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As a coach, there are lots of skills that contribute to being an effective coach. These skills all take time to master. If you have ever been to the gym, you wouldn’t start lifting 50kg weights on your first attempt. You would work up to this. Learning coaching skills is a similar process. It takes time and practice to master them.
As a coaching apprentice, I have spent a number of hours reading about five fundamental coaching skills. This post will discuss these skills, barriers, and ways to improve these skills for coaching.
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- Importance of Silence
- Effective Questioning
Before we take a look at these skills of a coach I want to emphasize the importance of rapport and listening. I have deliberately put the skills in this order because of their importance but also because of their level of difficulty.
Take a look at these five coaching skills, what do these skills mean to you, and which area(s) would you want to develop? Make a note and after reading these five skills of a coach see if you feel the same.
What does rapport mean to you? For me, it is clicking with someone. Spending time with someone who ‘gets you’. Having things in common with a person makes you feel like there is a connection. Starr (2017) describes rapport as a sense of warmth and affinity in a relationship. Rapport is important as it builds trust and openness. It enables the individual to feel relaxed and empowers the person to think for themselves.
It is important to know that rapport isn’t something that is either there or isn’t. Starr (2017) describes rapport as being on a scale from -5 to +5 with 0 being neutral rapport. The level of rapport you have with someone can be affected by various factors.
- Appearance – for example, appearance can impact our rapport with someone. If you are conducting a job interview and the person does not attend dressed smartly, it may be more challenging for them to build rapport with you.
- Values and beliefs that we share with someone can impact rapport. If you both support Manchester United this can impact on your rapport with each other. This is true for me. I have become friends with someone who supports the same football team. These shared interests have built trust and openness and have led to a friendship.
- Body language can be key to rapport. If you share similar body language this can make you feel that you have similarities with each other. The ‘sameness’ leads to openness and trust.,
- Jargon and terminology can impact rapport. If the jargon you use is difficult to understand the person may switch off, they may become uninterested, they may think that you do not share similarities. It can be important to use the jargon and the terminology the other person uses to build rapport.
When you are building with someone the above are all important to consider. Consider your eye contact. Does it match the eye contact of the other person? Check your body language, what impression would it give to the other person? Is the volume and pace of your voice appropriate? Do you sound interested?
This probably sounds like the most obvious coaching skill. However, it is more challenging than we give credit. There is a spectrum of listening levels that we employ. I didn’t appreciate, until starting the coaching apprentice, how much of a development needed good listening was for me. Think back to your last conversation, how much did you properly pay attention and how much did you drift off into your own thoughts? Were you actually listening or were you thinking about what you were going to say next? There is a fair chance that you will have drifted off at some point. This is common and with self-awareness, you can increase your attention and build your listening skills.
Focussed listening is an important coaching skill for a number of reasons. Firstly, people that are good at listening naturally build rapport much more easily (Starr, 2017). This is because you are paying the person attention, and focusing on them. If we are speaking to someone we like to feel as though we are being listened to so this makes perfect sense. In addition, if you have not focussed and listened well then your ability to ask effective questions will be compromised. If the question you ask doesn’t appear appropriate this could have a negative impact on rapport. Such is the importance of listening Starr (2016) recommends that the person being coached (coachee) should, as a minimum, be doing 70 percent of the talking.
Like me you probably have a lot of potential distractions. We all have mobile phones that may be buzzing with notifications, you probably have emails pinging up every few minutes, maybe you have Teams or Zoom messages too. To reduce distractions consider how these impact on your ability to concentrate on listening. Learn to recognize when you are distracted and refocus. If you drift off and miss something, ask the person to repeat themselves. I want to be sure I understand you, please could you repeat that?
Listening is a fundamental coaching skill I am eager to develop. I plan to do this by developing my power of attention as discussed by Starr (2017). This means focusing my attention on the person, not letting external stimuli and mind chatter distract me. One exercise that can develop this skill is to practice present-moment awareness. This is available in Brilliant Coaching, Julie Starr (2017).
Importance of Silence
How uncomfortable do you feel when there is unexpected silence? Maybe you are on a first date, the conversation is flowing, then suddenly there is a 30-second silence. You frantically start to think of something to say to plug this huge gap of silence. Does this sound familiar? Often we associate silence with negative feelings and feelings of discomfort. However, in coaching silence can be very valuable. When considering coaching skills silence gives a person time to think about the question you have asked. In coaching, you want to encourage deep thinking to empower the person to solve their issue. If the person doesn’t understand the question or isn’t able to answer it then they will likely tell you. Asking the question again; repeating or rephrasing may overwhelm the person. Remember, if you feel awkward by silence the other person may too and be encouraged to speak. Starr (2017) describes ‘saying nothing’ as an influencing style. They argue that it suggests calmness and allows the other person to relax. In addition, it can encourage reflection and deeper thinking. This again, could be beneficial when building rapport with the person.
There are a variety of question types that can be used. There are open, closed, leading, hypothetical, and probing questions, to name a few. Good questions, in theory, have a simple format. Starr (2017) states good questions:
- Are simple, you don’t want to confuse the person with the question you have asked.
- Have clear purpose
- Influences someone’s understanding without leading
It is key to consider the use of ‘why’ questions and only use them wisely, if at all. Another one of my areas of development is to stop asking ‘why’. This is because why isn’t useful, it can appear judgmental even if it isn’t meant to.
Consider, someone has asked you ‘why’ you took a certain action or made a certain decision. How did you feel? Did you become defensive, did you start to justify your action? The chances are it didn’t make you feel supported and you possibly felt judged. A more useful question is ‘what’. What do you want to achieve with that action? What do you think the result will be when you do that?
Next time you need to ask a question consider your tone and use of ‘why’. Do you naturally steer towards using ‘why’? Remember, a great question can result in great responses.
This coaching skill is closely linked to listening. It is an important skill for building rapport, too. It is important that when you summarise you use the same terminology as the other person and it is an actual summary that doesn’t lead the person. Summarising allows you to understand the situation, demonstrates you are listening, and supports the person to find their own solution. Further benefits of summarising are it allows the person to hear their own thoughts and encourages them to continue speaking.
When summarising it is key not to change the wording used by the other person instead you should use the same terminology. To summarise you must be listening with focus otherwise you may not summarise correctly which may show the other person you haven’t been listening.
You can read more about fundamental coaching skills in Brilliant Coaching by Julie Starr (2017). This is a book that has helped me understand more about coaching. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the skills of a coach.
The Coaching Manual by Julie Starr (2016) is another book I have found very useful when reading and learning about coaching skills.