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Starting to Coach at Work

You’re probably used to the traditional ‘managerial’ approach of telling people what to do – the manager is the expert. But when you really want to help your folks thrive and overcome negative patterns – coaching is what you need. Supportive open questions enable the coachee to work out the best way forward for themselves. They, not you, are the expert in this. 

The below is a quick guide to help you as a beginner to start coaching employees, and switch from ‘manager’ mode into ‘coaching’ mode


1. Clarify at the start

Make your coaching sessions separate from ‘normal’ work conversation – switching modes is tricky, and dedicated coaching time is  more likely to help. Discuss beforehand what coaching is and how you will use a different approach – and do a short version of this at the start of each session, to get you both in the coaching zone.

Confidentiality is crucial to discuss. They need to know that this coaching conversation won’t be shared as a normal work conversation might be – so emphasise this each time.

In coaching terms, all this is called ‘contracting’ and is an essential part of every coaching conversation.


2. The GROW Structure 

This is probably the simplest coaching structure for anyone to use in a work context. It was originally articulated by one of the main original business coaches, Sir John Whitmore, back in the 80s and 90s, and still one of the most popular today. For far more information, see his main book ‘Coaching for performance’.  

  • Goal – where does the coachee want to get to today?
    • Flesh out what a successful session would look like and revisit the goal occasionally during the conversation. Take time here – it’s easy to gloss through it.
  • Reality – what is the current ‘reality’, the situation for the coachee?
    • Flesh out what’s happening. Aim to take less time here – it’s easy for coachees to spend a long time storytelling, and your role is to keep plenty of time for the other sections.
  • Options – what are the options for moving forward?
    • Let the coachee generate ideas. Keep asking ‘and what else might be possible?’. Avoid asking leading questions or telling them the brilliant ideas that you’ve had – this can be the most difficult area for the coach! 
  • Will – what actions will the coachee will commit to?
    • Get crisp on this – what exactly will they do; when; what are the steps; what are the risks / potential blockers; what could help with success?



3. The Coaching Conversation: silence, questions, reflections 


As a coach, your side of the conversation is relatively little – but crucially important. 

  • Silence
  • Powerful questions.
    • Keep the questions open. A manager would ask ‘Have you tried X?’ – a coach would ask ‘What have you tried?’.  
    • Avoid ‘Why’ questions, which tend to lead to defensive answers.
    • Keep it simple – avoid talking in detail; just ask a single question.
  • Reflections.
    • Reflect back what you’re noticing in their words and body language – what’s recurring; what’s energising. 
    • Summarise what they’ve said, using their own phrasing, to help them identify any cognitive errors – eg that their fears are exaggerated..
    • Get them to summarise their actions and takeaways from the session – the ‘Will’ section above – in writing, to deepen the commitment.

4. Attitude – the coaching approach


What matters most is your attitude and the relationship of trust you create. As their coach, you regard the coachee as the expert. Aim for an attitude ‘unconditional positive regard’ (as popularised by Carl Rogers). This can be difficult – it’s why having an external coach can be helpful. But it will help in getting successful outcomes from the coaching. And you’ll probably find that this changed approach helps your relationship more permanently.

Lir Cowman

Lir Cowman

Business and Personal Coach / Delivery Consultant

25+ years experience in the corporate world at a senior level. Pragmatic, calm and positive approach. A coach who's been there and done that. I love coaching as a way to help folks achieve practical - even transformational - change; it's even more useful than consulting background. Executive, Business, Life and Career coaching are my primary areas, with occasional Agile and Team coaching. I'm generally holistic, though - there's too much overlap between personal and business to exclude either realm. Much as I love NLP and TA and many of the other focus areas of coaching, I take a cross disciplinary approach, adapting techniques as needed.

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