Coaching seems to be getting a lot of airtime these days. Is it just hype, or is there something to this? I’d say the latter is true.
Using a coach approach can enhance any relationship you have, personal or professional. Trust me on this—you can use coaching techniques with your colleagues, direct reports, boss, friends, family, and, yes, even your teenage children! Asking questions and actually listening is powerful.
Did you notice I said “actually listening”? What often gets in our way when we try to coach is the myriad assumptions we make, solutions we form, and advice we want to give. As human beings, we naturally want to fix things. Why? Because we care.
That is why the best coaches can be the ones who struggle the most with listening—because they care that the person they are coaching moves forward. When it comes to coaching, there are a number of things that get in the way of listening. One of the most common is that we are thinking about what we want to say next. What can I say to help this person move forward? How can I connect with this situation? What question can I ask to support this person? How can I help this person fix this? Even the most seasoned coaches struggle with this.
The problem is, when we are thinking about what to say next, the other person is actually talking, and . . . you are not listening. Therefore, your next question or statement may or may not be what that person needs to move forward. And guess what—they are the ones who know what they need to take that step. A coach is a guide, a partner, and an individual who holds their coachee capable of coming up with their own answers.
The most important tool in a coach’s toolbox is curiosity, which is often marred by making assumptions—another part of being human. Asking a question and truly being curious enough to listen to the answer, then asking another question, can provoke the coachee to think about something they may not have considered before (or, often, something that was always there that they just didn’t want to face).
So what do you need to do to learn to ask powerful questions and become a better listener—to stop making assumptions and use this authentic curiosity? The key is using different tools, building self-awareness, and practicing. Learn different ways to ask questions that can pave the way to an individual moving forward.
It’s not enough to simply have a coachee identify what may be going on; a good coach will use the art of asking questions to move the coachee to action. This may mean the coach needs to use a direct approach and make a request of the coachee or offer them a challenge to move forward. This can be a powerful approach, as it provides something for the coachee to consider that could help them take the next step.
When you use this type of approach, you want to provide the coachee with the opportunity to say yes, no, or negotiate. If the coachee is resistant to the request, it provides an opening to get underneath just how important the results are to the coachee. What’s more, it paves the way for a follow-up question: “On a scale of one to 10, how important is this to you?”
Coaches also need to know how to balance between using powerful questions and advocacy. Understanding when a person needs you to ask a question, make a statement, provide an observation, or simply pause to allow space for the coachee to think is an important skill for a coach. We don’t want the coachee to feel like they are in an interview or going through an inquisition. Your coachee needs to feel validated, so mixing the questions with acknowledgement, empathy, and statements that highlight progress are key.
These techniques can also assist you in identifying when your coachee is stuck and digging deeper into what may be getting in their way. If you are unable to spark your coachee to action, it could be an indication that there is something bigger underlying the situation. Perhaps there is fear there—“What if I do that and it doesn’t work out?” Using empathy and asking challenging questions, like “How important is this to you?” or “What is the risk of doing nothing?” may enable your coachee to see that the rewards outweigh the risks, and that they can do something, even if it is simply a small step.
The ATD Coaching Certificate course gives you a safe place to practice coaching and provides techniques to support you in asking powerful questions, checking assumptions, and effective listening, as well as myriad tools that can support you in becoming an effective coach. There is an emphasis on “intentional coaching,” which highlights the importance of having a beginning, middle, and end in your coaching conversations (otherwise it is just that—a conversation).
The tools are supported by a coaching model that will guide you in how to have the coaching conversation. The structure of the course is supported by a coaching map, and at its very core is “Strengthening Language and Conversations.” You will also get to hear real examples from facilitators who have learned from experience.
Attending the certificate course provides an exciting opportunity for those who are looking to hone their coaching skills. By taking the course in person, you have an opportunity to practice coaching with others who are looking to achieve the same results as you—to become better at coaching. You can also take advantage of all the other great learning opportunities at the conference and start practicing your coaching skill on the spot with your new peers and colleagues.