The Art of Coaching
Updated: Jun 21
Think back to a time when someone coached you to achieve something, not necessarily in a formal context - it could be at school in sports, dance or your teacher in art, how did that help you to progress further than you would have done on your own?
I have been coaching and training for over 20 years which includes a freelance trainer role in training consultants in the NHS in coaching skills. I work with a range of coachees varying in ages, ethnicities, from a variety of different educational and work backgrounds. Those who use my services want to progress in life in ways they had only imagined previously.
Coaching, like a work of art, helps individuals and teams to develop and create in a range of different of ways. I see so much positivity and enthusiasm for change that I was inspired to write this article.
We will start by painting a picture of the meaning of coaching.
The term coaching is commonly linked to the racing car champion John Whitmore who was interested in how coaching could develop team and individuals to their 'optimum performance'. Whitmore designed the GROW model and he was pioneering in his idea of coaching as being concerned with building awareness and responsibility in the coachee.
To quote Galway in the 'Inner Game of Tennis', who worked with Whitmore with tennis coaches, 'the opponent within one's head is more formidable than the one on the other side of the net'. He devised the equation 'potential minus interference equals performance' which can be applied when we are coaching. If we take away the interference that gets in the way, such as barriers we put up, then we can achieve anything we want. We can perform to our optimum and coaching is all about helping this process.
The coaching I do as Mariposa Coaching is person centred, so I am led by the coachee's agenda and help to assess where the coachee is currently, design the outcome they would like to see, identify their 'blind spots', areas that they can't see without the objective help of the coach and use evidence based strategies to help the coachee to be responsible for their own change.
Coaching adopts the principle that we are responsible for our own wellbeing and growth and we can improve performance whilst maintaining wellbeing. Coaching is forward focused, often time limited to a certain number of sessions, focused on gaining skills and helps the coachee to be accountable by working to a self devised action plan.
Here are my mariposa coaching tips for the art of coaching:
1. Build rapport, trust and understanding
During coaching we often share our thoughts and feelings as well as our actions. It takes courage to talk about areas of challenge and self development so trust is an important part of this process. Crucial to coaching is the rapport and trust that is developed between the coachee and coach to create a space of psychological safety.
Covey's 5th habit in his book 'The 7 habits of highly effective people' is to seek first to undertand, he writes 'when I say empathic listening, I mean listening to understand. I mean seeking to first to undertand to really understand...empathic listening gets inside the other person's frame of reference'.
The art of coaching, therefore, includes the ability to use empathic listening to create rapport, understanding and develop a coaching relationhip based on trust.
2. Use of empathy and emotional intelligence
It is important as a coach to tune into the feelings of the coachee as they arise and connect in a way that is sensitive and encourages disclosure. As well as using words we can also use non verbal communication to demonstrate our empathy.
When we are learning emotional intelligence (Goleman) it is really important as we need to feel that we can tune into and express our emotions to achieve our goals. Coaching is most successful when as well as behaviour change, emotions are recognised and understood. An example would be with time mangement, we can't change time but we can change how we self manage to make our management of it more effective. It has been well recognised that effective time management also takes account of our emotional state and our level of emotional intelligence. If you are interested in finding out more about EQ then have a read of my Tune into your emotional intelligence blog.
3. Challenging blind spots
Questions are all important in the coaching process and understanding when to appropriately challenge is one of the keys to the art of coaching. The role of the coach enables a perspective that can be different to that of the coachee. If the coach is to truly help the coachee to move forward, towards their desired outcomes, then they can often see areas for development and options for generating different ideas that the coachee can't.
One of my favourite tools that I use in coaching and training is the Johari window. The model has areas of hidden, shared, unknown and blind that correspond to how much the coachee is revealing or knows about themselves (Joseph Luft 1916-2014).
I might, for example, share that I coach but keep hidden that I teach bellydance. The coaching area would be shared however the bellydance information would remain hidden. I would not be able to receive feedback from the coachee on the bellydance work as it is hidden to them, but known to me. I would have a blind spot around the area of my coaching until I received feedback from the coachee. The coachee could see it but I couldn't.
So how does this help us? Well the Johari window is a useful tool to enable others to understand themselves and their relationship with others and has been used as such in teams and business settings. How is this done? If socratic questioning is used together with empathy and appropriate challenge then blind spots can be elicited and addressed in a compassionate way as part of the coaching agenda.
