I keep circling this one….in varied conversations and training and coaching situations. The skills which coaches build and master, are, I believe, absolutely fundamental to managers and leaders in today’s organisations. I’m referring to skills such as – the ability to have an artful conversation, the ability to ask questions of others, to probe deeply, in a genuinely curious way and a way which doesn’t get others’ backs up, and finally, the ability to present one’s view in a potent yet truly respectful way.
Why do I say this?
I shall relay some recent experiences.
Not too long ago I completed four days of training for executive coaches. We covered skills work from the Advocacy-Inquiry model, we talked about Dialogue, and we got really interested in ‘good questions’ (for Peter Senge’s description of Advocacy, Inquiry and Dialogue please go here).
It struck me what an eye opener it was for these middle and senior managers working within organisations, to grow awareness of their natural style of communicating, to receive feedback about their style, and to really tussle with breaking up habitual ways of communicating.
The aim was to get to ‘clean’ behaviour, either when Advocating (giving one’s opinion, with the back-up reasons/data/assumptions) or Inquiring (being genuinely curious about the other person’s thinking/assumptions/data). Do we tend to ‘lock’ into the one type of communication as managers and leaders, which is either ‘tell’, ‘ask’ or a mixed message between the two? How comfortable are we with ‘a clean tell’, or ‘a genuine curious ask’? How skilled are we at moving between the two, depending on the circumstance?
I’ve also been speaking to two fellow coaches just this week, who train others in Dialogue skills and Action Learning Set facilitation – we found we were talking the same language, and coming to the same conclusions: it’s the quality of the conversations which people have in the workplace, which has such a huge impact on the outcomes of those conversations.
And by outcomes, I mean things like: people leave a conversation feeling happier than when they went in to it, and head back to their tasks with a spring in their step. Or, conflict escalation is avoided, and a relationship is repaired, resulting in no time being wasted in all the stuff we get in to, when we’re in conflict (filling half the day talking to colleagues about it, not being able to concentrate because we’re emotionally charged, various avoidance strategies, etc.).
“The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor”
I’m reminded here of William O’Brien’s wisdom (quoted by Peter Senge and Otto Scharmer in the books ‘Presence’ and ‘Theory U’; for more on this click here). Bill O’Brien was the former CEO of Hanover Insurance in the US. I understand his quote as this: what we’re feeling on the inside, as we intervene in a situation, will determine the outcome of that intervention. Also, what our intention is, as we intervene, will determine the success of the outcome. So, for example, as a manager if I go into a challenging situation with an employee, knowing I ‘should’ ask questions and genuinely explore the incident, but really, on the inside, feeling annoyed and frustrated with them and – if truth be known – not really caring if this leaks out a bit – then bingo, the outcome will be that I find out a bit about their view of the incident, and I give a smidgeon of my frustration and annoyance (if not a lot!). Does this really uncover what happened, and set us both up for a truly better outcome next time??
Many of my coachees come to me because they have intrapersonal or interpersonal challenges; in plain speak, they have challenges interacting with others in the workplace, or they are facing personal challenges, dilemmas, decision points in their lives. I use various models, as befits their experience and their areas of interest, to support them in gaining new perspectives on relationships they have with others in the workplace, and how to bring about changes – to make these relationships healthier, more positive, where both parties are getting more of what they want from the relationship, and importantly, the job is getting done easier/better/more efficiently, etc.
My Experience Learning to be a Supervisor of Coaches
I am currently completing a Diploma in Coaching Supervision, with the Coaching Supervision Academy in London (Coaching Supervision Academy). We are learning the practice of Centering. I interpret this as how to be mindful in what we’re doing, and how to get out of our heads and remember that there is a body below our heads, which actually has its own much neglected wisdom! It is amazing what a difference, to the ensuing human interaction (e.g. giving a hard message to someone, or entering into a difficult conversation) – this makes.
I heard on my last Coaching Supervision workshop that the CEO of a bank was undertaking a coaching supervision course. Not because he wants to supervise coaches, but because he believes these skills will serve him well in managing and leading his people.
Once we’ve developed the skills of artful conversation, of skilled Advocacy and Inquiry, once we’ve learnt how to be ‘big’ enough to be non-defensive when putting our views across or asking others for their views, it’s hard to lose these skills, and it’s hard not to use them in all conversations in life. And what are human relationships about – work or non-work – if not about rich, funny, enlightening, powerful, moving, intelligent, motivational, caring, productive conversations?!
Hi Wendy – thank you for sharing this. I agree completely with your views about these skills being for leaders and managers in everyday work – quality conversations make such a difference. It’s also a great reminder for some design work that I’m doing today/tomorrow, so the timing was perfect!
Thanks Gillian! Good luck with your design work
Thank you Wendy – a really rich article. I’m particularly struck by the importance of inviting managers and leaders to look at their own inner world, and how that affects the quality of their interactions with others and what happens as a result. This can be challenging at a deep level but will result in a far better ability to use a coaching approach than learning any number of coaching models or questioning techniques!
Thanks Wendy really interesting. I was recently talking with a client who had modern apprentices taking up positions after leaving university. The client was explaining how he was finding the level of communication skills worrying especially when the apprentice was dealing with the public or handling a more tricky interaction with a customer (internal or external). So perhaps there are other opportunities for coaching skills even before people begin their working lives……