I had the good fortune to be pointed in the direction of the UK Coaching Connected Coaches site and today we had a healthy conversation about language.

During lockdown, most of us outdoor coaches are really feeling the lack of contact as well as the lack of fresh air and our chosen sport (or sports).  In true positive fashion though, we are starting to look at how we can work effectively in a virtual social space and to explore the slightly elusive positives of this time.

It is great to be included with people from such a cross-section of sport and for me, it’s also fascinating to see the cross-over with the work that I do as a coach in education and business organisations.

I wasn’t alone in thinking that it might be a time for supporting our clients (sports people or other coaches) in really thinking carefully about what we do, and an esteemed colleague from athletics suggested that one thing that we could work on was being much more careful and specific in the language that we use.

Reflecting on our online conversation I am reminded of the number of times that I’ve gone down the line of ‘why?’.  Now,  Root Cause Analysis or ‘The 5 Whys’ are well known tools in leadership but neither of these quite get to what I am seeking to achieve in coaching.  Nonetheless I believe that they have a part in helping us to understand the value in delving deep into things that we might be just taking at face value, so as  little aside, let’s have a very quick look.

Root Cause Analysis does what it says on the tin and is valuable in itself because it heads for resolution of cause, not just overt symptoms, and is therefore often useful in an organisational environment as it considers:

  • What happened
  • How it happened
  • Why it happened and then
  • Actions for preventing reoccurrence

‘The 5 Whys’ tool is another from that massive Toyota Toolbox which also brought us ‘nemawashi’ – the idea that we need to walk the shop floor to fully understand what is happening (before we can then understand why).  It can get right into the possible causes of single or multiple problems by gaining an understanding of events at different levels in a chain of events or sections of a business process.

As a tool for coaching, I adapt it to vary the process, using carefully chosen open or closed questions to filter and define what is really happening, either in a physical process or in someone’s understanding of that process.  Quite often the initial answer that we get from a question is quick-fire.   For example, “How did that feel?” might well elicit the reply, “Good”.  Unfortunately this a) doesn’t give us any specific information on what was happening and b) hasn’t encouraged real reflection on the process.

It is in the further questioning that we really start to get to the bones of it all.  And this is, perhaps, where we can use the time and space (which sounds a bit sci-fi!) that we currently have to explore these things in the detail that they deserve, leading us to yet better results.  One element is the use of silence which is a well-accepted tool in the box of coaches, but it’s a tricky one to use well – especially in a possibly fast-moving physical environment.  (Time and space, time and space!!) Let’s use it now.

So, perhaps an example would help. (I’m sure all coaches could translate the following conversation into their chosen field – I’d love to know how your conversations go!)

I’m helping someone to ride the perfect (haha!) 20m trot circle.  I will give them some basic rules (handrails, if you like) and send them away to explore.  Let’s suppose that things are going well, so after a few minutes we’ll regroup and discuss what is going on, it might go something like this:

Me: ‘Tell me about that” (I am deliberately keeping this broad and creating an opportunity for any kind of answer).

Client: “Well, it was pretty good” (So, this is my opening for exploring what good really was.  I’m also doing a little internal dance because they haven’t said, ‘ugh, it was awful’!)

Me: “In what way was it good?” (Open question, which may well generate a moment’s silence and thought)

Client: “The rhythm was good, but it wasn’t quite a circle” (We need to keep our clients focussing on the good things, but we’ll return to dealing with the rest later)

Me: “What was good about the rhythm?”

Client: “It stayed the same”. (I’m pleased with this because it’s what we are after, however, I want my client to be able to go away and replicate it so that they can ‘self-coach’ when they away from their coaching session).

Me: “How did you know the rhythm was good?” (And it is at this point that I start to get rather blank looks, because they have given me a good answer – what else could I possibly expect??)

Client: “The hoofbeats were even one-two, one-two, all around the circle”.

Me: “Great. It looked like a super rhythm to me too. As well as hearing the hoofbeats, what could you feel that helped you to tell that the rhythm was good”.

Client: “Boris, ” (lets just call the horse Boris for now shall we?)…”didn’t rush off”.  (This is good too, because it means that Boris is finding some balance.  This gives me a clue, as coach, that there might be something else which will be significant).

Me: “That’s a good feeling then and it’ll make things easier, won’t it? What difference was there in the feel through the reins?

Client: “I didn’t feel him taking so much weight in my left hand”.

Me: “Brilliant. So when you are working on your own, how will you know what good is with reference to the rhythm?”

Client: “From the sound and feel of the hoofbeats and whether I’m taking a different contact through the reins”

So, we move from a simple word, to a definition of that word which is specific to that rider, in her context when she rides a 20m circle on Boris.  She has described it in her own words, so it should be meaningful and easily remembered.

In other coaching, it works well too and helping clients to consider the real meaning of words means that they can celebrate small things, or succeed in keeping things in perspective by understanding exactly what ‘happy’, or ‘good’ or ‘difficult’ really mean for them.

Language – let’s celebrate it and use it.

 

 

 

 

 

Alison Payne

Author Alison Payne

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