Coaching is recommended as an essential set of skills for managers, leaders, and of course, professional coaches (smile) because it provides personalized learning. However, even with artful listening and powerful questions our conversations can be irrelevant to the person we coach. There’s an easy way to make coaching relevant. I’ll show you how.
Not long ago, I was thinking of purchasing a car for my teenagers. When I mentioned it to a friend, he coached me around how to get my kids to pay for it so they could learn financial responsibility. In the case of this car, however, money wasn’t my issue. My issue was choosing between cars that were newer with more miles, or were older with fewer miles.
My friend wanted to be helpful, and would have been, if I were working on the finances. Instead, he coached me about what was relevant to him in the past and assumed it would be relevant to me now.
Coaching Is Personalized Learning, Not Teaching
The best thing about good coaching is that it’s personalized learning. I’ve found few better ways to learn. Conferences, workshops, books, blogs, and podcasts all focus on topics that we hope will be relevant to us. Occasionally they are in part. Coaching, when done well, will be entirely relevant.
The secret is a shift in mindset from teaching to learning. The following list of behaviors flow from our mindset. The differences may be subtle, but the results affect the relevance of the conversation to the person we coach.
When teaching (even if we call it coaching and use questions):
- We start with what we have learned.
- We share what we have found to be important to us and others.
- We work from our perspective.
- We try to be helpful to the other person, which often means we try to fix the problem.
- We start with what the other person wants to learn – their need, goal, or problem.
- We draw out what is important to the other person.
- We work with the other person’s perspective.
- We support their learning, rather than try to fix their problem.
The Easy Way To Make Coaching Relevant
To make coaching relevant to the other person, find out what they want to achieve. Not just the topic, but specifically, what aspect of the situation do they want help with and what result would they like from the conversation.
Take a look at this example from a workplace setting. The employee has been tasked with creating an inventory application that can be installed on the smartphones of the sales staff. Observe how the manager doesn’t assume she understands what is relevant to the employee, but instead asks questions to find out.
Employee: “Have you got a minute? I could use some help.”
Manager: “Sure. What’s up?”
Employee: “We’ve narrowed down the features of the inventory app. But I’m not sure how to create it.”
Manager: “What do mean by ‘create it’?”
Employee: “We’re trying to decide if we should outsource the actual creation of the app or do it in-house.”
Manager: “What aspect of this decision would be most helpful for us to discuss?”
Employee: “Thinking through project priorities. We have a number of things going on right now in I.T. and I’d like to make sure the priorities as I see them are in alignment with yours and the company’s.”
Manager: “Okay, let talk about priorities.”
Through a few questions, the manager was able to understand what specifically was relevant to the employee.
Questions To Make Coaching Relevant
Here are a few questions that will help you discover what is relevant to the other person. The key is to ask many of these questions, and not just one or two.
- What would you like to focus our conversation on?
- What makes this important for you right now?
- What result would you like to take away from our conversation?
Ask these questions and explore further with clarifying, expanding, and narrowing questions.
- Clarifying: What do you mean by … ?
- Expanding: What are the issues influencing this situation?
- Narrowing: What aspect of this situation would you like to discuss?
I don’t assume the person I’m coaching fully understands what would be relevant. Many times they discover what is important and become clearer through this brief part of our conversations.
The easy way to make coaching relevant is to ask the person and explore for a few minutes what they want from our conversation.
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