My CIPD students have recently completed a coaching module as part of their qualification. One of my more enthusiastic students is already trying to incorporate the ‘coach approach’ when dealing with some of her staff.
However being a novice in coaching practice she was finding it difficult to adjust to the principle of enabling the coachee to solve their own issues. “Most of my staff are busy managers who just want an answer or solution and a quick one at that!” Her worry was that by using a coaching approach her coachees might perceive her as unhelpful because they don’t get the answer handed to them on a plate.
It’s an interesting problem. My first question to her was to ask if she was concerned for her coachee or for herself. “Do your coachees really want to be told what to do?” “Remember we often ask for help when we really know the answer and merely seek reassurance”. For example if you choose to give the advice I’ve already decided on you will be my hero”. “If you offer something different either my confidence will drop or I’ll think you useless”. It’s a dangerous place to go.
The bulk of a coaching meeting should be taken up by asking questions. This helps the coachee to describe and eventually understand the issue. The next stage is to challenge what you hear. This is where we can safely probe using ‘why’ questions and ‘what if’ questions. Finally, you spend the least part of the time on solutions because the questioning and challenging should help the coachee to recognise what they need to do. They can articulate the answer.
As you practice this technique you will get faster at understanding and your questions will be more focused. You will also start listening on more than one level, picking up signals from more than just words. The advantage of letting the coachee solve the problem is that they are far more likely to act on their own solution than on someone else’s. And that is what they’ll remember you for – helping them to clarify and handle their own issues.
Finally, I believe, to be a great coach requires you to be genuinely curious so your questions are real. You also need intuition – knowing when to go with your gut feelings. You need a great deal of self awareness. That is recognising the signs of when you want to jump in and holding back, as well as great listening skills. You need to be able to pick up on emotion and body language as well as focusing on the coachee without comparing their experiences with your own. It is all learnable you just need to keep practising the skills and avoid colluding with your coachee for the easy answers.
Charlotte Mannion is the author of Useful Guide to Mentoring published by Pansophix. Click on the title for further information or to download your own copy.