Karen Dean from Diabolo Limited and me:my™coach and Sam Humphrey from Grit Limited explore the all-important difference between chatting and coaching
We love a good chat. The opportunity to blow off about someone, the chance to get something off our chest, the freedom to speak our mind. These conversations happen between partners, friends, family and colleagues. We may have a preferred individual to chat with. We may find ourselves telling the story of what happened over and over again, seeking understanding and validation from anyone who will listen. During a chat, it is common for the listener to try and show empathy, by quickly sharing what similarly happened to them. This can feel like a hijack and be frustrating. On the other hand, it can feel comforting that “I am not the only one going through this.” There is always a place for a good chat.
Chatting enables us to make a connection with another human being. Finding a bond with others helps us thrive, not just survive. Talking combats loneliness and we feel valued and included. Neurochemistry is presenting evidence of the hormones which are stimulated when we can talk in a trusting, transparent way.
A coaching conversation is very different from a chat in particular ways. There are conditions which need to be met to demonstrate coaching competencies. These are now specified by credentialing bodies, such as the International Coach Federation (ICF) or European Coaching and Mentoring Council (EMCC).
There are hundreds of definitions of coaching. One which has endured is offered by Miles Downey. One of the early influencers of professional coaching, he defines coaching as the “art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another.” Paying attention to each of the words will expand the meaning and intention, illustrating the essence of a coaching conversation.
Art – Coaching is an art in that although there is likely to be a process being followed, there is something uniquely co-created by both parties in the moment as they bring their ways of being into the mix.
Facilitating – Is important as the coach is there to support and challenge the client to think in new ways, finding their own solutions. Deep listening is key. In Nancy Klein’s book, Time to Think, she describes how to create a safe environment enabling access to high-quality thinking by being fully present for, and listening fully to, the client. In a coaching conversation, much time is spent discussing and agreeing on what permissions exist in the coaching relationship. These permissions would typically cover things like confidentiality, levels of challenge and feedback to others. In exploring permissions, the coach and client begin to build trust which is vital for achieving outcomes. In a chat, there is no such agreement or permission; the conversation will arrive unannounced and without agency.
Performance – This comes as a consequence of coaching, performance is enhanced in its delivery, speed, quality, skill, or by easing a transition. Performance necessitates a goal to be set. Chats are often aimless, meandering until the subject matter surfaces. Whilst a good outcome may result from a chat, it is rarely planned.
Learning – This is stimulated by the coach offering feedback and observations. This expands the client’s awareness, enabling a deeper understanding of their patterns and preferences. Insight results in choices being made which have not previously been apparent or available.
Development – In coaching, this is about growing and integrating new knowledge and taking fresh courses of action, deepening the sense of autonomy and individuality. We can challenge our beliefs, define our values and craft our sense of self. Coaching accelerates development.
Another – The whole conversation is about the other, the client. Coaching tends not to be a space where the coach shares their stories. The coach acknowledges what the client seems to be experiencing, such as frustration, anger, sadness or challenge. Coaching is all about the client and the goals or outcomes they have chosen. Coaching is different from mentoring. Mentoring embodies the notion that “I’ve walked this path before and I’m giving you the benefit of my knowledge and experience”. Ideas are offered and suggestions made.
The role of the coach and the manner in which this plays out is defined by the client. The coach might be asked to keep the client-focused, could be invited to challenge, may be asked to give them time to reflect or to ensure they maintain momentum. The coach needs to be open to their client guiding them to be the best coach they can be. In a chat, there are few such ‘rules of engagement’, both parties operate in silent assumption as to their role and purpose in a chat.
A coaching conversation focuses on the future. Having an objective makes measurement possible. Coaching conversations should add value to the client, create change or movement which has a tangible or visceral result. As many coaching conversations are a funded service, they demand a return on investment or a return on expectation. The funding may take the form of an external coach’s fees or an internal coach’s time, either way, there is a cost attached. This is not so for a chat. We can shoot the breeze for free with anyone we want and for as long as we want – there is no expectation that a chat should fundamentally change anything, long term.
When moving forward really matters, a coach or manager using a coaching style will offer a more impactful intervention. The conditions written here will guide and refresh the ground rules for effective coaching and help keep them separate from juicy chats.
Coaching Stories: Flowing and Falling of Being a Coach by Karen Dean and Sam Humphrey was published by Routledge, worldwide, in February 2019.
Please note: This is a commercial profile