The part that interference plays in coaching

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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 mental obstacles that coaching can help people overcome. Next time we’ll look at how doing so enables them to fulfil their potential

interferenceStop! I am NOT about to recommend that coaches interfere with the learning and performance of their coachees.

Quite the reverse in fact. Good coaches appreciate the value of responsibility and are strong enough to trust the coachee to figure things out themselves with their support rather than their interference. What part then can interference possibly play in the coaching domain?

The successful performance of any task at work depends as much on the degree to which we interfere with our abilities – getting in our own way – as it does on those abilities themselves. Tim Gallwey – for many people the founder of modern coaching – expressed this deceptively simple idea as a formula:


In this equation P stands for performance, in other words the results your efforts achieve. Similarly, p refers to potential, defined as your innate ability – what you might actually be capable of given the right conditions. Finally i means interference – the things that meddle with that potential being converted into results.

Conventional training and development approaches try to improve performance (P) by improving potential. That means imbuing the performer with new knowledge and skills and providing encouragement and opportunities to use them. If we take a coaching approach and seek to reduce interference (i) at the same time as potential (p) is being trained then we can help people operate at a level of performance much closer to their true potential. I believe most people know this intuitively when they say ‘we must use coaching to get the best out of people’. This statement implies that the best is already inside people and what we have to do is remove the impediments (interference) to its expression.

We might usefully categorise interference as being either external or internal.

Typical examples of external interference include:

  •  Policies
  • Procedures
  • Boss’s style
  • Organisation culture
  • etc

These are all very subjective of course, but if the employee feels these things are getting in the way, then they probably are. For most coaching managers though there may be little to be done with these other than acknowledge their existence and sympathise with any frustration caused.

However, we can have a much more profound effect by helping people identify and deal with sources of internal interference:

  •  Self doubt
  • Limiting beliefs
  • Negative memories
  • Unhelpful self-talk
  • etc

Coaching at work recognizes the discomfort these interferences can cause even though we may not even be aware of them at a conscious level. However, as with coaching for sport discomfort is a sign of inefficiency and so we must acknowledge the discomfort first before we can move on.

Coaching does not deny the existence of these interferences or suggest that they are easily removed by incanting affirmations or practicing bizarre visualisation exercises. We’ve seen already that coaching creates focus and focus is the most powerful antidote to interference. The more focused I become of the aspects of my work situation that are conducive to success, the less I’m aware of the nagging doubts, inappropriate procedures or whatever else is getting in my way.

Matt Somers

Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

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