be in a position where they're really ready to take action. And it's coming from an aligned place and a place of confidence and knowing that this is their calling, and this is their next step. So as coaches, how do we do that? How do we set our clients up for success?

Well, first, we help our clients identify whatever that thought, or feeling, or belief is that's currently present, that's keeping them from achieving what they want. So we need to name it, and we need to frame it. So we name the thought, we're really clear on what it is. So what that thought, or belief, or feeling, is – we can even give it a name. And then we frame it, we look at why it is even in existence, we confirm and affirm whatever it is the client is thinking or feeling, and once the client has a really solid understanding of that limiting belief, then I think it's helpful to do almost like a cost-benefit analysis. So on one hand, we're asking, “What is holding on to this thought or belief costing you?”, but we also need to counter that by asking, “How has it supported you?”. So in what ways has believing this, or feeling this, or thinking this served you? So once we've done that, once we've looked at both sides of the equation, then together the coach and the client can assess the client's readiness to replace the thought, feeling, or belief. Because if it has served them powerfully, if it has supported them up until now, then it would be understandable why they may have some hesitancy or some resistance to shifting into a different way of thinking, feeling, or believing. So we want to talk about that, we want to get it all out on the table, and really ensure that the client is ready to change. And assuming they are, then the next step is for the client to articulate their new desired thought, feeling, or belief. So they want to really think about what's possible for them with this new thought or belief, and how does this feel energetically? Once this new thought, or belief, or feeling has been spoken into existence, then it's time to integrate it, because it will take some time for it to become a new natural way of thinking, feeling, or believing. So we want to engage the client in a discussion around, what actions can support this new thought, or feeling, or belief? And how will the client show up differently because they are thinking, or feeling this new belief? How will they remind themselves of this new thought, feeling, or belief? Because sometimes it's really easy for us to default to old patterns. So if we're creating something new, how can we reinforce that? So I find that this approach works best for things that are within a client's sphere of control. So truly the thoughts, the feelings, and the behaviors that they are able to fully take responsibility for and change. 

We should never use this process to minimize or delegitimize someone's lived experience. And I will say that sometimes I see this applied in situations where there is true injustice, whether it's racism, or oppression, and I want to be very careful that we are not using these tools to convince someone that all they have to do is think, or feel, or believe differently about something, and everything will work out. We do want to take stock of someone's lived experiences and their true life situations, and how the old ways of thinking or believing may have protected them or even supported them in the face of unjust systems. So if we are taking an approach to coaching that centers equity and inclusivity, we always want to make sure that we are centering the client's lived experience, that we are not gaslighting, or minimizing, or bypassing that, and that we are working with them to find a way to create thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that are consistent with an appropriate for their lived experience. 

So that's a little bit about the third purpose, which is Transformation. And then finally, I just want to spend a minute or two on the fourth purpose, which is Restoration. Sometimes clients simply need space to integrate the knowledge and experience that they've gained through their work with you, and they may need some support in making sense of things or synthesizing all of this. Sometimes they just want to review and celebrate their accomplishments, and this is where having a restorative session can be very helpful. It gives the client space to slow down, to recover, or to celebrate, and to really lean into everything that they've accomplished. So sometimes a Restoration session can present as a client feeling overwhelmed, or not knowing what to do next. So they just need some space to review and reset. Sometimes it presents as the client wanting to update the coach with all of the things that have been going on for them and all of the small wins and big victories that they've achieved. Of all of the session types, though, I will say that this one has the tendency to feel the loosest or potentially like the most amorphous. And at times, the coach may even wonder what their role is during a Restoration session – I know I have. And so what I find is that, when I come back to my main tool in my toolkit, which is inquiry, that helps provide some additional structure and flow to the session. And really, we have to remember that the client's main purpose for a Restoration session is synthesis, is review, and sometimes celebration, and that can be enough for a session. So as the coach, the techniques that we can employ are an overall review of the client's progress, so asking questions about what they've accomplished so far, both within the coaching relationship, but also in their broader life as well. And we really do want to focus on synthesis so, what did you learn? How do these things connect with each other? And how will this inform how you move forward? We can connect that synthesis with the client's core values, and really connect it to their deeper meaning and purpose as well. And we want to make sure that as we engage in this process with the client, we remain centered in the present moment. So if we're coming up against things that feel a little uncomfortable, we make space for that discomfort, we notice it, and we ask the client to share what that discomfort might be telling them. And likewise, on the other side of the coin, we want to be fully present in the moment when we're celebrating with our client, we want to really honor their accomplishments, and we want to connect back what they've achieved with who they are, and what about them made it possible – how did their strengths, their skills, or their talents allow them to achieve this accomplishment? 

So we've just done a full dive into the Four Types of Coaching Purposes. So that's Inspiration, Perspiration, Transformation, and Restoration. And with that, I think it's time for this week's Clarity in Action Moment. So for this week's Clarity in Action Moment, I would like you to reflect on these Four Types of Coaching Sessions, the Four Purposes, and I want you to ask yourself first, which type are you most comfortable facilitating, and how does that connect to your strengths? So what is it about you in particular, that makes you so adept at a particular purpose of coaching session? So that's question number one. So we'll really lean into your strengths and your gifts. And then number two, I'd like you to ask yourself, which type feels the stickiest or maybe the least comfortable? And then let's explore what skills or tools could help you grow in this area because the truth is we all shine and particular aspects of coaching and then there are areas where we need a little practice and we need a little support. So taking the time to reflect on that, to do some self inquiry, and then use that information to inform how we can improve our skills, is really the sign of a mature and powerful coach. 

That's the type of work I love doing with my clients both one on one, and within the Coach with Clarity Membership. So if you are looking for some support, some guidance, and some coaching around this, definitely head to CoachwithClarity.com/membership to learn more about the membership, or feel free to reach out personally if you're looking for information about a more one on one individualized approach. You can find me on Instagram @CoachwithClarity and you can always send me an email – the email address is info@CoachwithClarity.com. I would love to hear more about you, your coaching business, what you hope to achieve, and how Coach with Clarity can support you in the process. I hope you've enjoyed today's exploration into the Four Main Purposes of a Coaching Session. Next week I am so excited to share with you my very first guest expert interview on the Coach with Clarity podcast, I'll be bringing on my friend and colleague, Braden Drake, who is a small business and tax attorney. And we'll be talking about all things legal when it comes to your coaching business, so you are definitely going to want to tune into next week's episode. Until then, though, thank you again for joining me today. My name is Lee Chaix McDonough, and I am reminding you to get out there and show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity.

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