Here’s a scenario that repeats itself regularly while participants in our coaching programs are practicing their coaching skills. Two participants are ready to have a coaching discussion, one as coach, the other as coachee. The coachee puts a real challenge on the table. The coach asks questions and is listening carefully, with body language and eye contact making that very clear. There is no doubt that the coach is keen to understand the issue at hand.
Then, at a certain point, the coach leans back, breaks eye contact, changes his or her own facial expression, and their eyes even sort of ‘glaze over’. What happened!? Debrief discussions repeatedly reveal that at that point the coach feels s/he has enough information, and has formed an opinion about what the coachee should do. The struggle to not advise has begun.
Not giving advice is probably the number one challenge that most leaders have when learning to coach. I can empathize – they are being asked to stop doing something they are really good at! But the goal here isn’t just to refrain from giving advice. It goes much deeper than that. The goal is to not even THINK of solutions. This means completely changing what is going on inside one’s head! If we are forming solutions, advice, and opinions, then we are not deeply listening to our coachee. Nor are we listening to our own emotions, or catching meaningful side comments, or observing the coachee’s body language, etc. etc.
You get my point.
So why do we as coaches give in to thinking of solutions? It probably is indicative of a genuine desire to help. And, if you tend to be task-oriented, waiting for someone to come up with their own ideas while you already have great ones, can be quite a challenge.
It may help to remember that people are not always ready to go into ‘solution mode’. They may just need to have someone listen to their story, or to empathize with them. It can be a huge relief just to ‘get it off their chest’, as they may not even have spoken about the issue with anyone before. In fact, simply summarizing what the coachee has said can bring them so much clarity, that they might not even need any further help from you.
Stay focused on your task, which is to help your coachee step up to their task. And if you still can’t help but think of solutions once in a while, try writing them down, so that you can turn your focus back to the conversation.