Sep 22, 2020 in Coaching

3 Principles of coaching approach

Coaching is a form of development process which needs some handful of core skills to be practiced and honed.

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3 Principles of coaching approach

According to Wikipedia, Coaching is a form of development in which an experienced person, called a coach, supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance.
The learner is sometimes called a coachee. Occasionally, coaching may mean an informal relationship between two people, of whom one has more experience and expertise than the other and offers advice and guidance as the latter learns; but coaching differs from mentoring by focusing on specific tasks or objectives, as opposed to more general goals or overall development.
In line with this definition, there are three principles of coaching approach which will give you a good sense of the three core skills required to be an effective coach: rapport, listening and reflecting. It should enable you to recognize the use of a coaching approach in your workplace, and to enhance your day-to-day interactions at work.

Effective coaching depends for its success on a handful of core skills. These are:

  • Building rapport.
  • Listening.
  • Summarizing and reflecting.


1.           Building rapport

The quality of the relationship between coach and coachee is fundamental to the success of the coaching. Studies revealed that where the relationship between coach and coachee was strong the prognosis for success was high. Similarly, it is often noted that where the patient feels listened to and respected by their doctor it has a positive impact on their recovery chances.

Rapport is a key building block to a productive change process and is essentially a feeling of mutual connection, characterized by feelings of recognition and respect. It is not necessarily about mutual liking; it is more about seeing and being seen, listening and being listened to, and having mutual confidence in the relationship.

It is the responsibility of the coach to ensure they do all they can to create rapport. The coach manages the process – the dynamics, structure and energy of the coaching – in order that the coachee is left free to do their thinking in a productive and conducive environment. Rapport is a key part of this process.

We can all create rapport with those we instinctively respond to positively: usually with those people who are ‘a bit like us’. The challenge in performance coaching is to be able to create rapport with a wide range of people. How do we do this? How is it that some people seem to have the gift of creating rapport with virtually anyone?

In our coaching role it is our job to create a first impression for our coachees that allows them to feel comfortable and reassured right from the first moments – especially if they do not know us very well. Coachees may feel a little anxious about the coaching and will certainly be in a state of high attention coming in to a session. Our job is to send signals through our body language and voice tone that say, at an unspoken level: ‘It is OK – you are safe, recognized and welcome!’

We do this by:

  • Paying close attention to our coachee with our eyes and ears – really ‘tuning in’ to them from the moment we meet them for coaching.
  • Adjusting our body language and voice tone so it tunes in with theirs. There are lots of things we can do here, e.g. matching posture, facial expression or gestures. We might also adjust our pace and energy, perhaps speeding ourselves up a bit if we have a fast-paced coachee or slowing down a bit if our client is slower-paced than us. Vocally we can watch out for levels of volume, pace and tone, and ensure our own voice ‘tunes in’ with theirs.


2.           Listening

The act of consciously creating connection through building rapport sets the scene for really attentive listening. The good news is that if you focus all your attention on to someone else in order to be able to respond to their body language and voice, then you are already a long way towards being in a state of mind where you are able to really listen to them – because your focus is on them rather than on yourself.

Ask yourself: how often do you feel someone is really focused on you, is fully present with you, during a working day? And how often are you really listening to or being present with someone else? We are beset with distractions.

  • External distractions include ambient noise: phones ringing, colleagues talking, computers that go ‘bing!’ as each email arrives, mobile phones − to name a few.
  • Internal mental distractions are created by our busy schedules – the frustrating meeting we have just been to, the daunting meeting coming up, the numerous matters needing our attention.

The way to become a better listener is to practice.

