This series from Clare Norman looks at unhelpful mindsets in coaching and examines more helpful ones
Part 7: Mindsets we learned from coach training that we need to discard to be a more masterful coach
You might imagine that your coach training would have taught you only good habits. That’s mostly true, but when I observe coaches there are a few things I notice that have come from training that need to be discarded.
Some might be unintentional on the part of the training company, a symptom of the way the training is set up perhaps, rather than explicitly taught content. Through my field research, I’ve discovered 11 mindsets that we learned from our coach training that we need to discard as we step into coaching. I’ll cover three of them here.
- Old Mindset: Tell me more
- New Mindset: What meaning do you make of that?
Many coaches have been taught this simple phrase, ‘Tell me more’, as a way to get a thinker to keep talking. But it can lead to just that – talking – not necessarily new thinking. ‘Tell me more’ invites storytelling and detail the client already knows. It’s as though we’re asking them to fill us in on the detail but our job as coach is to get them to new thinking, not to go over old ground.
You don’t need them to fill you in on all the context if they already know the context themselves. You both may think you need to know the detail to be able to support them, but you don’t. Instead, you might replace ‘Tell me more’ with ‘What does that mean to you?’, ‘What do you make of that?’
This takes them deeper, underneath the surface of what they’ve just said, to the meaning-making. This is a question they probably won’t have been asked by anyone else, so it will get them to new thinking.
Why is meaning-making so important in coaching? Because that’s where the ‘Aha!’ moments lie. Epiphanies don’t come from going over the same territory. Neither do they come when we stay at the surface. You need to partner to dig deeper for beliefs, values, importance and significance. Try questions such as:
- ‘What is the significance of [a word they have used multiple times]?’
- ‘What is important to you about that?’
- ‘Which of your values is this triggering for you?’
- ‘What is the belief you hold about yourself there?’ ‘What might be a more useful belief to hold?’
- ‘When you say X, what feelings does that evoke in you?’
- Old Mindset: I must hold the thinker accountable to progress
- New Mindset: I support the thinker to find ways to hold themselves accountable
I hear coaches ask at the beginning of a session: ‘What have you achieved since we last met?’ or ‘What progress have you made towards your goals?’ Indeed, many thinkers want us to check in with them like this, as it can be this accountability that moves them towards action in between sessions.
But the problem is that it perpetuates a ‘Parent–Child’ (Berne, 1964) relationship rather than a partnership. It creates dependency rather than independence. Your role as coach is to make yourself redundant, and them independent.
You set yourself up for redundancy in every single session by asking them what accountability structures they might like to put in place for themselves back in the workplace that will stand them in good stead for the future, not just for today – to enable them to sustain the changes they wish to make.
At the end of a session, you might ask:
- ‘What internal and external resources can you draw on to support you in this endeavour?’
- ‘How will you hold yourself accountable?’
You can then replace the check-in at the start with: ‘What is most important for us to work on today?’
If the thinker wants to report back, you might ask: ‘What have you learned about yourself as a result of the actions you took?’ so they can access a deeper self-awareness.
If they really want to tell you the whole story of the actions they took, you might encourage them to write those in an email before the session, so you can use the time you have together to get to new thinking. One coach I know worked with a thinker who wanted to report progress daily by email. A coach should not feel duty-bound to reply every day. Instead, they could contract for the thinker to write their achievements in a journal, enabling them to create a habit sustainable after the coaching ends. This is supporting the thinker to find ways to hold themselves accountable.
- Old Mindset: Parrot back what the thinker has told you
- New Mindset: Highlight the essence and notice the emotions
Parroting back takes thinking space away from the thinker. But coaching schools have taught this as a skill, so we can prove we’ve been listening. ‘Mmms’ and ‘yeses’, while the thinker is speaking, are another ineffective way of showing we’re listening because they interrupt the thinker’s flow. These ‘mmms’ and ‘yeses’ can lead the thinker to believe we want to insert something or that we’re chivvying them up.
There are better ways to prove you are listening that are more useful to thinkers:
- Echo one or two words, or a short phrase.
- Ask a question that considers what you’ve heard. It will be obvious you’ve been listening because the question will be based on what they’ve said or not said, or on their tone or gestures.
- Highlight just the essence of what you heard in one short sentence, with an enquiry to follow, for example: So you are looking to do X – what are you believing about yourself that is stopping that from happening?’
- Notice the emotion in one short sentence, with an enquiry to follow, such as: ‘It sounds as though you are really weary. What do you make of that in relation to [what we are working on today]?’
The addition of the enquiry is important to keep the thinking process moving deeper and forward, rather than simply a statement of what you’ve heard. There’s movement here, rather than keeping the thinker in place. This is active listening after all, not passive. The mindset you need here isn’t to prove you’ve been listening; rather, to listen to be useful to the thinking process.
E Berne, Games People Play, Grove Press, 1964.
- Next issue: Mindsets we learned from coaching experience that we need to discard to be a more masterful coach
- This article is based on an extract from The Transformational Coach: Free Your Thinking and Break Through to Coaching Mastery, published by Right Book Press. You can order your copy here: https://amzn.to/3zulBch
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
- Sought out as a master mentor coach by expert coaches and successful coach training companies, Clare Norman looks to continually sharpen individuals’ coaching edge and upskill mentor coaches so they deliver high quality feedback to their coaches-in-training: www.clarenormancoachingassociates.com