A key challenge for leaders and managers is developing the capacity of their staff or team. Taking a coaching approach allows you to focus on drawing out motivation rather than trying to push it in! It allows you to create energy and motivation and it is usually experienced as an empowering process by your coachee. It helps people develop their initiative and sense of ownership of their work and tasks, and, in general, converts potential into capacity.
Here are seven tips to help make your coaching conversations highly productive.
1) Be clear what you are coaching for
It’s important to be clear why you taking a coaching approach rather than just giving information, orders or instruction. Generally it is worth taking a coaching approach when we want to invest in skill development.
Examples might be:
- To improve problem-solving skills
- To improve emotional intelligence when interacting with customers
- To increase confidence in own abilities and so ability to be pro-active and use initiative
- To increase team collaboration and mutual support
- To develop expert excel skills
It is also important to know when not to invest in a coaching approach.
For example while for one person developing expert excel skills might be key for their job, for another their engagement with excel may be a very rare occurrence. In which case other ways of solving the problem might be more effective and appropriate.
2) Select appropriate opportunities
Coaching is only one of a number of management interaction styles and is not right for all occasions. In emergency situations for instance, you are better off just telling people what they need to do.
Some indicators of a possibly good opportunity for coaching are when:
- Whatever the person is struggling with, or asking for help with, is going to be a recurring challenge
- There is no panic. Heightened emotional states, such as panic, can lead to unhelpful learning. For instance they ‘learn’ that you are an obstructive unhelpful so-and-so rather than that you helped them develop a new skill or think for themselves.
- There is time to assure yourself that they are good to go after the conversation and that you are happy with their next steps. This needn’t take long, but there needs to be time to conclude the conversation.
- Someone is asking for help
- Someone comes to you with a problem, and its clear they have a solution in mind
- You are trying to help someone and they are resisting all your suggestions
3) Use Turning Questions to get into a coaching conversation
If people come to you expecting you to give them the answer, then you need to turn the conversation into a coaching conversation. These questions will help:
- ‘That sounds interesting/challenging/important, what do you think might be the way forward? What ideas do you already have?'
- 'If that is what you are worried about, what do you want to see happen instead?'
- 'If I wasn’t here, what would you do about this?'
- 'I can see you are looking for help with this, what is the most helpful question I ask you to help you with your thinking in the 30 seconds we have here?'
After asking any of those, or a similar question, put an expectant expression on your face and stop speaking! Create a big space full of expectation and hope for them to answer into. Hold your nerve.
These questions work to turn the question away from your resourcefulness towards theirs. It also helps move them from passive recipient waiting for an answer, to active agents in finding a way forward.
4) Help them draw on their existing resources
Questions you can usefully ask to achieve this include such questions as:
- ‘When have you tackled something similar? Not necessarily here but in other places you’ve worked or in other situations? How did that work out? How could what you learnt from that be relevant here?’
- ‘Who else knows something about this and might be interested to work with you on finding a way forward?’
- ‘What ideas do you have?’
- ‘Where else might there be some information on this that might stimulate ideas? Websites, in-house training, forums, professional associations?’
5) Help them explore and develop possibilities. Reality check.
This is where you finally get to feed your knowledge, problem-solving skills, and expertise into the conversation, but in a different way. You use it to help shape up the idea into the best it can be, making sure they retain ownership of it. For example:
- ‘Explain to me more about how that’s a good idea? How do you see it working?’
- ‘Have you considered/ taken into account/ thought about...?’
- ‘So what will you do if....?”
- ‘Hm, I’m just wondering how that might go down with... what do you think?’
- ‘Great, what do you see the risks as being? How will you deal with them?’
This is also where you set any boundaries on action. This might range from ‘It’s a great/interesting/novel/exciting/challenging/provocative idea and I truly am sorry to have to say I can’t support it as it will be too expensive/take more time than we have/be seen as too risky.’ Then move swiftly too ‘However, I think the bit about ... could work, lets explore that more.’ Or ‘what else have you got?’
6) Road test for readiness
This is a crucially important part of the process where you are testing to see how committed, ready and energised they are to make this happen. Questions you can ask at this point include:
- ‘What’s your first step?’
- ‘Who else do you need to talk to?’
- 'How will I know you are making progress?'
- 'On a scale of 1-10 how ready are you to get going on this?'
- 'What else needs to happen to increase your readiness?'
- 'How can I support you to make this happen?'
Offer encouragement and support, express belief, and agree a ‘progress check’ process.
7) It’s not for every situation and it doesn’t work every time
Coaching is not suitable for every occasion. Sometimes people do need to be told. For example when:
- They don’t know enough to even start to engage with the challenge
- They are missing a vital piece of information, and need to be informed of it
- Its an emergency, you have the answer and speed is of the essence
- Its not worth the time or energy e.g. it is doesn’t fit the criteria of point 1
Also sometimes particular people or even groups of people get stuck in patterns of belief that makes it hard for them to engage in coaching, for instance
- They believe its your job to think, not theirs
- They’re still smarting from some previous managerial behaviour (this can go on for years)
- They have zero confidence in themselves and their ability and are highly dependent on others
- They are severely depressed, anxious or otherwise cognitively incapacitated
- They are fully preoccupied with other challenges, maybe outside of work, and have no capacity to engage with being creative.
In this case you need to address these challenges before you can hope to get very far with coaching.
So be aware that coaching isn’t for everyone and every situation. Beyond that though, on the whole, once people genuinely believe that you want them to contribute and you will support them in their adventures of learning, they relish it; and they will grow in ability, confidence, initiative and general switched-on-ness before your very eyes!
More on this, and details of how to practice Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space, World Café and SimuReal can all be found in Sarah’s latest book Positive Psychology and Change
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