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Coaching: A Manager’s Best Tool

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Your job, as a manager, is to coordinate people and resources to get work done. Important parts of that are:

  • getting the most from your people
  • getting things done ever-more effectively and efficiently
  • developing your team’s capacity and capabilities
  • motivating people to work at their best

and so on…

One management skill has emerged as the solution to all of this. It does not stand alone, but over the last twenty years, we have learned its power to enhance individual and organisational performance. That skill is coaching.

Coaching is not new

The best managers, leaders, and teachers have been doing coaching for years – hundreds and thousands of years. What is new, is that the process and techniques have been studied, systematised and turned into a thousand books, articles and training courses. This means that coaching is no longer the preserve of the few who figure it out for themselves and have a natural talent: anyone can learn it, practice it and master the skills.

At its best, coaching is a valuable conversation that lets one person figure out what they need to do to get the results they need.

The Principles of Coaching

The core principle of coaching is respect for the person you are coaching. As a coach, you need to assume that the other person can find the solution to the challenge they are working on, whether it is a workplace problem, improving under-performance, or preparing themselves for a promotion.

To support this, the fundamental skills are

Questioning – asking good questions that increase the other person’s awareness of their situation and help them perceive things in a new way

Listening – so that you can ask questions founded on exactly what they say

Patience – giving time for the other person to work out solutions for themselves

Trust – recognising that they will make mistakes, but that is a valuable part of learning

As a manager, you need to balance opportunities to learn (sometimes by making mistakes) with the need to manage risk. But the thing that surprises most new coaches is how often the coaching process finds a good solution first time – and often a better solution than the coach themself would have thought of.

The Process of Coaching

There are a lot of methodologies for coaching – many of them proprietary. Most of them offer an acronym to help remember the areas for questioning and exploration. These are:

Coaching Process

One acronym is, in some ways, the obvious one: COACH

The COACH Coaching Process

Further Reading 

Coaching is one of the most discussed topics on the Pocketblog. You may also like the following Pocketblogs:

An Infinite Number of Coaching Acronyms
So you can see how different models follow the process above – and find the acronym you like best.

Keep it SIMPLE
A look at the Solution Focus approach to coaching.

Who is getting in your way?
The ideas of Timothy Gallwey who many regard as the originator of modern coaching as used in the business and management world.

Let’s sort out poor performance, Part 2: Turnaround
An example of how coaching fits into the pragmatic world of management.

The Awesome Power of Mentoring
Mentoring is often discussed in the same sentence as coaching. Find out what it is and how it can work for you, as a new manager.

Questions, Questions, Questions
…is about the art of – questions!

and

Listening
is about listening

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Get in Sync with Rapport

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Rapport is the darling topic of NLP experts and self help gurus, going all the way back to Dale Carnegie and ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’.  But what is it really, does it have the magic it is claimed to have and, if so, how can you deploy it?   We’ll take a look at these three questions.

What is Rapport?

Rapport really exists at two levels and its power come from the interplay between the two.  At the more superficial level, it the sense that two people have, that they understand one another fully and share each other’s concerns.  At the deeper level, rapport exists when two people have a relationship based on liking of and trust for each other.

We recognise rapport in two people who are together, when we start to notice similarities in the way they dress, their behaviour, how they speak and their movements, which often become synchronised.  We say that they are ‘in tune’ with one another, they are harmonised, they are in sync.

How effective is Rapport?

Rapport is  a natural process, which has evolved to build and strengthen bonds.  The important question is not whether it is effective, but whether we can use it to our advantage in a conscious way.  The answer seems to be yes.  Used in an artful manner, rapport-building skills are effective in domains from counselling and therapy to sales and customer service.  They are also used by con artists, so beware.

There was an excellent article in The New York Times, called ‘You Remind Me of Me’ that discussed a range of experimental evidence.

How can you use Rapport?

The basic approach to creating rapport is to match the person you are speaking with.  Do what they do and echo their movements, vocal patterns and key words.  Do so subtly (but not too subtly – it feels natural and so is rarely noticed).

Adopt a similar posture and repeat back the most important aspects of what they say – using their words.  Make your movements similar to theirs in quality and quantity, but don’t just copy them.

Speak at about the same speed and repeat important gestures and expressions, like smiling and frowning.

Build it up gradually and start to notice not only how they are more open to you, but also how much more clearly you understand what they are trying to communicate.

Further Reading

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Listening

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


If you could create a shortlist of the most important skills that a manager must cultivate, what would be on it?  That is not just an idle question: please do offer yours as a comment, below.

