Coaching Manager: How to keep the conversation on track

“It’s not my fault,” she explains. Is he crying a little? She won’t take a next step. When these, and other situations pop up, the coaching manager can feel like he’s in the weeds.

When managers start making a concerted effort to add developmental coaching to their repertoire, they can worry about getting off track into issues they’re not equipped to address. That’s reasonable. Coaching manager basics are easy enough. But people are complicated, which can lead to surprises. That’s why everyone who coaches needs a map.

A Coaching Manager conversation map

Here’s a secret. If you know someone who’s good at coaching team members, they use a map, even if they say they don’t. They may use it unconsciously. That map helps the most experienced coaching managers on track. We can rely on it when we’re starting. And it should be sturdy enough to hang new, more refined skills on it as practice makes us more adept coaching managers.Coaching Manager conversation map

When people are ready to learn, there are three things the coaching manager does with them during the coaching conversation:

  1. Discover priorities
  2. Narrow the focus
  3. Take action to learn

From 10,000 feet, these three phases describe the territory. The closer we get, the more important the details of the terrain become. I’ll share more of them in future posts.

Uncover people’s real priorities

Discovering priorities will test our ability to be a good listener. Yeah, I know. You’ve heard this before. Hang in with me. This advice can have positive effect on every relationship.

At work, we’re valued for our ideas, action, and judgment. We may leap to good ideas. But the coaching manager assumes that she doesn’t know much. She listens for what the other person believes and is interested in. Your team members live in their own world (of course, so do you). You are listening for what’s distinctive about their world.

That’s why listening calls on you to put aside distractions, inferences, conclusions, and judgments as much as you can. While you’re “just” listening, the other person might hear herself say something she didn’t know she believed. That’s great. But at the least, you are sure to begin to agree on what’s important to her. That gives you both a solid footing.

Two listening tips

Practice being curious. What stands out when the other person describes what she is after? When people are enthused and drawn to stretch themselves, try “Say more about that.” Inquire about the things they have chosen not to investigate, consider, try. Through practice, you’ll find a natural way to express curiosity.

Shear the shaggy dog story. Some people find real meaning in the (many) details of their story. Help them back onto the path with a respectful nudge. “What do you make of all that?” may work. For others, “What’s the bottom line for you?” Then practice curiosity again.

You may notice that practice is the common element in listening. Practice also the core commitment in coaching managers make. That’s how we become comfortable and confident using this style of managing and leading.

It can be helpful to get some outside input on what you may be missing. Look for opportunities to compare with other coaching managers. You can find focused training programs that will give you a big boost. Of course, you can learn one-on-one from someone whose primary job is coaching. Regardless how you learn, the more management and leadership responsibility you have, the more important it is to practice becoming a coaching manager.

In the next post…

What it means to narrow the focus of the coaching conversation and tips about how to do it.

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