The Essence of Workplace Coaching: Helping People Navigate Everyday Challenges

coaching

Coaching is an everyday thing in your personal life and in your workplace. Whether you know you’re doing it or not, at some point of the day, you’re either coaching someone, someone is coaching you, or you’re coaching yourself through a problem or situation you’re facing. You don’t have to be a “coach” to “coach”.

In this article, I’ll be going through a case study which illustrates some pitfalls of everyday workplace coaching and offers some solutions to keep in mind when you take it upon yourself to coach someone with an issue they may be facing.

coaching

Everyday workplace coaching

In this article, I’m not talking of formal coaching (the kind that requires certificates and supervised sessions); rather, I want to talk about everyday workplace coaching. When people simply do their best to help others, because they care. If you were looking for more on formal coaching accreditation, here’s a good place to start.

You could probably argue that people might coach people for a variety of reasons, most of them altruistic, and some selfish. At the end of the day, though, what does it matter, provided the people on the receiving end get the benefit of having someone listen to them and try to help them develop?

A manager wanting to become more of a coach to their people, a colleague coaching a peer to help them out with something, a friend coaching a friend through a situation, and even a team member that’s trying to coach their manager to overcome their limitations (and it happens!), that’s coaching too!

“But, isn’t there more to real coaching”, you may be wondering. No. Because if you strip away coaching to its bare ingredients, you’ll likely discover that these are: being a sounding board for people (listening well and allowing them to talk through their problems) and asking a bunch of good questions to get them to generate insight.

So, coaching is about helping people deal with their s**t, by helping them become stronger in their own ‘skins’.

Coaching and personality: Empathy vs. projection

And this is where I’d like to emphasize ‘skins’. By ‘skin’, I’m talking about the personality of a person, their behavioral styles and tendencies, reflex reactions, and unique worldviews (read our article on Decoding Behavioral Styles to understand more about the main styles that influence people’s actions and decisions). The whole point of coaching is to help someone make the best use of their own behavioral tools, in order to navigate the situation they want to overcome. And, to do this, means that the coach should not impose their own personality onto the other person.

It means that the coach should recognize that every one of us has different superpowers and different forms of kryptonite. This is key in being able to set aside your own personality and worldview, and being able to solely focus on who the other person is and what tools they have at their disposal to overcome their problem.

John and Jane: A case study in everyday behavioral coaching

Here’s a case study to illustrate the point. Let’s say John is a strong Commander in his behavioral profile, someone who enjoys taking charge, is assertive, and voices his opinion without second thought. And John, is trying to coach and help Jane out with a problem. Jane has been having trouble speaking up at meetings; people tend to overlook her when she clearly has something to say, and she gets interrupted and walked all over by the loudest voices in the room.

Most probably, because of her lack of assertiveness on the one hand and her abundance of natural humility on the other, Jane as a person is a Harmonizer; someone who is most likely low key, values stability and equality, and displays tons of empathy and consideration for people.

Right away, we can see there’s a hitch, a clash of personalities. And John, really wants to coach Jane out of her predicament because, in John’s own words “I can’t have my team disrespecting certain team members by not allowing them the chance to speak up! I simply won’t have it!”

So, John tries on some empathy for size (as a Commander, it doesn’t naturally sit well with him), and tells her: “I know you have great opinions and ideas and it’s a shame others don’t get to hear them, simply because you hold yourself back.”

John is speaking the truth. “You need to be more assertive, to have more confidence in yourself, and to speak up more, regardless of what others may think”, John adds in what he feels is a calm and soothing voice, although it probably reaches Jane’s ears as a list of bullets to end any possibility of a debate!

Recognizing the diversity of the human experience

So far, John is trying his best to be a good coach to Jane. Because, for whatever reason, he cares to help her develop. But there are a couple of problems already:

Problem #1: Jane, as a Harmonizer in her behavioral profile, is naturally quiet and withdrawn when in chaotic situations (where people speak over each other and voices get loud). So, John telling her to be more assertive, to have more confidence in herself, and to speak up more regardless of what others may think, is not really helping her. What John is saying, without meaning harm, is really just generic fluff that sounds more like the outcomes Jane should want to achieve. The outcomes! Not the steps to get there! So, she remains as lost as she was at the beginning of her “coaching” with John.