The key areas are:

  • Intent – setting out to be in rapport, pay attention and bring your attention back when you find yourself temporarily distracted – as you will inevitably be.
  • Attention – practice becoming more focused on where your listening attention is really going – are you listening to what is being said with a view to understanding, or with a view to rehearsing your next question?
  • Focus on their agenda, not what it means to you and your agenda. Sometimes we hear what someone says and in an effort to make sense of it we refer it mentally to things we understand ourselves. For example a coachee says they have got a dispute with a colleague and our mind immediately jumps to something like: ‘Oh yes ... I had a row with a colleague recently and what I did was ...’ This is sometimes called ‘level one’ listening, where our attention is really on our own thoughts, feelings and judgments rather than on focusing intently on the coachee.

The benefit to the coachee of really focused ‘level two’ listening, i.e. listening that is truly focused on them, is that they get to think better. Studies have shown that when someone is listened to attentively and non-judgmentally they think better than when they are thinking on their own.

How to listen?

We each have our strengths and weaknesses as listeners. In performance coaching there are a number of different things we need to listen out for:

  • Facts and narrative – the nuts and bolts of the situation or issue under discussion.
  • Feelings – some of which may be expressed openly, as in 'I feel worried about this', others which may not be voiced but which may show up in body language.
  • Values and drivers – words or terms which seem to have particular significance and meaning for the coachee, e.g. when someone says something like 'This is so unfair.' 
  • Assumptions and working beliefs – often signalled by phrases such as 'I can’t ...', 'I shouldn’t ...', 'I’ve got to ...' 'It’s wrong to ...' . These are phrases which convey the coachees’s working assumptions in a given situation, e.g. 'I couldn’t ask her for help'. Spotting these assumptions for the coachee can bring great leverage in to a coaching conversation. 
  • The ‘bottom line’ or core of an issue. Often after a degree of exploration in which it is not always clear what the coachee is grappling with or attempting to change, the ‘bottom line’ can emerge. This can help give a session greater focus and clarity and may mean the need to shift the goals for the session.
  • The unspoken. This may seem a tricky thing to actively listen to – how are we supposed to know what has not been said? Yet it is often the unspoken that is a pointer to something very important for the coachee that may need bringing to their attention – for example when they describe what seems to be a very important issue or situation but say nothing about their feelings about it, or when they talk about an issue that affects their whole team but mention no-one else except themselves. As a coach you need to ask yourself 'What is not being said here?'This will often provoke an important question for the coachee to consider.


3.       Summarizing and reflecting


When the coach offers summary or reflection there are a number of benefits:

  • The coachee knows they are being listened to – even if the summary is not 100% accurate.
  • The coachee has the opportunity to reflect on what they have said – the summary acts as a kind of mirror to them.
  • The coach stays on track – in order to summarize you simply have to listen.
  • If summary and reflection is done well, rapport is enhanced.

It is an art rather than a science knowing when and how often to summarize, but rules of thumb are:

  • When the coachee might be getting a bit lost or confused.
  • When the coachee seems to be losing energy in what they are saying.
  • When several subjects are raised simultaneously.
  • When the coach gets lost or confused!
  • It is useful to bear in mind you can summarise under the same categories as we use to monitor our listening, i.e. we can summarise facts, feelings, values, assumptions, bottom-line and even the unspoken! Useful summary phrases include:
  • Can I sum up here: the key facts seem to be ...?
  • Can I just check – it sounds as if you are feeling disappointed ...?'
  • It sounds as if the principle of fairness is really important to you – have I got that right?
  • It seems like the bottom line here is that you want to make a decision sooner rather than later – is that right?
  • I notice you have said nothing about how the others in the team see this.

A word of caution: summary should be just that – a summing up.

The danger is that it becomes interpretation, i.e. something filtered through our own judgment and presented back to the coachee with a lot of our thinking in it. Summarizing by saying 'It seems that you have identified problematic relationships with two others in your team – have I got this right?' is fine. Saying something like 'It seems you have a subconscious wish to confront other powerful males and I suspect this is firmly connected with your childhood' is not OK in coaching! We are there to help the coachee gain insight for themselves, not offer our own.

Good luck my friend!

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