1. Listen without judgment. Being able to listen without judgment is key to any relationship – coaching or otherwise. Two forms of listening we encourage coaches and managers to employ are constructivist listening and active / reflective listening. Constructivist listening is effective for engaging in conversations that are both intellectually demanding and emotionally challenging. Active/reflective listening helps ensure mutual understanding. Both forms of listening are extremely beneficial for the talker as they provide emotional release and reassurance that you’re willing to listen to their point of view.
2. Get permission to coach. Whether you are a coach or a manager, you can set the stage for a successful partnership with your colleagues by outlining at the outset mutual goals, expected outcomes, and potential obstacles. These shared agreements help to build relationship, and are helpful to revisit as obstacles inevitably arise. As a manager you may assume that you already have permission to tell your colleagues what to do or how to change (a “Wag the Finger” mentality)– but doing the work of identifying shared agreements and outcomes will help you all to be more effective.
3. Ask probing questions. There’s a difference between clarifying questions and probing questions. Clarifying questions are simple questions of fact – like “did you do this?” or “do you understand?” But probing questions are intended to help your colleagues to think more deeply. There’s no “right” answer to a probing question, and they can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no”. Good probing questions help create a paradigm shift, empower your colleagues to solve their own problems without deferring to you or another “expert”, and move their thinking from reaction to reflection.
4. Be mindful when giving feedback. Feedback is useful when it is audible, credible, and actionable (see CES National’s Principles of Giving Feedback). Give it with care, let the recipient invite it, be specific, avoid evaluative judgments, and always speak for yourself.
“The mere phrase ‘Can I give you some advice?’ puts people on the defensive because they perceive the person offering advice as claiming superiority. It is the cortisol equivalent of hearing footsteps in the dark.
5. Develop your own emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman coined the term “emotional intelligence” in 1995. Since then, he’s identified five key components of emotional intelligence in the workplace: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill (Goleman 2004). Coaches and managers must be able to manage their own emotional responses and make strategic choices about when and how to share their own feelings and thoughts according to the goals they are trying to accomplish.