Ten traps to avoid when coaching or mentoring

 

Being an effective coach or mentor is a critical business skill and doing it well will add greatly to your effectiveness as a manager and leader. Some people are naturally skilled in this area, while others may need more support to incorporate coaching and mentoring into their day-to-day activities. But regardless of how experienced you are, when you are coaching someone it is very easy to develop unhelpful behaviours and bad practices. These are some of the traps you may fall into when coaching – we have seen all of them and fallen into most of them ourselves!

Added on 17 December 2015 by Mike Brent,Fiona Dent

Coaching conversation in a busy workplace

Being an effective coach or mentor is a critical business skill and doing it well will add greatly to your effectiveness as a manager and leader. Some people are naturally skilled in this area, while others may need more support to incorporate coaching and mentoring into their day-to-day activities. But regardless of how experienced you are, when you are coaching someone it is very easy to develop unhelpful behaviours and bad practices. These are some of the traps you may fall into when coaching – we have seen all of them and fallen into most of them ourselves!

  1. Taking the Monkey. There is an expression, “To take the monkey“, meaning that you end up taking on other people’s problems and issues. This is extremely common in management for two reasons. One, the manager very often thinks that their job is to solve problems, and the other is that, as a result of hierarchy and a command and control culture, many employees have become used to letting someone else do their thinking for them. So as a coach you must avoid taking responsibility for other people’s issues. Your job is to make them do the thinking and not solve the problem for them!
  2. Giving advice. In our workshops we observe many examples of managers whose default style is to go immediately to giving advice. What we call the “Why don’t you?“ or “If I were you“ style of coaching. We know that it`s difficult to resist giving advice, and of course sometimes advice is necessary, but it is not coaching. So instead of giving advice, put it aside and tell yourself that you are there to help the coachee reflect, come up with options and find their own answers.
  3. Offering a solution. An employee comes to the manager with an issue and instead of asking questions and listening, the manager feels obliged to offer their solution to the employee. Apart from the fact that the boss is not always right, this leads to a mental laziness from the employee, who is not being forced to think the issue through and come up with different courses of action.
  4. Interrupting. It is such a common thing for managers to do. Sometimes it comes from arrogance but often it comes from a sense of trying to be helpful. But interrupting people is an insidious thing. People have a basic psychological need to be heard and listened to, and you are denying that if you interrupt them. You are also telling them that their point of view is less important than yours, which is disruptive to the coaching process.
  5. Not being fully present. Be fully present and in the moment when you are coaching. It means that the most important thing you can do is give the coachee your presence and full attention. It`s not always necessary to know what your next question is in advance, but if you are fully focused on the coachee with your mind firmly in the present, then you will notice more and hear more and your next question will be easier.
  6. Inappropriate Non Verbal Behaviour. Your coachee will be observing you at the same time as you are observing them. This means that you have to pay attention to your own non verbal behaviour. You need to be able to show interest and energy. Avoid showing any impatience, don’t fidget and don’t look at your watch during the session, it will just make the coachee feel that they need to hurry up. Remember, to set some guidelines about confidentiality and timing at the start of the session to avoid this.
  7. Being Distracted. This can easily happen. You too have many things on your mind and you can allow your thoughts to wander during the process. This means that you are not focusing on the present situation, not listening closely enough to what is being said and not paying attention to the nuances and changes of tone. You then stay on a superficial level and don’t pick up on the underlying issues. Also your coachee will readily notice that you are not paying attention and will conclude that you are not taking them, or the issue - or both, seriously.
  8. Interrogating. This can be a risk if the coach starts asking too many closed questions in an impatient and hurried way. The coachee does not feel listened to and feels that the coach is not trying to explore the issue together, but is just looking for facts that could then be used to criticize. You also have to pay attention to your tone of voice. The process can also seem like an interrogation if you are not taking account of the coachee`s feelings and emotions.
  9. Blaming and Judging. If you become critical of the coachee and their actions, and they feel that you are blaming them,it will just make them defensive. The sense that you are being judgmental comes from the words you use of course, but also by the tone of your voice. When coaching someone you must remain open minded, neutral and non- judgmental. You are trying to get at the reality and truth of things, and criticizing is the surest way of making the coachee clam up.
  10. Asking Leading questions. Questioning is one of the key skills of an effective coach. One of the common traps we observe is for managers to ask leading questions- that is questions which lead the coachee into replying in a certain way.

For example questions like -“Do you think you could help John with that?” This is basically suggesting that it would be a good idea to help John. And it might well be, but it`s not the coachee`s idea.  Or  “ Don’t you agree that this is a good course of action?” Again this is really suggesting that the coachee agree with you that it is a good course of action. The danger then is that the coachee just says yes it is, but actually is not really committed to that particular action.  .

Don’t worry if you have fallen into some or all of these traps, most coaches do at some time.  The essential thing is to be aware of your mistake and ensure you learn from them.


Information taken from The Leaders Guide to Coaching and Mentoring: How to use soft skills to get hard results by Mike Brent and Fiona Elsa Dent, FT Publishing 2015.