In the latest in this column for leaders who coach, Lynn Scott looks at how to coach the avoiders, procrastinators and ‘didn’t get round to it-ers’
So, there you are, fourth coaching session in and you just know the person you’re coaching will tell you he didn’t do the things he agreed to do last time.
How do you know? Because that’s what happens every time you coach him. “I was too busy” being the common excuse.
You’re feeling anxious – that little voice is saying “maybe I’m not a good enough coach” or team leader. “If I were a better coach, he’d be doing those things.”
You’re probably frustrated and annoyed with him, too. (I know we’re meant to be empathetic, curious and non-judgemental but we’re human, too.)
This ‘not doing what you said you would do’ needs some unpicking.
A quick tip:
Make sure you have allotted time at the end of each coaching conversation for the person you’re coaching to summarise reflections, insights, learning and actions to take away.
In my experience, there are three things to pay particular attention to if you’re seeing a lot of talk and not much action.
- Notice what happened at the beginning of your coaching relationship
If you’re an internal coach, and the person you’re coaching isn’t your direct report, think about whether they came willingly to coaching or whether they were ‘sent’ without really understanding why or having any input into the decision. (This is a big red flag.)
This is where a three-way conversation with you, the person coming for coaching and the line manager (assuming that’s not you) can be a good starting point for a coaching engagement).
It’s helpful because:
- You get to see the dynamic/relationship between the person coming for coaching and the line manager/sponsor. This is important data. What is happening in the room and how might this play out in other situations at work?
- You get to facilitate an honest conversation between the two of them around expectations.
- You get clarity around the coaching goals and where you can support vs where the line manager can support.
- You get to explain the boundaries around confidentiality.
- He knows what but not how
He’s not taking action because he doesn’t know how: “Yes, I know I agreed I would have that difficult conversation with Anna but actually I have no clue where to start.”
In this situation you can help him not just with the what to do but also the how to do it.
Rather than sending him away to work out a plan (which he’ll be too busy to do), map out the plan with him in the coaching session. Make sure you’ve got time in each of your sessions to do the work together so he’s got some specifics.
For example, ask him: “What is the ‘end in mind’ for this conversation with Anna?”
How will he start the conversation? (He can practise his opening lines, play around with questions, language, body language, scenarios, voice).
We often call this ‘fast forward rehearsal’ and it’s much easier for people to take action when they’ve done half the work with you in the coaching space.
However, we may need to do more work on number three as part of this fast forward rehearsal.
- He doesn’t believe he can do it (fear, self-doubt, not good enough, it might go horribly wrong)
You know perfectly well, as I do, that when we’re fearful it’s tempting to stay in our comfort zones and do more of what we know how to do rather than tackle something that feels threatening or scary. (Which is why many new, independent coaches will spend ages on their website and avoid having the conversations that bring them clients – but that’s a topic for another day!)
In this case we need to work below the surface (in what Timothy Gallwey describes as ‘the Inner Game’ (https://theinnergame.com) to understand the real reason for this pattern of avoidance.
As you’re on coaching session four, you’ve noticed his pattern of not doing what he said he was going to do:
- What are the things he ‘doesn’t get round to’ vs the things he does get round to?
- Is the thing he said he would do important to him? Does it add value in some way?
- If he absolutely had to do it by tomorrow, what would he do right now?
- What does he see as the benefit of not doing what he said he was going to do vs. the downside of not doing it?
Many coaches miss a trick here, by only talking about the benefits of taking a particular action. But when we explore the benefits of not taking action, you’ll get some really useful data. The benefits of not doing something which on the surface seems important will often be things like ‘I’ll avoid conflict’ or ‘I’ll avoid making a fool of myself’ or ‘I won’t have to upset her (and I hate upsetting people)’. That’s lots of useful information right there about the inner world of the person you’re coaching. Help him explore those phrases and the beliefs that sit behind them:
- How well are those beliefs serving him in this situation?
- What might a more helpful belief be?
Help him find some more empowering beliefs and how he might start to act from them (one step at a time).
There might be some reframing to do. One of my clients had a strong ‘I don’t do conflict’ belief that she reframed into ‘I’m an honest, compassionate communicator.’ Working from that belief was far more empowering for her and her team.
I also find it helpful for people to understand the basic neuroscience around ‘fight, flight, freeze’ and those perceived threats to our ego and how those play out in our working lives.
In my experience, avoidance or procrastination most commonly come from one of these three places.
Of course, there may be other things at play – your relationship with the other person, what you represent to him or something in the organisational system that’s playing out in the coaching sessions with you.
For example, in some organisations it’s OK not to meet deadlines – nobody does, and it’s part of ‘the way things are done around here’.
But remember, there’s always a reason for someone not doing what they said they were going to do. It just might not be the reason they give you first of all.
- Lynn Scott is an ICF Master Certified Coach (MCC), director of Lynn Scott Coaching and founder of The Effortless Leader Revolution. She’s a leadership and team coach, coach supervisor and ICF Coach Mentor.
- You can join her free Facebook group for leaders and managers, The Effortless Leader Revolution, for more leadership tips and resources that work in the real world.