Applying Skills in a Coaching Session
There are eight key behaviours that have been shown to consistently achieve results when coaching, there are:
1. Procedural – statements referring to structure, procedure or sequence of instruction
2. Ordering – direct instructions or invitations to perform tasks
3. Informing – statements of facts, principles or opinions
4. Seeking – questions seeking principles, opinions or explanations not previously established
5. Checking – questions confirming understanding of earlier instructions
6. Supporting – statements of support or agreement including praise or recognition of achievement
7. Demonstrating – physical actions providing assistance, information or emphasis
8. Summarising – statements that review main points of the module
Physically Attending and Listening
The manager must pay close attention to and listen to the team member throughout the coaching session. Above all, the manager must ensure that team members are aware that full attention is being given to them. This can be done verbally and non-verbally. The kind of questions posed and the suggestions made by the manager are just two ways of indicating an attentive attitude by verbal means. Positive and helpful non-verbal attending behaviours include relaxed posture, periodic eye contact, leaning slightly forward towards the team member, etc.
Active listening can also be shown through the techniques of paraphrasing and reflecting on what has just been said. Paraphrasing involves the listener repeating back, not verbatim but in their own words, what they think the speaker had just said.
While paraphrasing focuses on the content of the speaker's message, reflection is more concerned with feelings and emotions. The manager ‘listens’ to how the other person feels or what has remained unsaid and then feeds it back to them in a sensitive or tactful manner. For example someone might say:
“The people in IT have put up all sorts of obstacles preventing me from going ahead. This means that the other deadlines are having to be put back”.
The manager in reply, and attempting to reflect their feelings, might respond:
“You feel frustrated by the reaction of IT and this is making you a little anxious about the other targets you are required to reach”?
The good coach does not avoid talking about an team member 's emotions, as these may be acting as blockages to their learning and development, hence the importance for the manager of acquiring the skill and confidence to use reflection.
These sorts of question are relatively short and usually begin with words such as ‘What...’, ‘When...’, ‘How...’ or ‘Where...’. Although the word ‘Why’ could also be included in this list it must be used sparingly as it could be perceived by the STR as indicating an interrogative attitude on the part of the manager.
These questions often follow on from the answers to open questions. The intention of such questions is to get the speaker to give clarification, or elaborate further on the original answer. As with open questions, probes can begin with words like ‘How..’, ‘What...’, etc. Sometimes probe questions seek ideas concerning a problem brought to the surface by means of an open question, e.g. “What are the alternative ways of handling that difficulty?”
“How does that compare with this?” “In what ways does that differ from this?” are examples of comparative questions.
Generating Options and Making Suggestions
Where it is possible, the manager should attempt to encourage the STR to come up with ideas and suggestions for improvement or development that they can then both evaluate. However, there may be occasions when the manager is the obvious source of feasible options or alternatives. He or she should put them forward as suggestions for consideration by the STR only after they have exhausted their approaches first, and not as definitive proposals. Even if an idea has not come from the STR they can still feel a sense of ownership and commitment towards it provided that the evaluation process is a joint effort. Above all, the manager must avoid creating dependence in the STR, which can easily come about if the manager always takes the lead in suggesting ideas, options or alternatives.
Some of the principles of giving feedback in a constructive manner have already been discussed. In coaching situations it makes good sense for the manager and the STR to discuss at the outset the purpose and value of feedback. This may help to prevent defensive and negative reactions on the part of the team member. Such reactions include:
- Laughing off feedback that suggests a need for improvement.
- Being aggressive towards the manager instead of getting them to explain the feedback.
- Making excuses instead of considering and trying to understand why performance failed to reach required standards.
- Passively accepting feedback without exploring further with the manager its nature and the implications.
- Displaying doubts, even cynicism, about whether improvement can be achieved rather than planning to bring it about in the future.
Feedback, to be effective, should consolidate and confirm the new knowledge and skills learned and adopted by the team member and reinforce what they have performed well.
Having explored the skills to use during coaching sessions, there are some types of questions that should be avoided. These are explained on the next page.
The manager might inadvertently ask a question that supplies the sort of answer they were looking for. This may not reflect the real answer that the team member wished to give as either they might not want to contradict the manager or are simply happy to go along with what they are suggesting.
A coaching session should be a constructive and positive experience for the team member raising and not destroying their confidence. This is very unlikely to be the case if the questions posed by the manager are critical or raise obvious doubts about the team member's competence. Such questions will lead to a negative attitude towards the coaching process.
Although, on occasions, the manager may wish to seek specific information through closed questions of the “Did you...” variety, a discussion dominated by these sorts of questions may turn out to be rather restricted. The STR may respond in a very limited way that is contrary to the spirit of effective coaching. The conversational balance becomes too manager-orientated rather than team member -centred.
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