To Coach or Not to Coach

By: • 7 months ago •

To Coach or Not – How Do You Know When to Coach?
By Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, Master Certified Coach
How do you know when someone wants to be coached, even if they say they do?
When I was learning how to coach, I jumped 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.
No matter how good you are at asking questions, there must be a willingness to engage in coaching for you to be effective.
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 someone says 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. They might just want you to take the time to 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 defensively, but then willingly describe what they are thinking about.
"There are many times people don’t want or need coaching. You need to determine with them what they need right now. Then call what you are doing what it is – coaching or something else."
They are probably more frustrated with themselves than they are with your coaching.
Many coaches say they do hybrid coaching that blends mentoring into the conversation. They say people pay for our opinions and the benefits of our experiences.
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. Ask if they would like some advice or suggestions. Be sure to tell them you’ve taken off your coaching hat so they know the difference between coaching and giving advice.
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. Coaching is a reflective inquiry process, not a question-asking activity.
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 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 need right now. Then call what you are doing what it is – coaching or something else.
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 clients have 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
"There is no such thing as hybrid coaching. You are coaching"
fear of making the wrong move, 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.
The best value you can give clients is to be their thinking partner. 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.
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 healer in order to coach.
• 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.
• Believe in their ability to figure out what to do. 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 from you with the dilemma they are facing. Then choose to coach or do something else.
Dr. Marcia Reynolds, Master Certified Coach helps coaches and leaders make every conversation a difference-making experience. She has provided coaching and training in 41 countries and is recognized by Global Gurus as the #3 coach in the world.
Excerpts from Marcia’s books Outsmart Your Brain; The Discomfort Zone; and Wander Woman have appeared in business and psychological publications world-wide. Her next book, The Coach’s Guide to Reflective Inquiry, will be published June, 2020.
Marcia is a founding member and past president of the International Coach Federation, teaches coaching for schools in the US, China, and Russia, and speaks at coaching conferences globally. She is passionate about how coaching contributes to making the world a better place for all.

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