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What is Coaching?

Coaching is the art of using refined listening, questioning and reflection skills by an individual with the objective of creating conditions that will allow another person to learn and develop. When delivered effectively the individual being coached will find their own solutions and will recognise the highly effective conversations and experience they have had, and they are much more likely to achieve their goals.

The foundation of coaching is to use advanced skills of listening, questioning and reflection to create highly effective conversations and learning experience for individuals.

Coaching uses real issues as the learning vehicle and involves the learner in setting their own learning goals and methods. The beauty of coaching is that it can be tailored to the individual’s needs, interests, style, ability, experience and pace.

What is the purpose of coaching?

The purpose of coaching is to improve performance, and one of the important aspects of any coaching relationship is that the learning is not limited by the coach’s knowledge and skills. The process of joint discovery means that as a coach you can help someone to achieve things that you can’t!

In summary, coaching is about:

  • Helping – not telling
  • Unlocking people’s potential
  • Stepping back and handing over responsibility for improvement to the learner
  • Turning problems into guided learning experiences
  • Helping someone get the best performance out of themselves

Coaching is a skilled process and below is a summary of some of the important skills.


Mental Skills

Observation and analysis – the ability to watch a learner in action, to conclude what is needed from them to raise their level of performance still higher, and to identify the best way to help them. What is needed could include one or more of the following:

  • changes to their environment at home and/or work
  • improved technical knowledge
  • better skills or tools
  • a focus on mental and physical preparation
  • review of the support available

Structuring the coaching process – the process should be flexible and able to adapt to changes but selecting the right approach for each individual learner will usually involve some contracting – what both parties promise to bring to the table. It should also involve:

  • careful preparation
  • identifying the factors that make up the learner’s performance
  • establishing where improvements can be made
  • prioritising activity and agreeing realistic but challenging goals
  • planning how to achieve


Interpersonal Skills

Questioning – the key skill. The coach uses questions not to get information (which is why we ask questions in normal conversations) but to develop the learner’s awareness, to sharpen their focus, to stimulate their responsibility, to help them to find their own answers, and to ensure that they take ownership of the coaching process. For example:

  • What would be a first step that you’d feel good about?
  • What elements of that scenario do you yearn for the most?
  • On a scale of 1-10 how likely are you to do that? What would change the score?
  • What is it about these people and activities that you like?
  • What attitudes do you hold that limit your performance in this area?
  • If you knew the answer, what would it be?

Listening – there is obviously no point in asking questions without the skill of listening to the answers! This also includes tuning into the unspoken messages from the learner; being sensitive to their tone of voice, body language, personal wishes, expectations and emotions.

Giving and receiving feedback – people often feel uncomfortable about giving direct feedback, whether positive or negative (and are even less comfortable about receiving it!). Yet people often complain that they are starved of feedback, and would appreciate more of it – even if it is negative. To be truly effective a coach needs to be bold – to give feedback to the learner about their performance – and to be open to receiving feedback about the effectiveness of their coaching style. For example;

  • Am I giving you enough support?
  • Do you want more space to find your own solutions?
  • Would it have been better if I had made a suggestion?

Communicating – even if the coach prefers to use a questioning approach, there may well be times when they must pass on information, ideas and instructions in a more directive way.

Motivating – the coach can motivate the learner by showing their own enthusiasm for coaching, their respect for the learner, their wish and expectation that the learner will succeed and their appreciation of success.

Why coaching is becoming more valued by managers and organisations

Most companies today cannot afford to ignore the fact that they are operating in extremely complex environments where success depends on the ability to understand and respond to multiple demands and opportunities.

As organisational life becomes more complex and more uncertain, managers are no longer working with clear answers to issues in hand. They are more often working with dilemmas and problems which require the ability to generate alternative options and new ways of thinking.

Coaching helps people to respond creatively and encourages them to develop the quality of their thinking and come up with new ideas and approaches.

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