The Unlearning Project - How a Coach Grows

As we head into the homestretch of 2017, I am wrapping up an intense, yearlong Executive and Professional Coaching program. I decided to do this program so that I would gain additional tools for my coaching and consulting practice. This year has stretched me in ways I could not have imagined. A key takeaway is in order to become a better coach, I have to ‘unlearn’ some of the skills I rely on. I take pride in being a career and job-search subject matter expert. I expected the coaching program to enhance my skills. What ended up happening was one of the most professionally and personally challenging growth experiences of my adult years. I share what I learned below:

It’s all in the asking, not in the telling.

My work as a consultant required me to lecture, present, train, analyze and advise. Helping clients, friends, and family – even strangers - achieve their goal or solve a dilemma is what gets me up in the morning. It is in my DNA. Imagine being a life-long advice giver, then being told I serve my clients better if I ask more and tell less? That I am less effective if I advise someone? Sit with that a moment. When you ask instead of tell, it fosters awareness and ownership, two conditions that have a much higher probability for change. Think of the last time someone ‘told’ you what to do. Did you do it? If yes, out of obligation or motivation? Which one do you believe has the more lasting impact? Asking powerful, open-ended questions promotes awareness. It is from this awareness that action – self-motivated and intuitive – arises.

Listening is not hearing.

'Hearing' is the physical activity of sound falling on the ears and the biological processes involved in its perception. 'Listening' is the ability to pay attention to what the sounds means and understand it. We hear noise, but we listen to music.[1]

The greatest gift we can give someone is to listen. Listen with your full attention. Put down your smartphone. Step away from the computer. Turn towards the speaker. When we fully focus on listening to another person, they have a chance to be understood. Acknowledged. It is one of our fundamental needs as human beings – to matter. When was the last time someone really listened to you? Got you. Understood you. How did that make you feel? How did you feel towards that person? My greatest struggle as a life-long advice giver is to listen without the urge to respond. Most of us are already thinking of our answer before the speaker even finishes. Guess what happens when we do that? We stop listening. The next time you have the opportunity, listen. To your child. To your partner. To your co-worker. You may be surprised by what you 'hear'.

Don’t just give advice. Ask for permission.

We give advice at the drop of a hat. A coworker, friend, or family member will come to us with a situation. More often than not, we respond without a thought. Think about what I just wrote – without a thought. Giving advice is often about telling the other person what they should do. We “know” and we are “sure”. But what would happen if we asked what the other person needed instead? Sometimes it is not advice they seek but the ability to talk it out or to be heard. Or, through the process of asking, you can allow the other person to get specific about the assistance they seek from you. How much richer and more helpful would our advice be? When you ask permission to give advice not only do you allow the other person to decide whether they want the information, but the advice you do give is often more helpful.

My Unlearning Project has been painfully humbling. Learning to suppress and redirect my urge to tell, advise or have the right answer has brought me frustration, doubt and (even) tears. It has been so worth it. Coaching is a profound endeavor that is simple in concept and difficult to do well. My fellow coaching students have watched me with compassion and humor as I stumbled to improve my skills. Asking instead of telling. Listening deeply. Becoming the “Guide on the Side” rather than the “Sage on the Stage.” I am excited for what 2018 will bring – getting my certificate in Executive and Professional Coaching, receiving International Coaching Federation certification, and passing a Professional Certified Coach-level oral examination. Most of all, I am eager to serve and help my clients find career satisfaction and advancement in the coming year. Happy New Year, everyone!