I am a coach and a trainer of coaches and I have noticed the benefits of preparing for coaching conversations in both practical and psychological ways. For me, the coach is there to support the coachee in thinking deeply and usefully about the topic brought to the session. To do this successfully, I find these steps really help me as the coach get into the right mental and physical state to listen carefully, ask thought-provoking questions and minimise my own mental chatter.
1. Focus for the session: background and groundwork
It helps me to coach well if I know something about the topic or issue before the coaching session begins. I tend to email or call the coachee to get a quick outline of the areas for discussion and sometimes the coachee also emails me documents ahead of the session as background reading. This helps me orientate to context, reduces the amount of basic narrative in the coaching session and allows me to draft some relevant, well-worded questions that I can draw on during the conversation. I have learnt that crafting questions is a key skill in coaching and that some quiet time devising four or five meaty questions is well spent, as some questions formulated on the spot can be less incisive or focused.
2. The location for the coaching conversation
I have noted that people respond very differently to coaching conversations in different environments. I ask the coachee before the session where might be the most productive space for the conversation to take place. In many settings, their office is not that kind of space. There is the risk of interruption and all the associations with operational everyday activity. It is often a hectic, pressured environment not conducive to deep reflection. I have found that a neutral space such as a quiet cafe can often help the coachee to relax, stay focused and think reflectively.
3. Establishing the session goal
Before the coaching session I sometimes ask the coachee what they want to get out of the conversation; what they want to take away. Just posing this question helps clarify my role as facilitator and not expert! It also helps us both get on the same page with the purpose of our session. If what they say is vague or broad, we refine it together when we meet into something that is manageable in a half hour or one hour coaching slot. When I was learning to coach, I often used to end up coaching a huge topic or issue in an unrealistic timeframe. I have learnt to help people chunk things down and prioritise them into their coaching schedule, so that they end up with something clear and useful from a session, and can feel they are moving forward with steps to take into practice.
4. Getting into the right frame of mind for coaching
I am sure this is a different state and a different process for each coach. For me, this means making sure I am in the coaching space physically a little while before the coachee if possible. In this way I can be calm and focused on the conversation and quieten my own mental chatter! It is easy to rush from one thing to another but for an insightful coaching conversation, I find calm focused attention really helps. I need to be paying attention to what the coachee says, doesn’t say, their energy, their language patterns etc and this requires attention to details in both watching and listening. If my mind is distracted and full of mental chatter, I can be less observant and helpful to the person I am coaching.
5. Thinking about capturing key points
Coaches approach this one in different ways. I tend to complete a very sketchy mind map of key points arising during the session as this helps me get an overview and note things to come back to later on. Sometimes I note down key words used by the coachee as well, since they show a lot about a person’s attitude and mindset. I always ask the coachee if and how they want to note points down and this varies widely- some people bullet as they go, some only note action points and the occasional person uses pictures as prompts for further reflection or reminders. Some people like to complete a reflection afterwards and if so, I send a template or some questions as prompts for thought, in case this is helpful.
6. Structuring the coaching conversation
I find models for coaching conversations useful as they give you a skeleton that underpins the conversation, a sense of shape that ensures different angles and perspectives get covered. They shouldn’t be followed slavishly, otherwise they become a constraining device instead of an enabling one. If I think I may use a coaching model such as GROW, I will have a few copies to hand, so that I can dip into it as appropriate. For more information on GROW model, see the links below:
I hope these are helpful tips for people starting off with coaching conversations and it would be great to hear about the different ways that you prepare for your own sessions.