How well do you know yourself?

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

Coaching Skills Series

This is one of many articles I intend to post this year considering the range of principles, skills and experiences you’ll need to be an effective coaching manager for the people in your team.

This post is about the importance of self-awareness for the coach. Check back in about a fortnight for a further look at effective listening.

JohariIn an earlier post we examined the principle of awareness and saw that before anything can improve we must first increase our awareness of how it is now. This applies to us as coaching managers as much as anything else. We too must increase of awareness of how we are; how we are coaching now, and the effects of our own behaviour alongside raising awareness of these things in those whom we coach to move forward.

The Johari window (see the diagram above) is a very useful model for developing self awareness. It was conceived by Joe Luft and Harry Ingram (hence the name) as a means of identifying interpersonal communication style. It suggests there are two sources from which we learn about our impact and communication style: ourselves and others.

The open/free area includes behaviour thoughts and feelings that both we and others know. The fact that we and others hold similar information creates more effective personal communication. In fact, the underlying assumption of the whole model is that the effectiveness of our personal communication increases the larger this window becomes.

The blind area represents aspects not known to ourselves but readily apparent to others. The red faced, scowling manager claiming, “I’m not angry” and the customer saying, “Yes, I understand” whilst frowning and looking puzzled are classic examples.

The secret area represents the thoughts and feelings we keep to ourselves. The secret area represents a large part of our behaviour when amongst strangers – where not a lot is known about each other and trust is low.

The unknown area represents the most deeply rooted aspects of our personality which are not apparent to ourselves or others around us. It is really the realm of highly trained psychologists and of less importance in everyday coaching although we may conclude that our untapped potential lies in this area.

If we agree that larger open windows lead to greater self awareness and more effective communication then the question becomes how do we enlarge the open window?

To widen the open window, that is to have less ‘secrets’; fewer things ‘not known to others’, requires us to disclose. As managers who coach we need to be prepared to take a lead on this and be willing to share things with our coachee that may initially feel uncomfortable. This can include revealing that you are new to coaching and anxious about ‘getting it right’ or doing it well’. This can also act as a powerful way of building trust and demonstrating the value of not holding things back.

To deepen the open window, that is to have fewer ‘blind spots’; fewer things ‘not known to ourselves’ requires effective feedback. This means as coaches we need to be open to feedback and encourage our coachees to tell us what they valued about our coaching, what they would have liked more of or less of, etc.



Giving constructive feedback: the salt and pepper of effective coaching

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

Coaching Skills Series

This is one of many articles I intend to post this year considering the range of principles, skills and experiences you’ll need to be an effective coaching manager for the people in your team.

Here we consider the matter of feedback. Next time we’ll look at the crucial trait of self-awareness.

feedbackLet me say firstly that I am extremely dubious about the quality and value of the typical feedback offered at work. It is usually thinly veiled criticism or destructive, judgemental nonsense that does neither giver nor receiver any good. It creates new sources of interference and results in awareness and focus collapsing rather than being enhanced.

However giving the people you coach solid, constructive feedback can be an extremely valuable part of effective coaching but only if it is done well. This means that the feedback needs to be free of value judgements and offered as pure information and this is easier said than done. Bear in mind as well that you can only give feedback on what you see or hear. You cannot give feedback on how the person felt – this is their domain – but it might be precisely where the problem lies. Finally, remember that the best feedback is self-realised and this is best achieved through questioning. Nevertheless, there will be times when you’ll want to offer feedback and the following hints and tips will help.

Start with the positive. People need encouragement and to be told when they are doing well – it will help the receiver to hear first what you have observed them doing well. If the positive is registered first the negative is more likely to be listened to. This approach also helps to balance out our natural tendency to dwell on any perceived negative points.

Be Specific. Avoid general comments like “you are really great” or “that was not so good”. These types of comments do not give enough detail to be useful sources of development. Pinpoint if possible exactly what was ‘good’, etc.

Question whether behaviour change is possible. Don’t give people feedback about something over which they have no control, e.g. “You’d be more assertive if you were taller”. Instead give people something to work on e.g. “The customer responded with more enthusiasm when you spoke slightly faster”.

Offer alternatives. If you do give negative feedback then don’t simply criticise but suggest what the person could have done differently. This can turn the negative feedback into a positive way forward.

Be descriptive not evaluative. Tell the person what you saw and heard and the effect it had on you rather than merely saying something was ‘good or ‘bad’ e.g. “Your tone of voice as you said that made me feel you were really concerned”.

Own it. If you say “You are” it gives the impression that you are offering a universally agreed opinion on that person. You should only give your opinion of people at that particular time. Similarly, begin you feedback with “I” or “In my opinion”. If a third party has brought something to your attention try to corroborate the facts first and make it your own feedback when it’s offered.

There is a difference between negative feedback and feedback on a negative situation or outcome. Remember that in itself, feedback is neither positive nor negative it is simply information.



Don’t let your expertise ruin your coaching

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

Coaching Skills Series

This is one of many articles I intend to post this year considering the range of principles, skills and experiences you’ll need to be an effective coaching manager for the people in your team.

Last time I flagged up that this post is all about the part that expertise plays in the coaching role. The next post, in around two weeks, will look at the business of offering feedback.

expertiseOne area in which there seems to be a difference of opinion amongst the coaching commentators is the degree to which coaches need background expertise in the issue under discussion. John Whitmore challenges whether a coach needs to have any experience or technical knowledge in the area in which he or she is coaching. He goes on to state that no, they don’t, providing the coach is truly acting as the detached awareness raiser with an absolute belief in the potential of the coachee and the value of self responsibility.

My own experience bears this out and I have personally coached managers in areas such as process reengineering or information technology where I have no expertise whatsoever. In this situation the key as ever is to ask good coaching questions and to listen carefully in order to help these managers set sensible goals and to assist them in finding the resources required to meet those goals.

Others take a different view and Trevor Bentley for example states emphatically that the coach must be able to ‘model’ what he or she requires the coachee to do. ‘The whole coaching approach is for someone who is trusted, with knowledge and experience to help someone less experienced but with skills and talent, to develop.’ For me this seems more like a mentoring approach and difficult to sustain in such changing times. I also think it could provide an opportunity for the less than scrupulous coaching manager to disguise telling as coaching.

For many the issue of expertise in coaching is resolved by classifying the coaching as directive or non-directive.

According to Joshua Hyatt non directive coaches help the coachee explore a situation, identify some options and select a way forward, the coachee takes full ownership of the solution and the actions required. Directive coaching, he says, has its place, but is limited by the knowledge of the coach and the responsibility for the solution is seldom successfully transferred to the coachee.

My view is that any notion of directive coaching moves too far towards instruction and teaching type interventions which are to be avoided if coaching is really to bring about a change in management approach. I’ll say instead that the effective coach does not need to have to have expertise in the area being coached. Rather they will use effective questioning skills to help the coachee develop their own, unique insight. Put more crudely, the effective coach takes the positive stance that ‘the brain that has the problem is the brain with the solution’.


So, you need expertise to teach, but not to coach. A background in the issue at hand may be useful for establishing credibility but it is not essential. In fact it may increase the temptation to tell and as such it is often easier to coach without the baggage of expertise.