Coaching can mean different things, depending on the context. Most commonly, perhaps, we think of coaches involved in guiding athletes toward better performance. But let’s define coaching as a conversational process to support a friend, employee or colleague. In the process, the most effective coaches also benefit from the conversation.

Coaching involves:

  • Listening longer and more deeply without giving direction or advice
  • Trusting that people can work out most situations on their own if they have a safe place to express themselves
  • Revealing the limiting perspective that is shaping our thinking and actions
  • Gaining new levels of clarity that will lead to action
  • Observing our own thinking or having it reflected back to us
  • Asking questions that spur new thinking and options
  • Partnering with another person, because no matter how good we are alone, we are better working within a supportive relationship

Coaching conversations are not mysterious or difficult. This diagram outlines a simple coaching process:

Simple Coaching Process

People are usually able to resolve their own problems if given the space and encouragement to think and talk about them. The most important piece to remember as a coach is that your job is to listen, not to give advice. Any advice you might offer comes from your own history and is therefore not likely to be useful in the other person’s reality.

When can coaching be helpful?

To find a path forward from a problem: Many of us think we can sort out problems on our own. Well, that’s possible, but it’s definitely slower and often less effective than working through it with another person.

To solve a problem, add these questions to the coaching process:

  1. What is it that you are committed to that makes this a problem?
  2. Where do you want to be at the end of this conversation?

Life is full of problems. Good people and good projects have their share of them. Perhaps it’s a poor performance review or being passed over for a promotion. A coaching conversation can speed up the process of clearing out negative thoughts or feelings and deciding on a constructive path forward.

To clear out worries or concerns before an event: You and I are not at our best when we have a background conversation happening in our heads. When athletes are playing at their best, they describe being “in the zone” or playing “out of their minds” – that is, they are not doing much thinking. University of Chicago researchers found that students who clear their minds of anxiety before exams do much better than students who don’t.

Clearing involves a different coaching process:

  1. Is there anything at all making you anxious or concerned regarding this event?
  2. What else? (Keep asking this question until they have said everything that’s on their mind.)
  3. Okay; is there anything you need to do something about, or can you set these concerns aside and perform?

If a colleague has an upcoming presentation or must have a difficult conversation, offer your support to help clear concerns before the event.

To push an idea to the next level: The fastest way to develop an idea is to share it. Coaching is not just for problems!

Follow this process:

  1. One person speaks while the other listens and takes notes. The listener holds all thoughts and questions until the speaker asks for them.
  2. Once the speaker can’t think of anything else to say, the person listening shares insights, reactions, ideas and questions.
  3. Together, the conversations goes where the energy takes it.
  4. Lastly, the speaker shares the value generated by the conversation.

What makes someone easy to coach?

The people who are most empowered by these coaching conversations:

  • Have the ability to observe, reflect and then share their thinking
  • Are willing to disclose what could be interpreted as flaws, weaknesses or mistakes
  • Are able to ask for, consider and act upon feedback from others
  • Are willing to let colleagues and friends know they are being coached
  • Show appreciation for the process of thinking out loud
  • Realize that they can accomplish more in life if they do not work alone and that being coached or asking for help does not diminish in any way who they are

Formal coaching relationships with trained coaches are wonderful. Having a trusted friend or colleague to listen to you and work with you in a special way is often just as powerful. Working within a coaching relationship can help us perform at levels we just can’t reach on our own.