L&D Insights: The Power of Coaching Conversations

Allow me to demystify something for you. Coaching is a process that anyone can apply to any situation and be initiated by anyone. It may take some of us a bit more practice to get good at it, and some of us are naturally better at it than others, but we can all work the basics.

I have been a certified personal and executive coach for over a decade and have been a coaching client since before that. The thing I have learned as a coach is that your biggest strength isn’t knowing everything, it is in being curious.

Here’s an analogy for those who may need a little help defining what coaching is as a basic premise. Most of us are familiar with the workings of a sports coach. Let’s compare that to where you are as a professional.

  • Sports Coaches have a set of goals and boundaries they are working with – namely, the game they are playing and the level of proficiency of their competitors. Professional boundaries are the things that govern the work we do such as laws, regulations, and client needs.
  • While professionals’ goals are tied to performance areas such as revenue, growth of the business, and workforce retention, a coach’s goals may be tied to points earned, win and loss, and player retention.
  • A coach’s resources include players and equipment. Coaches work with the players and their equipment to develop skills and abilities that allow them to be the best in their context. As professionals, our resources include our knowledge, training, and expertise. We can work with one another to develop skills and abilities that allow us to be best in our contexts. And the coach might be anybody depending on what is needed.

When we refer to professional coaching, it can be deployed in several ways:

  • Routine development
  • Performance improvement
  • Skill development
  • Leadership development
  • And more.

In all these cases, as a coach, your job is to ask questions. Here is a model for coaching that includes several powerful questions in each category for you to choose from.

1. Open the coaching conversation.

    • Review logistics for the session (length, agenda).

2. Ask what has been going well.

    • What have you done that has gone well since we spoke last?
    • Are you celebrating any achievements?
    • What impact have you made over the last two weeks that you are proud of?
    • Share a compliment you have received lately and how you felt about it.
    • What are three things you are grateful to have in your life?
    • Who are you most grateful to have had an exchange with within the past two weeks? Why?
    • Tell me about the projects you are most excited about working on.

3. Determine where the client wants to focus for the session.

    • What are the things that are on your mind right now? (Then prioritize the list if they have more than one and tackle what you can in the time you have).
    • What is the most helpful thing for us to focus on right now in your development?
    • Where do you see trends in feedback or reactions from colleagues?
    • Which key skill or behavior do you feel like you want to increase your ability with?
    • If there was one thing you could change about the work you do, what would it be?

4. Explore the topic.

    • If you could resolve this challenge by yourself, what would you do?
    • Who can help you resolve this?
    • What opportunities do you have available immediately?
    • What is in the way of the next step?

5. Initiate action planning.

    • When do you want to achieve this?
    • Is your initial timeline realistic?
    • How many phases do you see yourself needing?
    • Who else needs to know?

6. Evaluate risks and obstacles.

    • What is the best-case scenario for your idea?
    • What is the worst-case scenario?
    • What is most likely?
    • What actions do you need to take?

7. Commit to an action timeline.

    • What is the first step?
    • What is the final step?
    • How can you segment the major milestones in the middle?
    • What tools do you have to support you?

8. Establish how progress will be celebrated.

    • When will you celebrate?
    • How often will you celebrate?
    • How will you celebrate?

9. Close with a review of the session and key takeaways.

    • Tell me what you are taking away from our discussion today.
    • How do you feel about what we discussed today?
    • If you had to explain what you did here today, how would you describe it?
    • Tell me what we talked about today as if you already did it.

You certainly don’t have to, nor do you want to, use every question in each of the steps above; you can even make up your own versions. Nor do you have to flow through these steps in sequential checklist order. Allow the coaching conversation to be a conversation. In a conversation, both people contribute to the topic, so let the questions drive discussion. Without the discussion, you have an interrogation. Interrogation is not the direction we want to go in professional development. And you should notice that nowhere in this structure did it ask for you to provide your solutions. It can sometimes feel instinctual to want to provide solutions in a meaningful discussion, but they are not always needed. Many times, effective coaching is simply lending the other person your curiosity and ears so that they can feel heard.

If you want to learn more about creating powerful coaching conversations, you can check out another great article here, or feel free to reach out and I would be happy to discuss. Let’s have a conversation!

Stay tuned for future professional learning and development blogs designed to help you be your best self both in and out of the office!


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