Problem #2: We’re all different variations and combinations of behavioral styles; we’re all different. John is naturally authoritative and confident, but Jane isn’t. It’s not in her nature to do the things that John suggests: to speak up, to be more assertive, etc. These things are not part of Jane’s behavioral repertoire. She doesn’t possess the ability to become someone else. And she shouldn’t want to!

But, in the way John suggests to her to be more like this and more like that, it’s plain to see that he’s merely imposing his own ‘skin’ onto Jane, his own personality and convictions. He’s not doing this to be cruel, he’s just trying to help. However, the end message reaching Jane’s ears sounds like “Be more like me and all this won’t be happening to you”.

Empowering individuality through behavioral understanding

Coaching requires putting your own self aside, with whatever that comes with, and purely focusing on the individual in front of you. John should be helping Jane become stronger, not as a different version of herself, but as an enhanced version of herself; to become stronger in her own ‘skin’, her own behavioral reflexes, her own thinking style, and interactions abilities.

A good coach would help Jane understand and explore her environment and the situations she encounters by making her aware of her own behavioural patterns, personality, her available options and choices. To help her understand how these things are intertwined and produce her own reactions to the situations she finds herself in.

Through this process, Jane will find options that suit her own personality and are therefore natural reactions for her to undertake.

You may be thinking at this point: “Surely, a good coach should nudge Jane out of her comfort zone” by getting her to speak up and so on. So, if John is telling her to be more assertive, he’s actually helping her stretch her comfort zone by trying to be more assertive at the next team meeting.

Well, no. It’s like telling a horse to start acting like a dog. Impossible. Just can’t be done. It’s not in her nature. She needs help finding some hacks!

And just to be clear, for a person like Jane, a natural Harmonizer, simply being in a team meeting where she is expected to speak up in front of others, may mean she’s already out of her comfort zone. Add to this the fact that the meetings are chaotic, with people talking over each other and raising their voices to be heard, means she is definitely out of her comfort zone, even before thinking about being more assertive, as per John’s suggestion.

Unlocking comfort zone barriers through tailored coaching approaches

So, what’s the solution? What should John be helping Jane do?

The first thing is for John to truly understand the person Jane is, to get under her ‘skin’ and feel what she feels, see what she sees.

Next, is to get her practicing small steps of stretching her existing behaviors and tendencies towards the desired direction. Maybe she could try raising her hand at the next meeting, and remaining that way until someone notices and gives her the floor. Even something as seemingly silly as this, can have profound effects. And it’s something small that doesn’t require her to become someone else to get it done. It will be stressful for her, sure, but it won’t feel like the end of the world.

Perhaps, before the meeting starts, she could try talking to one of the main ‘influencers’ of the meeting about what she wants to say during the meeting. And strike a kind of alliance that would help give her the floor.

Then she could practice small actions to help her understand that no one will laugh if she were to even say something wrong. And likely, that she wouldn’t say anything wrong anyway! Maybe a little exercise for this is to go to a coffee shop with a friend, sit down and drink for a while, and then stand up and stay standing for a full minute, just looking around.

This is no small feat for a Harmonizer like Jane, who’ll surely feel like she’s the centre of attention. But in doing this, she would come to realize that no one cares what Jane is doing. There is no magnifying glass over her head, looking to scrutinize her and ridicule her at the first opportunity. These are purely her irrational beliefs running amok.

We are all ‘everyday coaches’

You don’t have to be a “coach” to coach people. We all coach people all the time. Even when you’re lending a sympathetic ear to a friend, that’s 50% coaching right there. Helping your colleague overcome some obstacle they’re facing with their manager, that’s coaching, right?

But we need to remember to separate our “self” from their “self”. Because if you’re coaching someone, you’re responsible for focusing on them, and not trying to morph them into a version of you. We’re all different and we all have different superpowers and different kryptonite. Your kryptonite is different to mine. And therefore, even if we think we’re helping push them out of their comfort zone to develop, we have to remind ourselves that not everyone is able to learn to swim when thrown in the deep end.

Deano

Deano Symeonides

CHRO of Talent Hacks and Learning & Development Engineer (L&DEng). He is a business psychologist with a passion for pushing people. To grow and develop. As a content creator and a learning & development expert, his mission is to blend deep insight with serious edutainment.

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