Learn about the common obstacles to effective coaching, and essential skills necessary for managers to build their authority and successfully coach their teams to great results.
By Rick Kirschner
The most common obstacle to building and projecting your authority in coaching others is the idea that coaching is about talking, that somehow talking takes priority over listening to understand.
I understand how this happens. In fast paced environments, it’s a natural tendency to put the pedal to the metal, to try harder, move faster, do more. The problem is that you wind up talking at your people instead of with them and to them. And the obstacle this lack of understanding creates is that without knowing what motivates your people, you can’t engage them where it counts.
When you understand what motivates your people, and it’s different for different people, you can speak with authority that is recognized as authority, because it is relevant and conveys experience and knowledge.
The next most common obstacle is the confidence problem. When managers come off as tentative, hesitant or uncertain, it tends to evoke these responses in the people around them. This problem is the side effect of at least two missing pieces: you first have to know your own motivation, and you must be prepared to speak when it’s time to speak. The fact is, people want to be led, not managed, and they need to get that sense of authority from you, because it gives them confidence to do what needs to be done. They believe it when you believe it.
Now, it’s a legitimate question, confidence in what? After all, in these changing times, nobody really knows what’s coming next. And some degree of introspection is prudent for anyone wanting to thrive instead of merely survive. But you can have confidence in your motivations. You can have confidence in what you do know. And you can have confidence that under the right conditions, people will want to give you their best, to do their best.
So, what are the key listening and communication skills that you can improve upon as you work to develop and strengthen others?
Fundamental to success in coaching are two essential skills. The first is blending, the second is asking questions.
Blending is the foundation of all successful relationships. It happens whenever you reduce the differences between yourself and another person. It happens whenever you send signals of similarity and commonality. And because nobody cooperates with anybody who seems to be against them, a failure to blend is the root cause of most conflict. If perception is everything in relationships, then sending blending signals is how you create the perception of partnering with your people in a process or project.
As for questions, I believe it was the stoic philosopher, Epicetus, who said “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Maybe this is the apt metaphor for the way we’re built, but I’ve observed that too many people just don’t get it. Although they certainly think they do. Ask just about anyone if they’re a good listener, and they’ll tell you yes. But most people do a meager job of it at best, instead drawing conclusions and then making statements instead of engaging people by asking questions.
Maybe the people who don’t ask very many questions are afraid of looking stupid. Maybe they think it makes them seem weak. Or maybe they think they’re supposed to have all the answers. Maybe it’s just a function of the fact that we can think faster, at 500 words a minute, than most people talk, which is about 130 words a minute. It’s not uncommon for our minds to wander to what we want to say when its our turn to talk, so it’s pretty easy to get ahead of what we’re hearing.
But a great coach understands the limits of his or her knowledge about another person, and explores that boundary to build the connection, rather than building the boundary and weakening the relationship. The key is curiosity. The less you think you know, the more you find out. The more value you place on what you can learn by listening, the less distracted you’ll be with your own thoughts.
Have you ever heard someone say “There is no such thing as a stupid question?’.’ That’s a great guide when it comes to everyone other than you! You can’t afford to ask dumb questions if you want to bring out the best in your people. When someone asks me a question, no matter how trite, simplistic or off the point, I welcome it and find the opportunity in it.
I do think there are dumb questions to avoid, when it’s me asking the questions. They’re dumb if they fail to take into account things people have said. They’re dumb if they’re closed ended instead of open ended, unless I intend to bring something to a close. I want my questions to serve an intelligent purpose. A person’s motivations and positions are in the deep structure, so that’s where I want to go. I want to learn about their goals and aspirations, their desires and fears. Asking questions is a great way of leading people to their own resourcefulness. Just as their answers inform me, I want my questions to inform them.
As a coach, the more you know, the more likely it is that you will know exactly what you need to know in order to elicit comfort confidence and credibility.
©Dr. Rick Kirschner. Dr. Rick is a bestselling author and speaker, coach and trainer, with clients that include Heineken, Providence Healthcare, and Texas Instruments. Author of 'Insider's Guide To The Art Of Persuasion.' Free for a limited time, a $49 value audio on Dealing With Difficult People. Go to http://theartofchange.com/promo for details.