Why do you want to talk about coaching?
There’s a lot of confusion around the term coaching. This is a pity because it’s a very important word which touches on key communication principles for those working internationally. So I wanted to talk about my take on coaching and how I integrate it into my training.
Sounds good. But before we start, why are you asking yourself questions?
Thanks for that question. Basically, the kind of coaching which I want to focus on today is based around asking questions which stimulate enquiry in an open and relatively non-directive way. So I thought that the form of the blog should somehow reflect the content.
OK. So a direct question – what exactly is coaching?
There’s no simple answer to that question. Coaching means different things to different people. For some, for example in sport, it’s a highly directive activity with one person transferring skills to another in a short time in order to improve a very specific aspect of performance - maybe scoring more goals in a football match. Others see coaching more as a process to guide others to new insights into problems, to taking new decisions to solve these problems. In this model the coach simply asks questions – this is so-called co-active coaching and what I would like to focus on today.
Many language teachers call themselves coaches. Are they right to do so?
It’s not a question of right and wrong. The issue is what they mean by coach. I want to look at a very specific form of coaching – co-active coaching. This may correspond to what teachers call themselves or it may not. I don’t really mind.
OK, so can you explain what co-active coaching is and why it’s important for EFL teachers?
My pleasure. Co-active coaching is a process of guided dialogue where a coach leads a coachee through a series of stages to defining actions to reach a goal which solves a specific problem he or she is having. The coach drives the dialogue through the various stages by asking questions.
So what are the stages?
I was coming to that. Firstly, once coach and coachee get over the small talk after meeting, the coach will ask some questions to define the target of the conversation:
Stage 1 - Defining a target
So, what’s on your mind today, Bob?
What would you like to talk about today?
How can we best spend our time today?
How can I support you today?
So the coachee then states a problem?
Exactly. For example, maybe it’s an issue with a colleague, a little conflict. The coachee should be prepared to discuss problems and so something can usually be quickly identified.
So what happens once the problem is declared?
Well, once you have a problem on the table, you move to Stage 2, which is discovering possible solutions. Here the coach asks questions which are designed to stimulate new thinking, even to push and challenge the way the coachee has thought about the issue. After all, they haven’t found a solution yet so there’s a block somewhere.
Stage 2 - Discovering possible solutions
So what have you tried so far?
What else could you do?
If you could do anything you wanted, how would you solve this problem?
How far are you part of this problem?
Does the conversation lead somewhere or is it simply a discussion?
Very good question. Co-active coaching is a goal-oriented dialogue. So Stage 3 sees the coach helping the coachee to define a specific action to solve the problem - moving from talking about a problem to doing something about it.
Stage 3 - Stating an action
So what needs to happen?
What are you going to do?
What action are you going to take?
So, after all this thinking, what is your plan?
Sounds good. And then the conversation is over?
Not exactly. Problems often remain problems because people underestimate the barriers which prevent solutions being realised. So Step 4 is very much a checking process of making the coachee reflect on what support they need, what might stop them from reaching their goal etc.
Step 4 - Assessing risks
So what could stop you from reaching your goal?
What support do you need?
Who can help you with this?
Who might stand in your way?
OK. And then the conversation is over?
Well, you often find that if risks are identified you have to go back to earlier stages in the conversation process and identify solutions to manage these risks. But eventually, you reach a final stage which has two elements - check the timing for the follow-up meeting to assess progress and also to review how the coachee feels about the coaching session.
Stage 5 - Next steps and feedback
So, when do we meet next?
When will we get together to assess progress?
How do you feel about the session today?
Should we do anything differently next time?
So, how do you set all this up and run it in the classroom?
To start the class, I brainstorm a little what people understand by coaching, explain that it means different things and then say I want to focus on co-active coaching. The rationale is very strong in that co-coaching in English is a critical competence for those working internationally, particularly leaders who want to formally support team members with a coaching process. But it is also very useful for team members who want to use the process less formally as a kind of discussion tool to support other team members.
OK. I get that. And then what do you do?
I explain the five stages of co-active coaching, like I did to you, and then I show it in action. I usually ask for a volunteer and I quickly coach them or ask them to coach me for ten minutes, usually the latter. The rest of the class has to watch and listen and note down good questions which are asked and general comments about the coach. After a feedback on this model, which usually brings out the important of asking and not advising, I put people into threes and ask them to practise fifteen-minute coaching sessions in which they all rotate the roles of coach, coachee and observer who gives feedback. Then everyone comes back together to share experiences.
How long does this all take?
I can usually get through this whole process in around ninety minutes to two hours.
And what kind of response from students do you get?
Overwhelmingly positive. Of course, they find it demanding to play the role of coach - to sit and listen and only to ask ... never to tell and advise. Fundamentally though, they see the power of listening and questioning as a dialogue management technique – how they can steer conversations, how they can motivate others and actually produce new and very creative solutions to difficult problems. And for people working across cultures, to recognise the importance of listening to others, to asking questions to discover others’ points of view, to see the value of giving time to supporting rather than just telling, this is just so important.
So how often do you teach coaching? I teach coaching in every course I do because I think it’s that important. In fact, I think it should be taught by every business English teacher working with professionals working internationally. If teachers are not teaching these skills, they are limiting the potential of their students to succeed internationally.
BOB DIGNEN is a director of York Associates. He specialises in intercultural skills programmes and international team seminars which he delivers to clients in Germany, Switzerland, Iceland and Sweden. He is accredited to use The International Profiler (an intercultural profiling tool) and is also an advanced practitioner of TMP (Team Management Profile – an international team profiling tool).
As an author, he worked on English365 for Cambridge University Press and has written 50 Ways to Improve your International Presentation Skills. He is also co-author of Developing People Internationally, a multimedia international team training resource.