One of the most important yet difficult practices in coaching is to keep the conversation on track to a fulfilling resolution. Although the direction of coaching can change many times in one conversation, the final destination needs to be clear. When the desired outcome is vague, the conversation goes in circles. Leaders might declare next steps, but they probably won’t implement them. They may have enjoyed talking about their problem in a safe space but nothing was resolved. Creating a clear outcome becomes the stake in the ground for the coach. If the conversation veers in a different direction, the coach can get it back on track by asking if the outcome is still a valid focus for the session.
According to motivation expert Daniel Pink, the sense of autonomy – I can make my own decisions – is a prime motivator for change. To cultivate autonomy, you need to value the person you are coaching. When you trust people have some knowledge and experience to draw from, you are more willing to activate their minds with reflective statements and questions than pacify their brains with answers. They feel safe enough to explore their thinking and actions. Coaching is empowering. Don’t see your leaders as inadequate and needing to be shown the way. Respect them as being just as smart as you are. When you don’t give in to the urge to advise, there is nothing more fulfilling than seeing leaders smile when they realize they’ve been clinging to an outdated belief. You activate their courage when you encourage them to put their ideas into motion. You will see a spark in their eyes when they discover the answer to their problems on their own. This is how you develop their minds as well as their skills.
Good reflections and questions help people think about what they are saying. Provoking people to think about their thinking is a powerful tool for helping leaders uncover their limiting beliefs and autopilot choices. Summarize what the person is telling you, saying things like, “So what you are saying is…” and “It sounds like you think the motivation for behaving that way is…” and then ask a question to clarify your observation. This is how you bring assumptions, fears, and personal needs that create conflicts to the surface. Leaders can then better evaluate their decisions and actions. Using a coaching approach opens their mind to new next steps with a stronger commitment to taking action than if you just tell them what to do.
Your emotions will impact coaching effectiveness more than the words you choose. French philosopher Simone Weil said, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,” To build trust and a feeling of safety in the conversation, quiet your mind, respect the person in front of you, and feel the emotions of curiosity and care. Then you can fully listen and know what observations to share and questions to ask.