How to demonstrate workplace coaching skills

Roles that involve managing staff may ask for coaching abilities. This requirement may fall under the capability of guiding, mentoring and developing people. For example, this may mean making time to engage with team members to assist them to develop their capabilities, support their development, suggest changes in behaviour, coach new skills and give honest feedback.

A specific requirement could be: Demonstrated success in coaching teams, transferring knowledge and skills appropriately, and to provide authenticity in leadership. Or, the wording may be indirect, such as: Ability to foster a culture that values and acknowledges the strengths and contributions of staff, and inspire and enable others to achieve their full potential.

Coaching skills are most immediately thought of as associated with sport. Media coverage of sports teams training can convey an image of a coach yelling instructions and being very direct in giving advice. Qualities of a ‘great sports coach’ include enthusiastic, energised, passionate, high attitude to hard work. This image is not the one to model in the workplace.

So, how do you demonstrate workplace coaching?

Some useful ideas can be found in the ABC’s This Working Life program, ‘Taming the advice monster to coach more effectively at work’. Presenter Lisa Leong interviewed coaching specialist Michael Bungay Stanier. He suggests, rather than becoming a coach, that people think in terms of becoming more coach-like. This approach reduces the chance of modelling the stereotypical sports coach.

Another suggestion is that people hold back from giving advice. Rather than offering suggestions, sharing information, giving instructions as the primary mode of coaching, Michael suggests using seven questions. The ability to ask useful questions is a much under-rated skill. Offering advice on what to do seems helpful while also reinforcing our authority and expertise. However, others may not listen, ignore the advice, and not learn much to improve their skills and behaviour.

The ABC helpfully lists the seven questions that Michael explains in the program. The questions are:

  1. What’s on your mind? This is a good opening question as it avoids pre-empting the discussion.
  2. And what else? This question helps postpone moving to advice.
  3. What’s the real challenge here for you? This question helps a person to solve their problem, learn, grow and take responsibility for that problem. How you ask this question is also important. The emphasis is on ‘real’ and ‘for you’, so it’s clear the person must consider the focus of the question.
  4. What do you want? This must be asked with genuine curiosity.
  5. How can I help? Instead of jumping in with advice, this question forces the person presenting a problem to make a clearer request.
  6. If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to? This question help with building commitment and appreciating there may be a cost involved in choosing a course of action.
  7. What’s been most useful to you? This is a learning question, inviting a person to reflect on what they have learnt.

This approach to coaching doesn’t exclude giving advice, instructions, or skill demonstrations. What it does do is avoid using only one approach to coaching. Skilful questioning is also likely to help build better relationships with staff, by being more approachable, less authoritarian, more helpful.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.