People often ask what the difference is between coaching and mentoring. The terms are often used interchangeably. Some people say they’ve been coached in the workplace, and when I’ve dug a little deeper, they’ve actually been mentored.
What’s the difference, you might say?
Mentoring assumes a knowledge of the role. If you are being mentored by someone in the workplace, that ‘mentor’ is providing a level of experience and knowledge sharing. They are usually someone to whom you can ask questions and receive an answer.
Coaching is a different discipline altogether.
A coach will not give you an answer or tell you how to do something. A coach will support you in coming to your own decisions, and conclusions as to how to move forward. Change is only sustainable when it comes from within. Thus, the role of a coach is to facilitate, ask questions and support their client on the journey towards completion of that goal.
Our profession isn’t a regulated one, and anyone can essentially call themselves a ‘coach’, so it leaves me wondering how we, as a community, can safeguard the principles around coaching so that anyone joining the profession as a coach fully understands the importance of their role in supporting their clients, and what their role actually is.
Before joining a coach training programme, it is important to consider your strengths and development needs to see if the role is right for you.
Here are my top ten traits of an effective coach:
Be skilled at reading people:
Language, tone and posture say so much more than just words. Look beyond the words. Does your client flinch or shy away when talking about a specific subject? Why is that? Don’t be afraid to call out language, tone and posture when you feel that it might help explore further.
Leave your own ego/agenda at the door:
This isn’t about the coach. A great coach will focus entirely on the journey of their client. Their needs and desires must be catered to from how they’re feeling about the session, last session, goal, actions and progress. Your only objective should be to support them towards achieving those goals.
Be a keen listener:
You will have no doubt heard the term ‘active listener’. That essentially involves listening out for cues. Words and phrases which allow you to discuss things in more details. “it feels as though I have the weight of the world on my shoulders”. What does that actually feel like? How could that weight be removed? What will it be like when you no longer have that weight on your shoulders?
Ask powerful questions:
Powerful questions bare powerful answers but these will not come unless you have been a keen listener. These tend to be the questions your client may not have even thought about themselves. The question itself therefore could be very simple. Asking open questions allows for a more thorough answer but this needs to be mixed with closed questions to move your client onto action.
It’s quite easy to accept the first answer and that be that, but by probing further, you can allow your client to fully explore a topic, talk about harboured emotions, raw feels and reach new conclusions and decisions. Always challenge your client to go a step further if you feel they are holding back a little.
Comfortable with silence:
Coaching is thinking time. Like with any conversation, when there’s a silence, it can be tad awkward. This is your client’s chance to think and consider so you need to be comfortable with the silence in order for them to process those thoughts.
Don’t ever assume that you know best. The most effective coaches can see points of view from all angles and go into a coaching session with no preconceived ideas. Not having an opinion or judgement allows for a freer discussion.
Nobody said it would be easy. There’s always the temptation to skirt around the subject, particularly if you come face to face with some sensitive issues. That shouldn’t detract from you getting the most out of your client. Sometimes you need to persist in the face of these difficulties, and sometimes emotional people.
Have a sense of service:
As a person-centred intervention, coaching should be just that – centred and completely focussed on the individual. Having a sense of service ensures that the client isn’t ever left feeling that their session hasn’t been of value.
You may have a dozen clients, but your clients shouldn’t need to know this. Before every session should be a period of coach reflection. Understanding from the comprehensive notes you’ve taken, where the client is, what their goal was to do and the actions they’d set themselves in order to get there. Making sure that you are prepared will solidify the trust your client has placed in you, allowing you to do all of the above more effectively.
Is there anything I have missed that you would add in?
If you’re coming along to the next AACT Alumni Coaching Event in January, this will be the focus for discussion so all ideas and suggestions are welcome.