The individual should be and feel in charge throughout. It is their issue that they need to resolve, and they will have more understanding of their issue and eventual solution, and more commitment to action, if they have come up with the ideas and solutions.
Coaching is all about ‘drawing out’ rather than ‘putting in’. Your job as a coach is primarily to ask an initial open question, listen carefully to the answer, then probe for more information if necessary. Your aim is to help the individual clarify, analyse and resolve their issue for themselves…
Often the individual’s initial answer to an open question is vague or generalised – remember they may be confronting and thinking through their issue for the first time, and also they may not have thought about answers to the type of questions you are asking. So learn how to probe – ask for greater detail, or more information. Ask for examples…
You contaminate by introducing your own ideas, suggestions or solutions. There are four major problems with this. Firstly, any idea, once introduced, is difficult to remove; secondly, your ideas or solutions may misdirect or mislead, and not be helpful or relevant to the individual; thirdly, the individual may defer too much to you, seeing you – and your suggestions – as more relevant and worthwhile than they are, because you are, as coach, more experienced, skilled and ‘expert’ in this than they are. And finally, they may simply find it easier to go along with your thinking, rather than put the effort in to working things out for themselves. So as a result, they may pay more attention to what you have to offer, than to what they actually think and need. And a further consequence of this is they may become dependent on you and your ideas, rather than working things out for themselves – which will not be helpful to them in the long run.
Mind reading is assuming you know what they are thinking. You don’t – you are just guessing, and often that guess is based on what YOU would be thinking…but you are not them. The only way to know what they are thinking is to ask. Even then, their answer may not be accurate – for example, they may give you an answer they think you want to hear, or they simply might lie. But more often than not they will tell you the truth – especially if they trust you and want you to help them work through their issue. And it is much better to base your analysis on what they say and you observe, than ‘mind reading’ what you think is going on…
When you first meet the individual for your first session, you inevitably will form an impression of ‘how they are’: how they look, sound and behave. And as the relationship progresses, most of how they are will become established as their ‘norm’; you will have reasonable expectations of how they present themselves to you. At this stage, you will have calibrated their baseline – how they are, normally. Then you are in a good position, during your conversations, to notice any changes to those norms. This is the process called calibration: you notice any change and compare it with the norm, and – to prevent mind reading – describe back to the individual the change you have noticed (calibrated) and can ask if it is significant in any way…for example, going quieter than usual, changing the focus of where they are looking, changing their body posture; looking more agitated or less relaxed, and so on….
At times the individual is likely to go quiet, and there can be a number of reasons for this, so it is important to work out the reason for the silence, and respond accordingly. There are four major types of silence: stuck, reflective, tactical, and cultural.
‘Stuck’ means the individual is lost; perhaps they haven’t understood what you are asking. If they are stuck, then offer an alternative way of asking your question – perhaps by giving an example. ‘Reflective’ means they are thinking about the question and their response – so you need to give them time to do that. ‘Tactical’ means they are deliberately keeping quiet, in the hope that you will break the silence by offering more information, and possibly your ideas or solutions. If this is the case, avoid doing that, and consider other ways of getting the individual to respond – perhaps by clarifying your role. ‘Cultural’ silence means that ‘staying silent’ is part of this individual’s upbringing and expectations – either formally or informally. In which case you need to acknowledge what you are seeing, and ask how best to work within that expectation….or of course, you may want to offer a change to that expectation whist you are working together….
The ability to accurately play back what the other person has said has several key benefits. Firstly it shows without doubt that you have been listening, which the other person will at some level, value. Secondly it offers you both the opportunity to check your understanding of what they have said. Thirdly, it allows you to intervene in the conversation helpfully – especially if you feel the need to do that – for example if the conversation is losing focus, or emotions are becoming unhelpful. Fourthly, it allows the individual to hear back what they have been saying, which can be helpful to them.
Fundamentally, most issues arise because the individual hits barriers or blockages which they don’t know how to get past. They are stuck. So a key role of the coach is to help the individual identify such blocks, and get past them – be a block buster. Two good examples of blocks are discipline and strategy. In both cases the individual knows what the problem is, and what needs to happen, but either lacks the discipline to take the necessary action, or uses a strategy that isn’t working….
As coach you might find it helpful to have a particular structure or model in mind, and in my next podcast I’m going to outline 10 models that I think can be useful. But beware: the crucial contribution of the coach is to go where you can be most helpful; so don’t choose then stick rigidly to a model if it isn’t working. All models are means to an end, not ends in themselves….
*online booking is available for half day workshops only. If you are interested in customised length or content, please get in touch and we’d be happy to help.