Many coaches will tell you they do hybrid coaching that blends mentoring into the conversation. They say people pay us for our opinions and the benefits of our experiences. Coachees also want us to tell them what we would do to help them avoid making wrong decisions.
There is no such thing as hybrid coaching. You are either coaching or you’re doing something else.
Something else might be exactly what someone needs.
There are also well-known people who call themselves coaches who declare just asking questions wastes people’s time. They staunchly defend their reasons for giving advice.
I agree – only asking questions is a waste of time. Coaching includes many other conversational practices, including summarizing, noticing emotional shifts, and acknowledging courageous decisions.
This notion of hybrid coaching dilutes the value of coaching. When you mix mentoring, advice giving, and leading people to what is best for them into what you call coaching, people come to expect the easy way out. They look forward to you telling them what to do. This might be helpful, but if coaching is what they really want or need, they miss experiencing the best technology we have for facilitating long-term behavioral change.
There are many times people don’t want or need coaching. You need to determine with them what they want from you. Then call what you are doing what it is – coaching or something else.
First establish a desire for coaching
When I was learning how to coach, I jumped in to practice whenever I could. Once, when a colleague tried to coach me on a situation when I wanted an ear to vent, I shut her down. I heard myself say, “Stop coaching me. Right now, I just need a friend.” That woke me up to my own intrusions.
Outside of a formally declared coaching session, ask people if they would like some coaching before you start probing. You might ask, “What is it you need from me right now?” Often, people just want to be listened to, especially if they feel hurt or are grieving a loss.
Even if they say they want coaching, make sure they are willing to engage with you. The person must demonstrate willingness to question their own thoughts and motivations, not just seek affirmation for their views. Even if they clearly know what they want as an end result, will they resist exploring possible challenges and unexpected consequences? They might just want you to hear them create a plan, but they aren’t open to being coached around the plan’s purpose, practicality, or contingencies.
However, don’t assume defensiveness or hesitation means they are uncoachable. Ask what is causing the push-back or uncertainty. They may respond more defensively, but then willingly describe what they are thinking about.
Coaching requires a willingness to explore ideas, beliefs, and assumptions. Coachees should welcome the chance to see what they are not seeing on their own.
No matter how good you are at asking questions, there must be a willingness to engage in coaching for you to be effective.
Next, be sure coaching is the right option
Sometimes the person lacks experience and knowledge to draw on to formulate a new perspective. You can’t coach something out of nothing.
However, be careful this deficit is real. When they say they have no idea what to do, ask if they have no idea or are they afraid to try the solution that comes to mind? If there was nothing to lose, what would they try? If they still have no idea, then ask if you can offer advice or your experiences to jumpstart a conversation about possibilities.
Coaching is best used when the coachee has some knowledge and skills to draw on, but they aren’t sure about the options, what’s best to do first, or the reasons for their own uncertainty. If they have a decision to make, they are confused by the shoulds that bombard their brain, their fear of making the wrong move, and or the purpose of their actions isn’t clear.
Sometimes people already know what they want to do and just need a sounding board. Coaching can help them sort out and organize thoughts. There doesn’t have to be a breakthrough in every coaching conversation.
Remember, you can always start with coaching. Then if they don’t have the experience or knowledge to know what to do, you can ask if you can step out of coaching to offer suggestions.
Coaching requires you be in the right state of mind
When I teach coaching skills to leaders, I ask, “Are you willing to give up being the one who knows best to be the coach?” You must step out of being the expert, the fixer, or the helper in order to coach. The International Coach Federation definition of coaching is:
Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential…
Coaches honor the client as creative, resourceful, and whole.”
The key word that differentiates what coaches do is partnering. Coaches are thinking partners. We do not see our clients as clueless and needing to be shown the way (consulting). We do not see our clients as needing to be healed (therapy). We respect them as being just as smart as we are. They are able to use their creativity and resources to solve their own problems through a conversation that helps them see beyond their blocks.
DO NOT COACH IF YOU CAN’T:
- Let go of how the conversation will go. Of course you want the person to resolve their problems, but you can’t be attached to how the conversation will progress or what the outcome will be. If you can’t detach, you will end up forcing the conversation in the direction you want it to go.
- Believe in their ability to figure out what to do. Do you have any judgments about the person that could get in the way? If you doubt the person’s ability to find a way forward, then choose to mentor or direct the conversation instead. Otherwise, your impatience will impact the conversation even if you have been trained to put on a poker face.
- Feel hopeful, curious, and care. If you are angry or disappointed with someone, they will react to your emotions more than your words. If you are afraid the conversation won’t go well, do what you can to release your fear so you model what courage and optimism feels like.
Not all conversations can or should be coaching sessions. Figure out what the person needs and if you are able to partner with them to move in that direction. Then choose to coach or do something else.
Want to develop your coaching skills? Seats are limited for this April workshop on Coaching Mastery.
Adapted from concepts in The Discomfort Zone: How leaders turn difficult conversations into breakthroughs.