In order for a conversation to be a coaching conversation, it needs to move the coachee forward. For that, the person needs to walk away with a specific plan of action.
In order to do that, you need to do two things – make sure the person is staying on topic and push for specificity.
When you begin coaching someone, the first thing that you typically do try to understand what the person wants to achieve. This helps you keep the conversation on track.
Don't be afraid in the middle of the conversation to say: "We have been talking about X. Is this helping you to figure out how to achieve Y?".
There are some people who will be very good at keeping on the topic, but then there are others who can get distracted and start talking about unrelated things. Your goal, as their coach, is to keep them focused on the goal they want to achieve.
However, sometimes, it might be that the goal that was outlined at the beginning of the conversation is not the goal a coachee actually wants or needs to achieve. Through the conversation, it might emerge that there is a bigger problem or that another problem needs to be addressed first. So it can be useful to check with the coachee if what they said in the beginning, is still what they want to achieve.
Once you've guided the person through the exploration of their problem and potential solutions, you need to help the coachee create a plan. This can be done by pushing for very specific steps in their plan to tackle the problem. If your coachee says: "I'll dedicate some time next week to reading a book about this subject," you should push them to commit to a specific time, place, and duration that they are going to do it for. The more specific the plan, the more likely they are to follow through on it.
When listening to your coachee work out a plan, look out for any vague words – "sometime, next week, at some point, I'll try something out." And whenever you hear something vague, question them about it and push them to commit to something more specific. They should be able to go away with something like, "I will read this specific book next Wednesday at 7 pm for half an hour." The more specific it is, the more likely they are to follow through on it.
Another thing you can do to help maximise your coachee's chance of success is to help them explore their obstacles and their resources.
Obstacles can be internal or external. Internal obstacles can be self-doubt, lack of self-awareness, stress, and others. For example, Mark might have a conflict at work, and he knows he should tackle it head-on, but he is not good at direct confrontation. You should help Mark become aware of this and help him come up with strategies to overcome this or help him come up with a solution that helps solve his problem in alternative ways.
External obstacles can be around a lot of interruptions or too much work coming in. Your employee could come to you saying that they feel they can't do their best work as they are constantly distracted by others. A potential solution could be that they dedicate a block of half a day in their calendar to focus on their work. And then you would explore with them how they will tackle people who do come and interrupt them during that time. How can they keep that time protected?
When exploring solutions to moving forward, a great strategy is to help them identify resources they can draw upon. It can be other people, books, articles, or other content, or it could be their own past experience. For example, Mark, from the earlier example, said he is not good at direct confrontation. You can ask Mark to think back to a time when he had a similar problem and how he'd approached it then. This can help Mark come up with better solutions or find the inner resources to have the conversation he needs to have.
We have now talked about all the major skills you need to develop in order to do great coaching – listening, questioning, self-awareness and self-management, and focusing on outcomes. In the next lesson, we will talk about how to bring it all together into a coaching conversation.