4. The importance of feedback
I see the effects of negative feedback so often with coachees. It could be that we don't have time to respond helpfully or the training for supportive, nurturing feedback is not part of the working environment. This in turn then leads to us fearing feedback. Feedback is so important as part of the coaching conversation.
How can we learn to move forward if we don't have specific, constructive feedback on progress made and suggestions for future actions? Have a think back to a time when you achieved something and were given positive feedback, how much did this then in turn help you feel motivated to keep on keeping on with your goals?
I have written a blog feedback that builds confidence that might be helpful. Feedback can help the coaching process so that the coach can reflect back times that the coachee is being successful to increase motivation and confidence.
5. Discovering opportunities
A skilled coach helps the coachee to hear 'opportunities and resources' (Egan's Skilled Helper Model) that is present in the coaching conversation. As human beings we have a tendancy to emphasise the problems and can overlook opportunities.
The art of coaching is about helping the coachee to discover outcomes, have a clear picture of where they are heading and exploring opportunities on the way. This helps with motivation to make changes and work towards making it happen.
6. Making it happen
So who does the work and how does this come about? During the coaching session the coach uses an effective probing, eliciting and socratic questioning style to explore with the coachee where they are gong and how they are going to get there.
Coaching is outcome focused but this does not mean that barriers can't be discussed and awareness raised about different ways to reach goals. Ideas are generated and options and possibilities discussed.
Quality action planning at the end of coaching sessions is helpful for accountability and so that the responsibility, as mentioned earlier, is firmly in the corner of the coachee. Helping to craft the plan, to motivate, inspire and provide a range of tools is the role of the coach but the coachee makes it happen.
7. Learning styles and evaluation
We may have built rapport, and trust and understanding has been developed. Support and guidance through the coaching has taken place and resources and opportunities have been outlined and our coachee has created a plan.
What good is this if we don't have reflection and review? If we look at the learning cycle (Kolb 84) then learning from concrete experience and active experimentation does not take place without reflecting and abstractively conceptualising. We start off in the stage of 'experiencing' and then 'reflect' on it, draw 'conclusions' to understand what we have learnt and finally move to the 'planning stage' to check out the lessons learned. In short to learn we need to reflect and review, and this is where evaluation of what is working is so important.
Honey and Mumford talk about learning styles in terms of activists who like to learn from doing, reflectors who consider experiences, theorists who tend to adapt observations into theory and pragmatists prefer the planning areas as they like to try out ideas to see if they work in practice.
Think back to the last time you bought a piece of equipment, did you start with reading the manual or just put it together. This is a fun way to consider what your preferred learning style maybe and there are many resources online. Coaches use this knowledge to provide the most effective coaching experience and to value diversity of their clients.
8. Genuineness and respect
Genuineness and respect link to trust. If you are in the position of a coach it is only going to be respectful to the coachee if you are engaged 100%. This means demonstrating that the coachee is really important, that you are free of distractions and suspend judgement and tune into what the coachee is saying. In order to create a space that is safe where the coachee feels comfortable to ask questions, to try new things means that the coach creates psychological safety. I highly recommend watching Amy Edmondson's TED talk on this to find out more.
We can't know or understand truly what is going on for another person but we can set a space where we suspend judgement, we recognise our biases and stereotypes inherent in our own psyche and we enter a place of true respect for the coachee. You have heard the expression, I imagine, 'don't judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes'. We can fall into these judgement areas and it is so important in coaching to keep self challenging. I have a blog on this entitled beyond assumptions.
Coaching can also take the form of 'peer coaching', and although it feels that this article has covered the more traditional set up, you may find yourself in more of a team coaching or less of a hierarchical relationship and more one of reciprocity. Thank you for reading please get in touch if you want to learn more or have some thoughts you would like to share. Keep being awesome!
I offer 1;1 coaching sessions, workshops and in house training which includes strategies to improve your relationships, performance, leadership style, diversity, health goals, wellbeing, time management, emotions, ADHD and lifestyle.
My background is 20 years in working for the National Probation Service, including rehabilitation for substance use, anger management, domestic abuse, hate crime and developing emotional management, life, relationship and thinking skills. I train consultants in the NHS in coaching and mentoring and run my own coaching practice which operates using a person centred approach drawing on coaching psychology approaches.
If there is any coaching or training in which you would be interested please get in touch for a free chat or to access support for any of the areas covered in this article. Feel free to book your free 20 mins coaching consultation with me!
Thank you for reading!