No More Negative Waves, Coach

No More Negative Waves, Coach

I lunched this week with a senior banker friend, who I used to work with many years ago. During lunch he shared a coaching challenge he is having that is the same challenge managers from several industries have shared with me – he has a younger commercial loan officer who is “okay,” but is not “stepping-up” – not trying to find larger loan customers and not taking responsibility for some things he should.

Sound familiar to you? I suspected after talking with him that my friend was not a Connector Manager-Coach, but likely one of the other types of coaches I described last week in my article Hey Coach, What’s In this for Me?

In this article and my next I will explore three topics that might help us coach better in the current work environment: (1) Why “negative feedback” is not working now; (2) How we might begin to think more like a Connector Manager-Coach; and (3) How we can ask better coaching questions using lessons from improv actors.

People Avoid Negative Feedback. One of my favorite Clint Eastwood movies is Kelly’s Heroes. In that WWII movie Donald Sutherland plays a very amusing hippy-like tank commander nick-named “Oddball.” Whenever one of his soldiers brought him a new problem, Oddball was famous for saying, “Enough of them negative waves, man.”

Oddball would fit-into the current work environment very well. In a Jan-Feb 2018 HBR article called Negative Feedback Rarely Leads to Improvement we learn that when people receive leader and co-worker feedback that does not “confirm” what he or she believes about him/herself these people are more likely to move away from these co-workers or leaders.

Negative feedback, which the authors refer to as “disconfirming feedback”, lead some people to “shop for confirmation” in either other departments or other companies.

The authors note we humans need positive feedback to sustain a positive view of ourselves. When something threatens our positive view, it is very natural for us to look elsewhere – and looking elsewhere today is easier than ever. They remind us that most of our organizational feedback systems do not help our employees wrestle with “dueling motivations: I need to feel I’m valuable, and I need to improve.”

I found this research useful because it helps explain what we are seeing in the workplace today and it is consistent with what we are learning about how social media is exacerbating “confirmation bias” and how humans make choices that confirm our self-identities.

The Big Question. If people are looking for feedback that confirms what they believe about themselves, how does a manager-coach communicate with a good team member about something the coach feels needs improvement without it becoming “disconfirming feedback?”

Thinking Like a Connector Manager-CoachThe first step for you, the coach, is to begin to think differently about how you relate with the team member.  As I noted in my last article people developed by Connector Manager-Coaches are three times as likely to become high performers as people coached by any other type of manager-coach.  Here are six tips for how you can think like a Connector Coach before you have a coaching session with a team member:

  • Embrace two symbiotic goals at the same time – You want each team member to feel valued and you want the organization to be healthy and growing.
  • Recognize that you only know a fraction of what the team member is thinking and feeling and some of what you think about them is wrong. Go into a session being curious about them.
  • Realize that while you think you have identified exactly what the person needs to improve, it is likely the person does not know it. Or, if they do, they do not think it is as important as you. This is because they have not answered the question “why is this important to me?” Before a team member can successfully tackle an improvement area the coach must help the person discover the answer to this “why” question.
  • Before a coaching session begins you should have at least three clear objectives for yourself. First, address how you will act in a relational way during the session. This means how you will behave to strengthen your relationship with the person (eg. they feel valued, confirmed or validated). If stumped, think about what made you feel good when you had your own sessions with a motivating coach. Second, develop in advance an opening “problem framing” question. And, third, develop a closing “next steps” question.
  • Be careful not to prepare in advance a team member’s objective(s) you want coming out of the session. While I think your guidance is valuable, I strongly suggest you let the team member develop the objective. This helps them feel more valuable and when you agree with their objective or next steps, they are also “confirmed.” The coach should certainly ask questions to help the team member discover the most effective next steps.
  • Spend 75 – 80% of your coaching time asking questions and listening. Let the team member discover the solutions. Spend your talking time helping the person understand “why” the task or new behavior is important to both them and the team and how and where they can turn for help in skill development.

 Asking Good QuestionsConnecting Coaches are good listeners and ask effective, insightful questions – questions that help the team member develop. To start out I like to remind myself of Dale Carnegie’s advice in How to Win Friends and Influence People – “To be a good listener you start with questions the other person will enjoy answering.”

In a coaching session for a team member you are developing I think you should be prepared to ask four types of questions.

  • Opening relational questions – This question helps create a comfortable and respectful climate.
  • Problem-framing questions – This question gives the team member a topical framework for the conversation and a coach a springboard into exploring the “why” behind the problem.
  • Follow-up questions – These questions generally cannot be pre-planned and are asked in the moment. They are the most important questions and require the greatest skill.
  • Closing-next steps questions – This question helps the team member develop their own objectives for moving on to the next stage of development.

In my next article What Coaches Can Learn from Improv Actors I will give you question examples and share tips from improv actors that might help us with those challenging, in-the-moment “follow-up” questions.

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