Blog Post: 7 Coaching Skills Anyone Can Use (Re-Post)

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Mention the word “coach” to a group and a host of images will pop into the collective mind. Some will think of a former high school athletic coach; others will think of a life coach they saw on Oprah; and a few will think of the executive business coach who writes books and helps Fortune 500 CEOS. Most in the group will not consider themselves a coach. The same might be true for you: you don’t consider yourself a coach.

But the reality is that if you are like most people, you already practice some coaching skills in your everyday life. You coach friends, family members, classmates, and colleagues. By recognizing and honing these coaching skills, you can be even more effective in helping those around you get clearer in their thinking, make better choices, progress in life more quickly and be happier with the results they create.

So here are 7 coaching skills anyone (including you!) can practice.

1. Listening. Great coaches are great listeners.

Listening is not the same thing as just being silent, though you do need to be quiet in order to listen well. And listening goes beyond just hearing what the other person is saying. Great listening is about truly taking in what the other person is saying in such a way that they want to speak more and to speak with greater clarity.

I remember once a friend listened to me so well as I talked through a tough issue. Soon I started saying things that were far beyond my previous thinking. Having a thought partner listen with interest and enthusiasm took me to a higher level of thinking on the matter. Superior listening actually draws forth insightful speech from the other person.

To be a great listener, be sure to avoid distractions by turning off phones, PDAs, TV, radio, etc. Let the other person know you are interested by leaning forward (even if you are on the phone!), maintaining appropriate eye contact, and giving minor verbal cues that let him/her know you are following along.

To whom do you need to be a great listener this week?

2. Asking. Great coaches practice the art of asking great questions.

Too many of us focus on telling people what to do, telling them what we think, and telling them what we think they need to know. Telling reaps small rewards and can even cause setbacks.

Instead of telling, coaches ask. They do this because asking produces powerful results.

Asking questions helps the other person discover for him/herself what is true, what is important, what is challenging and what needs to happen. When you ask questions, you do two things: you convey your confidence in the other person to have a response, and you draw forth from the other person his/her own expertise on the matter at hand.

Not all questions are created equally. The best coaches avoid too many Yes-No questions and lean more toward open-ended questions. Effective coaches also avoid asking lots of questions about the past and focus more on the present and future since those times are open to change. And coaches never ask leading questions.

Make a list of questions you want to ask a friend. Make another list of questions to avoid.

3. Curiosity. Great coaches are curious about the other person for the sake of the other person.

In some ways, curiosity has gotten a bad rap in these days of Jerry Springer. So perhaps it’s helpful to distinguish bad curiosity from good.

Bad curiosity is about satiating your desire to know or your need to explore the drama of a situation. Wanting to know the scoop or get the dirt is a function of bad curiosity and results in you knowing more than you did before but without much progress on the part of the other person.

Good curiosity is about realizing there is much you do not know and being able to stay open, flexible and adaptable with the other person. Good curiosity explores on behalf of the other person and leads to new discoveries for you and (more importantly) for the other person.

I recall when my first coach and I were talking about my plans for entering an MBA program. He was curious about what I hoped to get out of the program. He maintained a non-judgmental attitude as I told him that I wanted exposure to corporate leadership. He curiously asked me what else I had considered for getting what I wanted.

His curious stance allowed me to admit to myself that I had not been thorough in exploring other options and in the end saved me $75K. The power of curiosity is that it opens new doors and challenges old assumptions.

Where have you been too certain in the past and can exercise more curiosity in the future?

4. Getting to Action. Great coaches are not all talk, they also help the other person take meaningful action.

While “getting to action” may sound like a result, it is also a skill you can practice. How often have you been talking with a friend about an issue or problem and you just wanted to scream, “What are you going to do about it?!?” It takes some skill to bring up the topic of action in a way that elicits desire and determination from the other person (versus eliciting resentment from them toward you).

Great coaches help the other person get motivated. I recall a conversation with a friend who needed cash for a trip she wanted to take. She focused most of her energy on describing the problem but not much on solving it. I simply commented, “It sounds like this is really a concern to you – something that you want to figure out and get resolved.” Her whole demeanor changed and she went into get-it-done mode. Within minutes she had a plan for coming up with the cash and turned her energy to planning the trip.

Think of one friend whom you’ve hindered by not pressing for action.

5. Synthesize and Summarize. Great coaches hold up a mirror that highlights and clarifies what the other person has said.

Many times we hear someone “spills all the beans” on the topic at hand. This is when a person says all she knows about the topic but without gaining any additional clarity.

A coach doesn’t leave the beans spilled, but helps the other person sort through what she said and make better sense of it. A coach does this by summarizing (recapping what was said with brevity and precision) and synthesizing (connecting the dots and making sense of connections, themes and threads of thought).

Think to a recent conversation, what was the gist of the conversation and what thinking patterns do you recognize the other person employing?

6. Acknowledge. Great coaches recognize in the other person what he cannot see for himself.

I recall a colleague who once told me I had nailed a presentation. She was dead wrong. We both knew I had done poorly, but she felt obligated to encourage me. My colleague mistook lying for acknowledgment.

Too often in life we fail to give appropriate acknowledgement. We either withhold it for fear of being all rah-rah or we feign true acknowledgement by slapping some syrupy half-truth at the other person.

Great coaches offer appropriate acknowledgement by sharing specifically what they see in the other person and allowing the other person to own or disown it. Acknowledgement is less about voicing approval (“I think you did a great job.”) and more about verbalizing what you notice (“Your presentation must have been a hit with Cathy, because I noticed that she perked up the deeper you got into it.”). Acknowledgement goes a long way in helping people recognize how they show up and what they do that really works.

What is one way you could acknowledge a close friend this week?

7. Silence. Great coaches know when to just be quiet.

Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. Coaches recognize the golden moments when silence is powerful and serves as the most helpful aspect of a conversation.

Our society is not always comfortable with silence. It can feel like an unbearable vacuum that must be filled. But when a conversation moves into deeper waters, there are more and more moments when silence is the only appropriate condition – not just you being quiet, but you and the other person sitting in reflective silence until truth is discovered.

You can help bring the power of silence into your conversations by recognizing the role it plays. I recall my first coach asking me a great question and then saying to me, “Just sit on that for a minute before responding.” In essence, he gave me permission to be silent, to ponder, to value my own thinking.

Which of your friends needs your permission to practice silence?

Putting new skills into practice can be tough. Here’s a suggestion: Why not take this list and practice one skill per day for a week? Make notes for each skill, recognizing what you find easy and what is difficult about practicing the particular skill. Repeat the process for several weeks until the skills start to become second nature. And be sure to make note of the results that these skills produce in the lives of those around you. Who knows, you might find out that you are already a great coach!

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