01/25/2019

Shut up and listen

I bet you didn’t know that coaching is like painting.

Painting? Yes: as in painting walls.

Let’s assume you want to paint your living room walls. The first thing you’re going to do is drive to the DIY store to get the necessary equipment. You want a perfect result, so you buy top quality: a premium brush with extra-fine bristles, rollers with multi-adjustable telescopic rods, the type of paint container professionals use. Back at home, you roll up your sleeves: ready to go!

But wait a second. Have you dusted the walls? Lined the floors, taped the edges, covered your furniture? And: are your lights bright enough? That’s another essential factor, if you want everything to turn out nicely.

Tools alone don't do the trick. That is true for painting, and it is true for coaching.

Listening can be hard work

Or let me put this differently: The world's best coaching tools are of little use, if you’re not sure how to apply them correctly. You also need the right setting – which, above all, includes active and empathetic listening.

When one of your people comes to you with a request or concern, it's time to sit down and listen actively and with empathy. As an experienced manager, you know that. It’s old hat in people management. But logical as it may sound in theory, it’s not that easy to implement. At least that's my experience with people in leadership roles.

Active listening is exhausting. Active listening is annoying. Active listening takes time. Fully concentrating on the other person for ten minutes, listening carefully, really engaging with the conversation – managers tend to find that hard to do. Many still have difficulties putting into practice what seems so natural and self-evident in theory.

Time well invested

So, managers often try a little shortcut, in order to get around investing those ten minutes. Looking for a quick way out, they might say something like, "have you thought of solution xyz?"

Well – nice try. And not very helpful. It's not you, the coach, who should come up with a solution, let alone present it on a silver platter. No: the solution expert is your coachee. Your tasks is to create an optimal setting – one that helps the other person take another step in their development. Which may sometimes mean you simply shut up and listen.

So, at your next one-on-one with a staff member, try to engage with the conversation and take the time needed. Trust me: there's no better way to invest ten minutes.

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