On anybody’s list, I would expect to see ‘listening’.  It is a fundamental human skill and one that most of us take for granted.  It is even a skill the deaf can deploy, using different senses: listening means paying attention to what other people are saying.   So, no wonder it is a vital skill for managers.

So how can you do it?  Or, put another way,

‘How can we learn to do listening better?’

ListenYour exercise this week is to practise these seven steps.  Start with number 1, and practise this for a day.  On day 2, practise number 1 and number 2, and so on, building your skills as the week progresses. Keep a record of what you notice in your notebook.

Day 1:  Care
Before you start to listen to someone, you have to care what they are saying.  So practise caring enough to really pay attention.

Day 2: Tune in
Carefully notice what the other person is saying.  Savour their words and the meaning behind them.

Day 3: Tune out
Tune out that constant dialogue that goes on in your head.  When you hear it, put it to one side and re-focus on what the other person is saying.

Day 4: Relevance
Listen for things that are particularly relevant, surprising, interesting.  What are the most important words that you hear and how do they relate to the substance of your conversation?

Day 5: Suspend
Suspending judgement is your toughest test so far.  Resist the urge to criticise, judge or react to what you hear.  There will be a time for that later, but when you let your opinions and prejudices get in the way of your listening, you miss what the other person says, thinks and feels.

Day 6: Notice
Notice what else is going on at the same time as they are speaking.  What are their speech patterns, facial expressions, gestures and movements.  What posture do they adopt and what is the quality of their movements.  All of this, when you really notice it, contains valuable information about the sub-text to their words.

Day 7: Pay Attention…
… to your listening process.  Put all of your Day 1 to Day 6 learning together and now keep aware of the quality of your listening.  When it starts to dip, notice it and re-assert the quality of your listening.

Further Reading

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The Power of Silence

‘Silence is a powerful, ambiguous medium of communication’ says Seán Mistéil in the new edition of the Communicator’s Pocketbook.

.

It is well worth looking at how to use silence to your benefit.  For a little fun, let’s start with its ambiguity.

A Man for All Seasons

If you haven’t seen the play or the excellent 1966 movie with Paul Schofield and Robert Shaw, then it is well worth looking out for.  At the trial of Sir Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell is prosecuting:

Cromwell: Now, Sir Thomas, you stand on your silence.

More: I do.

Cromwell: But, gentlemen of the jury, there are many kinds of silence. Consider first the silence of a man who is dead. Let us suppose we go into the room where he is laid out, and we listen: what do we hear? Silence. What does it betoken, this silence? Nothing; this is silence pure and simple.

But let us take another case. Suppose I were to take a dagger from my sleeve and make to kill the prisoner with it, and my lordships there, instead of crying out for me to stop, maintained their silence.
That would betoken! It would betoken a willingness that I should do it, and under the law, they will be guilty with me. So silence can, according to the circumstances, speak! …

More: …  the maxim of the law is “Silence gives consent”.
If therefore you wish to construe what my silence betokened,
you must construe that I consented, not that I denied.

Cromwell: Is that in fact what the world construes from it?
Do you pretend that is what you wish the world to construe from it?

More: The world must construe according to its wits;
this court must construe according to the law.

This edited extract from the wonderful text by Robert Bolt shows just how slippery silence is.  And powerful: in this trial, More’s life is at stake.

Use the Power of Silence

When I speak, do you listen?  I mean, do you really listen?  What most of us do is half listen; part of me is listening to you, while the other part is listening to myself, as I plan out what I am going to say next.

If we are arguing, I may not even hear your point; as I decide how I am going to respond to what I expected you would say in response to my point.  If we are chatting, I don’t really listen to your story of how upsetting yesterday was, because I am deciding whether to start my story with today’s journey to work, or yesterday’s argument in the supermarket.

Instead, take the time to really listen.  The risk we feel is that if we don’t plan our next comment, the other person will think us slow, dim-witted, weak in argument.

I suggest that this is not so.  What does that silence betoken?  Perhaps it says:

  • I really listened and am thinking about what you said
  • Your comment was profound enough for me to have to think about my reply
  • I am a thoughtful person

And if I am comfortable with silence, and you are not, who will fill that silence with more words?  You will.  In a debate, this will be when you weaken your argument, in a sales call this will be where you give something away, in an argument this will be when you start to feel you are losing.

So here’s the deal

Practise listening with 100% attention

Practise holding your silence

Practise setting aside your prejudices about what my silence may mean.  It may not mean I am angry, or I am confused, or I am deaf, or I am day-dreaming, or I am upset.

It may just be silence pure and simple.

Other Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

And coming soon:

  • Body Language
  • Handling Resistance
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