These days leadership and management literature and courses abound with advice about the value of managers learning to coach their staff. And although managers and leaders overall still have a way to go to achieve a point of mastery of this skill, there is no doubt that progress is being made.
I have been reminded in recent courses that I have facilitated, that making progress in this important skill inevitably results in better workplace relationships, motivation, productivity and well-being. People enjoy coming to work knowing their views will be listened to; that their managers and peers are interested in helping them to work out how to approach a task or project; and that they can have a say in how to utilise their skills.
So, here are some fundamentals for becoming a better colleague and manager by incorporating a coaching approach into your work:
1. Ask good questions. By this I mean open and ‘free’ questions that give some oxygen to a conversation, rather than shutting it down. Questions that begin with What, When, Where and How are a good place to start.
2. Be genuinely curious. People know when you are interested in what they have to say. Show them through body language that you ‘present’. Recently my friend and colleague David Scoppa started his own career blog called Exercising Your Career and wrote about the importance of curiosity in your career and life.
3. Have good intent for the other. Coaching like any workplace communication should not be a game of manipulation, but one that is genuinely about assisting the other to understand and make progress. This doesn’t have to be outwardly expressed (although sometimes that can help as well), but it should guide every conversation you have.
4. Suspend your assumptions. We all bring our own values and assumptions into any human encounter. This is natural but not always helpful especially if you are seeking to actually understand what the other is on about. In the next meeting or conversation you have at work, try to identify what assumptions you are bringing to it. Are they accurate? How do you know?
5. Avoid problem solving. While leaping to the other’s assistance with suggestions and ideas is necessary at times, it may not always be the most efficient approach nor the most effective in achieving results. Coaching is about helping others to solve their problems. As a manager it can be tempting to solve the problems of your staff, to tell them what to do. If pressures and habits find you in this space, try pushing the work back to them by asking them: How would you go about doing this? What suggestions do you have? What are the options? What else do you need to know? This can equally be helpful in team and peer relationships, as the intent is to help others be better at the work they do.
6. Listen well. Be generous in hearing what the other has to say. Most of us have been to courses about how to listen actively (or at least know that it can be a good idea) and yet I think this is probably the most badly applied workplace communication skill, usually because the points 1-5 above have not been attended to.
Incorporating coaching into your workplace tool-kit is like learning and developing any new skill – it requires attention and practice. However it is worth the investment – make a start and see what benefits turn up. Even my daughter has cottoned on. Last week she wanted help with her uni studies and cheekily asked:
If I were to ask you a good question that would help you to help me to complete my essay what would it be?
I’m not sure she got the answer she wanted but it was a good try.