The Importance of Real Conversations When it Comes to Coaching

By Guest blogger - Apr. 20, 2016
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Editors Note: This is a guest post by Simon Corcoran, Co-CEO at A Human Agency. His opinions are his own.

Most of us love a good framework.

Nothing gives us more comfort and confidence that using a tried and tested framework or model, especially if it’s from a fancy university or professional services firm. The challenge with most frameworks though is that we like to follow it a bit like a recipe – so that we don’t get it wrong.

Coaching has started, over the past few years, to gain traction in many organisations with the view that coaching is available to anyone. It doesn’t matter where you are in the organisational hierarchy, you have a coaching responsibility to develop and grow your peers. In other organisations it’s still relegated to the line manager who believe it’s just about setting performance and development goals. Many struggle when having these conversations for fear of not getting the framework right.

A few years ago I facilitated a workshop for a group of senior leaders where we stressed the importance of building rapport as step 1 to understand the coachee’s state of mind, and to give them a chance to relax into the conversation. I can’t tell you the number of people who struggled with this task.

“What do I ask them? Does it have to be personal? What if they cry? How much time should I spend here? What if they’re cranky?

My response to these questions? Find out. Ask them the questions, not me.

It’s critical to understand the expectations of each individual coachee. Some like to chat about the football; others want to have serious conversations about their career; some want to raise a concern; others will find it awkward talking to you and will want to run for the door.

It’s your job as the coach to find out how you can be most helpful to the other person.

Use the framework as a guide, but don’t take it as gospel or you’ll end up running a conversation that’s driven by your needs and not theirs.

So what does it mean to have a conversation?

There are two things here; understand the topics of conversation and ask strengths-based questions. Be personable and give them the space to talk about aspirations, challenges, or even having a whinge if needed.

Understand the topics of conversation

I like to open the conversation by using GRIP.

It works a treat in that awkward space at around the 5-6 minute mark between casual chit chat and getting to the serious side of the conversation. GRIP helps me manage the conversation while getting a mutual understanding of what needs to be discussed.

Here’s how it works:

  • Goals – ask the coachee what they’d like to chat about, what’s on their mind for the time you have together etc. You also have the opportunity to share what you’d like to talk about.
  • Roles – how the two of you should interact, but most importantly, what the coachee needs from you. What do you need from me in order to have the conversation?
  • Interpersonal – how you should behave with one another; honesty, humility, humour, compassion. Hold one another accountable if the behaviour isn’t being respected.
  • Process – how the meeting will run. Work out the order of topics to be discussed prioritising the most important once first.

You don’t need to share this tool with your coachees or team. Just use it in your mind at the beginning of a coaching session to articulate how your time should be spent. Your coachees will thank you for the clarity.

Strengths-based questions

It’s easy to fall into the trap of playing to the negative mindset, which doesn’t help someone resolve anything. Strengths-based questions allow you to be positive and future oriented so that coachees can consider how to take stock and prepare for change.

Here are some questions you might like to try out.

  • What challenge did you face?
  • What response did you choose?
  • Could you have responded more effectively?
  • Could you have prepared better to mitigate risks?
  • Is there something you can do now to improve the situation?
  • What can you learn from this?

As with everything, it takes practice. But these simple tips can help you move beyond the framework and into real conversations that spark positive outcomes for you and your coachees.

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Simon Corcoran is Co-CEO at A Human Agency – a Sydney-based consulting firm specialising in performance optimisation, people and strategy, leadership development, and organisational transformation.


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