Follow These 3 Steps to Coach Your People Through a Conversation
The ability to start — and hold — a coaching conversation is a transformational leadership skill. Through coaching, you help people become more self-aware. You turn experiences into learning opportunities. You reinforce strengths and explore challenges. You help people take responsibility for their actions and their development.
As more and more people in your organization develop this skill, you instill a coaching culture, which increases:
- Employee engagement;
- Job satisfaction and morale;
- Teamwork; and
- Bench strength.
Coaching isn’t just for specialized professionals. In fact, nearly anyone can conduct a coaching conversation. Coaches can help people who are ready to identify problems and find solutions.
Some of the most powerful coaching experiences are informal exchanges in the hallways, cafeterias, offices, and other work spaces in the course of everyday work. Being a coach — developing others — is part of leadership.
How Do You Have a Coaching Conversation?
First, identify when there is an opportunity for a coaching conversation. To recognize when someone is open to having a coaching conversation, pay attention for the following cues:
- “Can you help me think things through?”
- “I’d like to bounce some ideas off of you.”
- “Could you give me a reality check?”
- “I need some help.”
In these moments, you can turn a typical conversation into a coaching opportunity. At that point, remember these 3 guidelines to hold a coaching conversation:
- Listen carefully.
- Respond thoughtfully.
- Resist imposing your own solution.
Follow These 3 Steps to Hold a Coaching Conversation
1. Listen carefully. Don’t assume what the conversation is about or what path it should take. Truly listen to understand, allowing space for others to think, reflect, and express themselves. Start with building you active listening skillset by developing the 6 skills involved in active listening — see Use Active Listening to Coach Others.
But truly listening carefully goes beyond just active listening, to listening to understand.
Listening to understand focuses on the idea that there are multiple levels of information we must tune into during conversations. One level, of course, is the factual information being presented — most of us tend to pay attention primarily to that. But listening for the values behind the topic at hand and the emotions that people bring to an issue is an important part of a better conversation.
That’s where we often find unstated objections, sensible reservations, and concealed barriers that might torpedo new initiatives. Stronger and more robust solutions to business challenges emerge when people are really listening to understand one another.
2. Respond thoughtfully. Coaching isn’t about the quick fix or first solution. It’s about uncovering answers though inquiry, openness, and exploration. Start by asking questions that draw out more information or stretch the other person’s thinking, such as:
- What else could you do?
- What else occurs to you?
- Who else have you talked to about this?
- Who else is affected in this situation?
Beyond creating mutual understanding about facts, powerful questions can help uncover insights that wouldn’t have come to light otherwise.
A non-directive prompting question like “How do you want your team to feel when you announce the new initiative?” is likely to spark more reflection and lead to greater insights than asking “When are you announcing the new initiative?” While the latter question might be helpful in getting the person inquiring up to speed, it isn’t particularly powerful and isn’t likely to add any real value for the person answering, as they simply repeat a straightforward fact they already know.
3. Resist imposing your own solution. Shift from the norm or your natural tendency of telling, problem-solving, and giving advice. There are times to direct or give answers, but coaching conversations are about the other person’s learning — not about your opinion or expertise.
Informed by neuroscience, the real art of conversation is balancing an appropriate mix of challenge and support. Providing support includes assuring people that they’ve been heard and, especially, that their feelings and values are understood. It provides an important sense of psychological safety, builds trust, and encourages honesty and transparency.
When that ratio is right — and practiced in an authentic rather than formulaic way — challenge is received and actually fosters more constructive dialogue, rather than triggering defensiveness.
When you’re able to listen carefully, respond thoughtfully, and resist imposing your own solution, you have the basis of a coaching conversation.
So whether that conversation was a planned coaching session or an impromptu moment, you’ve opened the door to new thinking, new action, and valuable learning.
Learn more about how your organization can start having Better Conversations Every Day.
This article is based on The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Coaching in Organizations.