Strategic HR

4 Steps to Conducting a Successful Coaching Session

I love being corrected and coached; especially by my wife.  My second favorite coaches are my four teenagers.  Since they’ve been sentient for a number of months now, they naturally have lots of tips and life wisdom to share with me, and I always receive it with humility.  What a gift their coaching is to me.

Can you identify with me?  Do you like receiving feedback about your behavior?  Do you like being coached?  Do you think your staff like it?

Funny thing is, they will look forward to it and even treasure it—or despise it and heap abuse on you to their colleague—based on how you approach coaching.

Consider this perspective from Bill Courtney, football coach, movie director and entrepreneur: “Coaching doesn’t start with X’s and 0’s.  It starts with believing that players win games, and coaches win players.” The right mindset is critical to coaching working for you and your employees.

Step 1: Get in the Right Head Space

If you’re trying to push a grown-up to do something they don’t want to do, you’re not going to get far.  Win before you begin; make sure you’re for the person, and make sure they know you’re coaching them because you want them to win.

We listen to and respect people who we believe are for us, and we disbelieve and distrust people we believe are against us.  Have you considered that you may be a major contributor to the failure of a person in your orbit?  If they feel that you don’t believe in them, their confidence will erode and their behaviour will worsen, confirming your initial evaluation of them.

If you think that confidence isn’t related to performance, consider the case of Tiger Woods, who dominated the golf world until his very embarrassing and public scandals sent his image, and performance, into freefall. As of this writing, Woods has plummeted from a world ranking of #1 to #1005.

Step 2:  Seek to Understand

Before a person can hear any wisdom you have to impart, they need to feel understood.  This means that you have to help them ‘empty out’ before they can take anything in.   Emptying out involves you asking questions to understand their situation better, and then listening without comment or judgment.  Some great emptying out questions or prompts that I use are:

  • What parts of your job energize you? What parts drain you?
  • What does a good day look like for you? A bad day?
  • Help me understand…
  • Please elaborate…
  • Tell me more…
  • So, do I hear you saying…?

You’re going to make progress only when the person you’re coaching feels fully understood.  Let them talk, and only open your mouth to ask clarifying questions.  You may be tempted to challenge, correct or teach during this time; resist the temptation!  Let them talk.

Step 3: Listen Actively

When I began my coaching career, I assumed that I had to have lots of immediate answers to people’s questions.  The equation was simple in my mind: They ask, and then I advise while they listen with rapt attention.  I was rosy-cheeked and naïve.   What I’ve discovered is that my biggest job is to listen; carefully and thoughtfully.

If you get this part right, you will discover that, for the most part, people already know the answers to their problems.  They just need a safe person to talk to about them, so they can uncover what they already know.  However, listening well is not as easy as it sounds.

Look directly at the person speaking.  Don’t quietly disappear into your favorite fantasy.  Don’t mentally prepare your rebuttal.  Really listen.

Use body language to show you’re interested.  Sit forward when he speaks.  Nod when appropriate.  Smile and keep your posture open and inviting. Being civil or professional isn’t good enough.  Show interest and show that you care by encouraging the speaker to continue.  Make small comments like “okay,” “yes,” and “uh huh.”

It’s rare to be really listened to, and there’s huge power in it.  When the person you’re coaching feels that you both care, and are listening carefully, they’ll want to meet with you on a regular basis, just to experience it again.

Step 4:  Say What Needs to Be Said

One the person has emptied out and feels heard, it’s your turn.  Be kind, and be honest.  Only the truth sounds like the truth, so if you’re holding back or hedging what you really think, it will be apparent.  Now that you’ve given them the gift of active listening, they’ll be very open to hearing whatever it is that you have to say.  They’re ready to be filled up with your wisdom.

Imagine if your next ‘coaching’ conversation with your spouse, your teenager, or your employee looked this.  Do you think you might achieve a better result?  You can bet on it.  It works every time.

Trevor Throness is the author of THE POWER OF PEOPLE SKILLS: How to Eliminate 90% of Your HR Problems and Dramatically Increase Team and Company Morale and Performance (Career Press, August 2017). He is a veteran business coach who specializes in working with growing businesses.