Frequently asked questions: Coaching

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In a nutshell what is coaching?

Coaching is one of the most powerful personal and professional development strategies there is. It is is based on the belief that, with time to reflect,  we all have the solutions on how to move forward within ourselves. It engages staff, empowers them, embeds change and moves people forward. Although related to mentoring it is more powerful as it encourages staff to take ownership and responsibility for their own development. It is also longer lasting as it develops new ways of thinking and a sense of independence that mentoring doesn’t give. 

What does a coach do?

A coach listens to the coachee without interrupting or giving advice. They ask questions which get the coachee to reflect on ways forward in the situations they are in. 

Does a coach have to be an expert or experienced?

Whilst a more experienced coach will be able to ask more challenging questions and encourage deeper thinking in the coachee anyone can coach and it is easy to get started. 

Isn’t coaching a soft option?

Coaching can sometimes be perceived as a soft option particularly as telling someone what to do is also often seen as being more ‘in control’ and authoritative. Simply asking questions can seem too woolly and random and not focused on the real issues. A good coach can however achieve much greater long term embedded change. They can ask very challenging questions in non threatening ways which gets individuals and teams to reflect more deeply and take ownership of issues. 

Is coaching just another type of Performance Reviews?

The best coaching programmes in an organisation use coaching in different ways. A coaching style is used as part of formal performance reviews but a separate strand of coaching also exists where confidential coaching takes place with someone who is not the coacher’s reviewer. This enables the coachee to reflect more deeply and to be more open without concerns about being judged or it impacting on how they are perceived.  

How is coaching different to mentoring?

Mentors are seen as being an ‘expert’ in some way but a coach doesn’t need to be an expert. A coach is not giving advice but prompts the coachee to reflect on the situation themselves. This can help embed change and personal development in a deeper way. Mentoring can still be used in many situations where it is appropriate.

How is coaching different to counselling?

Coaching deals with issues related to your work role whereas counselling deals with personal issues.  

I’ve got years of experience – what is wrong with giving advice like I would in mentoring?

Giving advice, especially from experience, will always play an important role in a person's development and this will always be a key development tool in an organisation. The important thing is not to see the giving of advice as the solution for every situation. What worked for you may not be right for someone else and it might actually make the situation worse. You can however use your experience to formulate coaching questions based on the advice you might give e.g. have you tried …….? In a coaching situation if you are asked for advice it is okay to give it as the coachee has asked you directly. If this happens it is good to give several options as this helps the coachee reflect on what is suitable for them. It is also okay to ask the coachee if they would like advice if you feel this is what they want but don’t like to ask especially if they know coaching is not about giving advice!

I haven’t got any problems, why would I need to be coached?

Coaching is not just about having and solving problems. It is just as much about looking at things generally, especially areas of strength, and having a chance to reflect. Often the people who originally felt they had the least need for coaching feedback that they gained the most from it. 

Can’t I reflect on situations on my own, why do I need to be coached?

We all reflect on things to some extent or another and self coaching is a useful self evaluation tool. We can, however, get bogged down in things often without realising it. Coaching can help us reflect in a different way. Sometimes just by voicing your thoughts to someone can help you see things from a different perspective.

I’m so busy, I don’t have time for coaching

Coaching doesn’t have to take up lots of time. Simply by changing the way you communicate with people on a daily basis you can notice the benefits of coaching. Coaching can also take place in as little as 5 minutes as at its most basic it is a conversation between 2 people with one asking a question and listening and the other reflecting. Many people find that being coached helps them re-prioritise things and that this actually reduces their workload. 

What’s in it for me if I coach?

Coaches often find they get as much from being a coach as the coachee. Many feel it encourages them to reflect and that it helps them to see things from another person's perspective. Where peer coaching takes place both parties are able to share ideas and develop together. 

Do I have to be observed in my role if I am coached?

A good coaching programme will not just consist of a ‘meet, observe, feedback’ cycle. The coach and coachee decide together what the best way forward is and this may or may not involve observations in role. Organisations must be careful not to set up coaching programmes that are just a mask for formal observations. 

