4 Coaching Skills
Here are the 4 core coaching skills that will transform you into a highly effective coach
Core Coaching Skill #1: Listening Mindfully
The people who listen to you may be preoccupied with their own problems. They may have other things on their minds. They might be judging or evaluating what you’re saying. They are certainly interpreting what you are saying through the lens of their own experience. There are few times when other people truly listen to us or we truly listen to other people.
The coaching environment is a place where all that changes. Coaches practice mindful listening, clearing their minds of the usual clutter. This provides the client with an open space in which new thinking about old problems becomes possible. Mindfulness in the coach induces mindfulness in the client.
A great coach practice is mindful listening by consciously letting go of all the usual evaluations, judgments, assessments, prescriptions, and distractions that fill the mind. In this way, coaches give their clients undivided attention.
To draw your clients into this mindful listening space, restate and summarize every so often what the client is saying. Reflecting back to them what they have expressed allows clients to hear themselves. It encourages clarity and inner reflection in the client.
Masterful coaches also hear the meaning behind the words. This includes the emotional and spiritual condition of the client. Great coaches listen with their hearts as well as their heads and pick up subtle messages from changes in tone, vocabulary, pacing, and body language.
Several practices facilitate listening mindfully. One is to be comfortable with silence. It is often in the silence that the client generates fresh ideas. A related practice is to wait for a moment after the client has spoken before speaking yourself. Take a breath first. Reflect back clients’ words after they speak. Let go of any assumptions or predispositions you might have. Notice and match the client’s pace. Be curious. Spend time on productive pathways of inquiry rather than rushing from topic to topic.
Core Coaching Skill #2: Open-Ended Inquiry
A close-ended question tends to shut off inquiry. Close-ended questions are usually yes-or-no questions. Examples include:
- Do you own your home?
- Do you have a savings account at a bank?
- Have you drawn up a budget for this year?
- Have you written down your financial goals?
- Have you discussed your financial future with your wife?
- Do you understand compound interest?
- Do you often skip breakfast?
- Do you weigh yourself every day?
- Are you a vegetarian?
- Do you drink alcohol?
- Do your children still live with you?
- Is the meeting at noon?
- Did you apply for a job at this company before?
- Have you finished the assignment?
Open-ended questions, by contrast, invite expansion and further inquiry. They encourage clients to develop their thinking. Examples include:
- What would a comfortable retirement look like to you?
- How did you arrive at the figure you gave me for how much money you need to live on each month?
- What is your ideal financial scenario for the coming year?
- How would you feel if you were setting aside enough money for retirement each month?
- What kinds of foods do you usually buy at the grocery store?
- What do you feel like after you’ve eaten too much?
- How did you decide to go on this particular diet?
- What was your academic experience like in high school?
- What similar situations have you encountered in the past?
- What interests do you and your spouse share?
- How do you like to celebrate your birthday?
- What are the personal qualities you believe it takes to be successful?
- If we hire you, how will you be able to help this company?
- How did this conflict begin?
- What do you plan to do after graduation?
- What is your favorite vacation destination?
Be genuinely curious about the client experience and seek a natural flow of questions rather than an interrogation. Open-ended questions usually start with the word “how” or “what.” You might ask deeper and more probing questions as the session continues. You will quickly gain experience in how and when to ask various types of questions.
Some questions focus on a desired outcome or probe the client’s vision. These are outcome and vision questions. Examples include:
- This time next year, what would you like your body to look like?
- If you committed to one additional thing to boost your health, what would it be?
- What’s your ideal outcome for the career move you’re contemplating?
- What’s your financial goal for your retirement?
- What would your ideal marriage look like?
Examples of ambivalence questions are:
- What are the pros and cons of getting divorced?
- What might you feel like if you don’t achieve this particular goal?
- What would have to change in order to overcome your feelings of self-doubt?
- What are the risks and rewards of continuing on your current course?
- What options haven’t we talked about yet?
You can ask either ambivalence questions or outcome and vision questions, depending on the direction the coaching session is going. They encourage clients to question their current thinking and contemplate fresh possibilities.
Core Coaching Skill #3: Active Listening
Active listening is the discipline of reflecting back what the client just said. In effective active listening, changes to the client’s words are kept to a minimum. This means setting aside interpreting, judging, evaluating, and deriving meaning from what the client just said. It means reflecting back as accurately as possible (Rogers & Farson, 1979).
Though repeating back someone else’s words might sound simple, in practice it turns out to be quite difficult. We are so used to paraphrasing and interpreting that we are usually out of practice when it comes to simply listening.
Yet accurately reflecting back a client’s words is usually the best way of making the client feel heard. It opens up expansive space in which the client can think and e
In a group of 180 undergraduate students, active listening was compared to paraphrasing. The active listening group simply repeated back what they’d heard, while the control group paraphrased the speaker’s words. There was no difference between the two approaches in terms of how “heard” the speakers felt (Weger, Castle, & Emmet, 2010).
Though paraphrasing can occasionally be useful, I prefer the discipline of reflecting back as accurately as possible. Once you have mastered this skill, you have the option of either repeating back verbatim or paraphrasing. You can then use whichever method you believe will best support forward movement. Novice coaches are often quite surprised by how much progress is made simply by repeating aloud the client’s exact words.
Core Coaching Skill #4: Feedback
Feedback produces dramatically improved outcomes. Getting feedback from a client about a session provides a natural sense of closure and gives the coach valuable information. As the coach, you have a belief about how well the session went and it’s important to test the reality of your perceptions against your client’s reality picture.
In one study comparing a feedback with a no-feedback group, twice as many in the feedback group showed significant change, and only one-third deteriorated compared to the no-feedback group (Lambert et al., 2001).
Prepare to be surprised! Sometimes you may think you just concluded a brilliant session, yet you then get neutral or even negative feedback from the client. Other times, the session might seem unremarkable to you, yet your client showers you with effusive appreciation.
Client feedback gives you direction for future sessions. It’s also a way to evaluate your own performance and improve in the future, with both this particular client and other clients.
Questions like “What did you find valuable about our meeting today?” and “What could I do to make our sessions better?” provide you with gold nuggets of information. They guide the future direction of that coaching relationship and hone your skills as a coach.
Novice coaches are often uncomfortable asking for feedback, and doubly so when the feedback turns out to be negative. Yet even negative feedback is better than having a client disappear without telling you why. The latter leaves you with a problem you are unable to correct.
Thank your clients for their feedback, even if you didn’t like hearing it. The safety to provide negative feedback creates trust and the awareness that the quality of relationship is important. Your request to know how you may serve the client better lets clients know that you are truly there for them and have their best interests at heart.
If you want to learn and master these 4 core coaching skills, then I suggest you invest in “Inspire, Empower And Lead: The Coaching Psychology Masterclass For Health Coaches”.