In the latest in this column for leaders who coach, Lynn Scott asks, how do we help those we coach communicate more effectively?
I can guarantee that in your organisation, ‘communication could be better.’
Why do I know this? Because I hear it in every organisation I work in, from every person I coach, and I have done for the past 20 years. And that’s the problem right there.
We throw out statements like: “We need to communicate better.”
Everyone nods their head – and yet very little changes because we all hear that phrase and make our own assumptions about what it means on a day-to-day basis and based on our own map of the world. (And of course, it’s not about me, is it? ‘Everyone else’ needs to get their act together – my communication is fine!)
I remember a conversation a while back when my client was hugely frustrated that she wasn’t being ‘kept in the loop’ on a new initiative by her team member. She asked said team member to ‘keep her in the loop’ which then meant she got copied into every single email about this initiative. Which was not what she wanted at all!
So how do we, as leader coaches, help our own team members or clients communicate better?’
Firstly, we need to get specific.
Does ‘communicating better’ mean writing more succinct emails? Being more concise in a meeting? Sharing information with other team members in a different format?
And what does ‘being kept in the loop’ really mean? Metaphors and analogies give us great opportunities for exploration.
Once we’re clear on the WHAT, we can help them with the how.
So far, so obvious.
But I’m often amazed when leaders come to me for coaching – they’ve had some vague feedback and they’re not sure what it means – and they’ve not thought to ask for more specific information. So of course, I send them right back to get some more detail to work with. (And you should, too!)
As I write this, I’ve just come off a three-way contracting call with a new client and his line manager, the purpose of which was to agree and clarify the coaching goals. I love this opportunity because it’s a wonderful way to see the dynamic between the two and to notice the way they connect (or don’t) and the way they communicate. Language, body language, who speaks most, who listens (or doesn’t) and so on. Lots of data right there and often a coaching opportunity to share observations in the ‘here and now’ of the conversation to build awareness and understanding. It should go without saying that you do this with compassion.
I want to share with you two snippets of that conversation to indicate how we can empower people to communicate at a much deeper level and help them articulate what they really mean.
Coachee to the line manager: “I know you’re busy, but I’d really value more of your time and support over the next few months as we work on project x.”
Line manager: “OK, I can do that.”
Me to coachee: “What does ‘more support’ mean to you?” (I asked him to be crystal clear on what it looked like/sounded like/felt like.)
And then: “And how much time is more time?”
(We discussed this in more detail and a half-hourly weekly catch up on project x was agreed.)
Coachee to the line manager: “I’d like you to ask me how I’m feeling as well as how things are going when we meet.”
Line manager: “OK.”
(I allowed some silence here – about eight seconds.)
Me to the coachee: “How are you feeling right now”
Coachee: “Well, I’m working on so many things and juggling so many plates….” (This continued in this vein and the coachee lost eye contact with both of us.)
Me (with compassion, not judgement): “I notice you’re answering a different question to the one I asked … how are you feeling?”
He then shared with some emotion how he was feeling which opened a hugely important conversation with the line manager – something he’d not been able to share before as the time had never felt right and he didn’t want to burden his busy line manager.
These conversations are crucial and yet they’re often so hard to have.
Your coaching skills can help change that.
Coaching for communication – helpful reminders
Never assume you know what somebody means. Ask for clarity. (I love the late Judith Glaser’s phrase ‘double clicking’, to dig deep into the meaning behind words and phrases.)
Sometimes you need to poke and be a bit ‘dog with a bone’ (again, kindly, with compassion and without judgement) to get to the gold and stop (my client’s words) the ‘dancing round our handbags’ pattern that exists in so many organisations or teams.
We use the words CHALLENGE and SUPPORT a lot in coaching. Never assume you know what either of these words means to the other person. My ‘six’ on the challenge scale might only be a ‘two’ for your client. (I fell foul of this in my early coaching years thinking I was being ‘challenging’ as the client had asked. I wasn’t! But it opened an enjoyable conversation about the meaning of that word and how we could work differently together.)
When it comes to tricky conversations, presentations, interviews – you can help your client or team member to practise in the moment with you as part of your coaching session. You can then offer clear feedback on how they are communicating and the impact it is having on you.
Energy is communication. What is it telling you? (Don’t assume, explore.)
Silence is golden. When workloads are big, space is often the biggest gift you can give to someone: no words needed.
Specificity trumps ambiguity every time.
Avoid interpreting what you think you’ve heard. I see new coaches in particular falling into this trap. Using the language of the person you’re coaching is important for understanding, exploring and digging deep and helping them get greater clarity and understanding.
- 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.