I already graded as good or outstanding in my role and am praised for how I perform. How is coaching relevant to me?

Coaching can help you reflect on your practice and help you consider areas for development you have not previously thought of. It can also help you celebrate your strengths. It might also help you consider how you might use your skills to support others.

What is corridor or quick coaching?

Corridor or quick coaching is a term that refers to informal coaching where individuals make a conscious effort to use a coaching style in everyday situations. This can be a five minute corridor chat, a lunch time chat, a planning session for a team or any situation where there is the opportunity for staff to listen to each other. This type of communication is what many of us do anyway at these times but there is sometimes the temptation in these situations to just give advice or to off load your own issues. Corridor/quick coaching helps us to feel valued by each other and can reduce stress.

I have a Leadership role, how is coaching relevant to me?

There are different styles of leadership for different situations. Developing a coaching style for various situations is a key skill for a leader. It can help them empower others to perform to their best and this in turn can make the role of a leader less daunting. Leaders can use a coaching style both in formal situations, such as performance review, as well as in more informal situations, such as corridor coaching. 

What skills do I need to be a coach?

You just need to be interested in people and want to be a coach! Being able to listen to people without interrupting is an important skill but this is something you can learn using the coaching guidelines that are in place. The great thing about coaching is the more you do the more you realise you already had a lot of the skills required and the better you get.

How do I find a coach that suits me

In a good coaching programme in an organisation there are no restrictions to who can work as a coach or coachee, and all staff are encouraged to identify people they would like to coach or be coached by. It can be a help for an organisation to have a coaching database so that people can match themselves up informally alongside a more formal system. 

I am interested in being a coach but don’t have much coaching experience and I am not very confident and worry about getting it wrong

You won’t do anyone any harm if you don’t coach well! The worst you might do is end up mentoring. As with everything confidence comes with experience so the more practice you get the better you will become. If you are new to coaching you might find it useful to use a coaching structure such as the GROW model.

The person coaching me is not as experienced or senior as me, how can I gain from working with them?

Age, role and experience does not matter in coaching. A coaches ‘expertise’ comes from their ability to ask questions and get the coachee reflect. Very often someone who knows little about your role or the area you are focusing on asks the best questions because they make no assumptions and have no solutions of their own. This type of approach often gets us to think and reflect much more deeply.

When I am coaching I find it hard not to interrupt and give advice

This gets easier with time and practice. Using a structure like the GROW model can help as this structures the coaching session for you. Try consciously pausing before you speak so you can think what you are going to say. Also reforming ‘advice’ into questions can help move things forward without you actually giving advice e.g. have you tried ……? (then mention something from your experience but don’t say how it worked for you).

I find it difficult to know what question to ask next when I am coaching

This also gets easier with time and practice and again structures like the GROW model can help with this.  Try to develop your own questions you can use when you get stuck. If you have a good relationship with your coachee there is nothing wrong with saying you don’t know what to ask next – you will be surprised at how this can actually help things to move forward.

I don’t want to coach someone I don’t know / someone outside my department / someone in a different role / someone less senior

No one should be forced to work with someone they don’t feel comfortable with. Many people are surprised however at how much easier it is to coach or be coached by someone unfamiliar. This is because a coach doesn’t have to be an expert and often the questions this generates are just what the coachee needs to get them to reflect on things with a different perspective. 

Is there lots of paperwork to fill in?

This will depend on systems within the organisation. Much coaching is the conscious choice to use a coaching style on a day to day basis and this requires no paperwork. More formal coaching meetings benefit from basic records being kept e.g. number of times met, agreed action points etc. The coach might want to keep brief records for their own purposes but generally it is better for the coachee to be responsible for keeping more detailed records as this gives them ownership of the coaching. It is also useful at organisational level to have some sort of system in place to evaluate the impact of coaching particularly in relation to time and funding used. 

Will my line manager need to know I am being coached?

A good organisational coaching programme will not just about line managers coaching as part of a performance review process. Coaching will be part of the system generally and a coachee and coach should be able to work together in confidence away from the more formal review process. A line manager might however see the benefits of coaching work through someone’s improved performance without them having been the person that instigated the process. 


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