Should You Give Advice or Coach?

by Jennifer Miller on June 8, 2012

in Personal Effectiveness

“Hey, I need a sounding board. Can I run something past you”?

coach whistleIf you’ve had these words directed towards you at work, congratulations! Somebody sees you as a trustworthy confidant.You are now in a position to act as an informal coach to a peer. Before you open your mouth, be sure you’re clear on one thing: coaching is not giving someone advice. Giving advice is saying what you would do. It makes the conversation about you. Coaching helps people decide what they are going to do which is a far more powerful outcome.

Here are 3 tactics you can employ to help coach your colleague towards a conclusion that is meaningful to them:

Facilitate exploration. When you are coaching someone, you’re helping him or her think through an issue. You don’t take responsibility for the outcome, you simply help guide the exploration using open-ended questions such as:

– What do you make of that?
– If you had to do it again, what would you do differently?
– What do you want? If you got it, then what?
– What are other options/possibilities?

Point out a distinction. I was talking with a colleague recently who was filling me in on his company’s massive reorganization. I wondered if his job was in jeopardy. He replied that he really enjoyed the specialized type of work he does, saying, “I can’t imagine doing anything else; I wouldn’t want to look for another job.” I casually remarked that those were two separate issues. It stopped him short. “Yeah, I guess they are.”

Help clarify. Many times, people need to “talk out loud” about their situation. Doing so helps them surface inconsistencies in their story and uncover gaps in their thought  process. Use helpful clarifying questions such as:

– I hear you saying X and Y. Which option holds more power for you?
– When you say <paraphrase what he/she just said>, what do you mean?
– You seem to be caught in a circular thinking pattern. How can you break the cycle?
– I’m hearing contradictions; what are you hearing?

By using exploration, distinction and clarification to coach a colleague, you will be stepping into a leadership role, if only for a few minutes. And that is far better than doling out advice.



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