In many organizations, far more value is given to doing than being. Doing is action – getting things done. Being is a quieter state – more contemplative and introspective. This emphasis on doing may be appropriate in the every day. When it comes to coaching, the value of being rises.
Why? Because coaching often involves change – change in thinking, in perspective, in motivation or outward actions for example. Sometimes underlying motives or emotions must be understood in order for real change to occur. Touching on these underlying aspects with a team member can be sensitive. One way to frame your coaching is to introduce the concepts of being and doing and give value to each.
You may be discussing an experience the team member had at work that upset them, did not further team goals or for some other reason, needs discussion. You can ask, for example, how they felt when that happened. This goes beyond what they experienced on the surface, to exploring the root of their actions or responses to the experience. You may be discussing a failure to produce the amount of work they need to. You can ask them why things are not getting done.
Valuing both doing and being in your coaching will allow you to get in touch with your team member as a whole person – their motivations, the emotional underpinnings of their actions, their perspective and their way of thinking. In doing this, you have a better chance of getting to root causes and developing both your and your team member’s understanding of what needs to change and how to do it.
Once you are in a coaching relationship with someone, your understanding of his or her motivations, emotions, personality traits, and communication style becomes a factor in your ability to coach productively. One coaching method that allows you to gain this deeper understanding is to practice the skill of exploring.
There are many ways to explore: asking questions (see previous post on Asking Powerful Questions), listening carefully to what they are saying or getting to know more about what interests them. Often, as a coach, you are looking to unlock underlying attitudes or perceptions that are “driving” the person’s behavior or performance. Exploring is often indirect and not necessarily something that you highlight. It is a way to gain insights about the person so that you can improve the effectiveness of your coaching and, hopefully, allow the person to gain insights of his or her own. Sometimes, directly questioning a person regarding emotions or motivations, for example, can disrupt the coaching process by creating a subtly uncertain or threatening environment for the person being coached. The person may not understand their underlying emotions or motivations or they may feel you are going to too “personal” a level. By being indirect and not going straight to the point, you receive the insights and retain a safe space for the coaching (the subject of a future post-stay tuned).
Managing people is about so much more than surface appearances or actions. Using the skill of exploring within your coaching relationships allows you to go below the surface and to find root causes of behaviors, thus leading to a deeper understanding of the person and greater opportunities for change.
Accountability is essential to effective coaching. Not everyone wants to hear this word; its use can create fear in some and potentially undo the safe space needed for coaching. How do you bring accountability into the coaching relationship in a constructive and positive way?
When I begin a coaching relationship, I bring accountability up early, as we set up our coaching. I do not impose it, but rather, ask a question: How do we hold you accountable in this coaching relationship? This allows the person being coached to suggest a way they can ensure commitment and results. In my experience, seldom does anyone challenge or resist introducing accountability into the coaching relationship. I think this is due to their involvement in determining how we deal with accountability. If someone does challenge accountability, I ask how they feel about entering the coaching relationship. If it is a voluntary relationship, I let their answer inform me regarding whether they are ready for coaching. If it is not a voluntary relationship, I work with them to ensure there is accountability, doing my best to keep an open and safe space for our coaching.
Accountability does not have to be rigid. At the end of each coaching meeting I ask for an “intent” from the person being coached that specifies what they will do by our next meeting. I check in at the start of our next meeting on their intent and what they have done. Sometimes, much can be learned when a commitment is not carried through on. I explore with the person being coached why it was not done and that exploration often leads to key insights. The thread of accountability has to be maintained however, to ensure results. Accountability matters, as you well know as a manager.
Bring accountability into the coaching relationship at an early point. Allow the person you are coaching to participate in establishing it and keep accountability alive throughout the coaching relationship.
The ability to give constructive feedback is an essential manager coaching skill. Feedback involves offering evaluations or opinions of someone’s performance or behavior. This is a skill many do not feel at ease with and must cultivate. (Just think of many managers’ views of writing and giving performance appraisals.) To do it effectively, a manager can first give time to objectively assess a team member’s performance or behavior, think about the person’s personality and the best way to communicate with them (so that they hear you), communicate the impact the performance or behavior has on the organization (why it matters) and always provide suggestions and avenues for the team member to improve. Feedback is not a once-a-year practice. It should be given frequently, whenever it is needed.
Why spend time cultivating the skill of providing effective feedback? Given well, feedback can build a team member’s self confidence, create desired behaviors, undo destructive behaviors and move your team closer to achieving their goals. Without effective feedback, you are sailing a ship without a rudder.
Wisdom comes from within. A key coaching skill honors leading someone to learning, rather than telling them what you think they need to know – by asking powerful questions. The skill lies in your ability to evoke learning by asking a question that focuses their thinking on how they can move forward in a situation, In my coaching training, it was consistently reinforced that good coaching was not about the coach’s knowing what was best for someone, but rather understanding the person well enough to formulate questions that will lead them to their own insights and move them forward. Here are some examples of powerful questions:
• What is your desired result in this situation? (Create focus on results)
• What do you want? (Identify what’s important to them)
• What values are important here? (Staying true to who they are)
• Who has the power to affect the outcome? (Understanding the players)
• What are you willing to do differently? (Getting away from worn patterns)
• What or who is stopping you? (Identifying obstacles)
• What is most important to you in this situation? (Identifying priorities)
Efficiency and productivity are as important in coaching as they are in other areas of your work. How do you maintain an environment where members of your team feel free to communicate, but efficiency and productivity are also honored?
Clearing is a process by which you create a space for the person being coached to release intense emotions or lines of thought that can inhibit their moving forward. The principle here is that if strong emotions are pushed down, they will interfere with the success of the coaching. Clearing involves allowing the person being coached to release emotions or “get things off their chest” for a specified period of time, with the agreement that once done, the coaching will proceed. In my experience, clearing works very well. You are acknowledging that emotions are present and that they need to be expressed. Usually, I give the process five to ten minutes. In rare cases, someone wants to go on. Then, I suggest that they identify a specific way they can release the emotions and commit to doing so, after the coaching is completed. If they cannot move into the coaching, we reschedule for another time.
Creating space for clearing is a coaching skill that acknowledges both that emotions are present and that you have a desire to move forward towards your goals.
At The Coaches Training Institute, I was trained in three levels of listening. The first level is hearing someone. The second, listening to them. The third is more a sensing – listening for what is not being said. The instructors would ask us, at certain points in the training, to “listen” to what was going on in the room. This listening involved going underneath surface communication to the emotions present in the room.
Have you ever been at a meeting where, on the surface, everything is going as planned, but the tension in the room is so thick you could cut it with a knife? If you sense that tension, you are listening to what is not being said. Human beings are complex. There are many aspects involved in our individual existences. When you are in the work world, many of these aspects are ignored. These aspects of ourselves do not go away just because we are working. They are kept, consciously or unconsciously, beneath the surface because we do not want to show them. In certain situations however, they can lie no longer and rise in the form of “the energy in the room”. As a manager, it behooves you to pay attention to what is not being said.
You can practice this, if you like. In a meeting or when you are speaking with a member of your team, put some of your attention on what the energy in the room feels like. Get accustomed to this sense. When you sense something awry or evident but not being said, you can call it out to others. It can be as simple as a question – is everything okay? Or you can go further, saying for example, I sense dissatisfaction here. In listening to what is not being said, you get closer to the truth of a situation and can handle whatever is happening in an effective and comprehensive way.