Getting around coaching roadblocks

Matt Somers shares his handy traffic light system to help you get around reticence and iron out misconceptions about coaching. 

If you decide to adopt a coaching approach at work, you’ll likely find that some people will love the idea, some may be reticent, and others will be downright against it. Understanding these reactions can help you develop your approach, help you get the most from any coaching relationship, and build your appreciation of the thoughts and feelings that the prospect of being coached can provoke in others.

We can classify these reactions into a kind of traffic light system. 

Red light: What’s the block?
These are the sort of reactions that people may have:

  • ‘The last thing I need is yet another person telling me what to do’
  • ‘Coach me? They’ve been here half the time I have!’
  • ‘I don’t need a coach, I can work this out myself’
  • ‘I don’t want to progress, I’m happy as I am’

Our coaching will be meaningless until we acknowledge their misconceptions and take time to clarify exactly what coaching is. 

A coach is not there to tell you what to do. That would be ‘telling’ and not ‘coaching’. Instead a coach is likely to ask you lots of questions. Questions designed to bring a focus on what you want, compare that with what you’ve got already, and find ways in which you might change.

It follows that a coach doesn’t necessarily need as much expertise as you. Or even any expertise in the topic for discussion at all (in fact, it often gets in the way). Their job is to help you learn more from your own experiences and get the most from your own expertise.

So, yes, you can work things out yourself. But the feedback, insight and focus a good coach – or coaching style manager – can help you develop can dramatically shrink the time it takes you to solve problems or develop innovations.

Progress is defined by the individual. So one person may define it as a promotion at work but another may define it as feeling happier. A coach is there to support you in having more of what you want and less of what you don’t.

Amber light: What’s missing? 
Those in the amber light category may want to begin coaching, but we must again acknowledge that something is missing. These are the sorts of things they may be thinking. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • ‘My manager coaches me whether I like it or not. I don’t get a choice’
  • ‘What I’m really looking for is a mentor to show me the ropes’
  • ‘That’s great a coach will be able to find some good courses for me to attend’
  • ‘The senior team get coached, so why shouldn’t we?’

Coaching may meet these initial expectations but we should take time to highlight the real benefits that it will bring. The multiple benefits of coaching deserve an article to themselves, but in my long experience I would say the main ones are:

  • Improved self-awareness
  • Lasting behavioural change
  • Improved ability to handle turbulence
  • Acknowledged weaknesses 

Green light: Get coaching!
The third set of people – the green lights – give a clear signal to get going. Here are some of the comments they might make: 

  • ‘Well I do need some help settling into my new role’
  • ‘We’ve really got to raise our game if we’re going to meet target’
  • ‘My career has ground to a halt. I don’t really know what to do next’
  • ‘Well if it can stop me working all the hours God sends I’m all for it!’

They represent the perfect backdrop to establishing a coaching relationship.

Hints and Tips
Before embarking on coaching conversations, talk to the person concerned and, using the list above, get a sense of their understanding of coaching and how eager they might be to get involved. 

We sometimes talk in terms of a person’s ‘coachability’. That is their readiness, willingness and ability to be coached at this moment in time. Acknowledge this, and it can be the start of a great coaching conversation.


About Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the founder and Managing Director of Coaching Skills Training, a specialist training consultancy focused on the idea of the manager as coach. It operates throughout the UK and beyond, working in partnership with clients to ensure that what is intended is achieved. It has a wide and varied client list including the likes of HSBC and Citigroup. 

As advocates of the coaching approach Matt works hard to make sure clients are able to continue developing the skills learned long after any initial project has finished. He is a leading voice on training and coaching in the UK publishing Coaching at Work in 2006 and Coaching in a Week in 2016. He holds an MSc in Human Resource Development and is a Fellow of the CIPD.

Matt’s previous blogs:

’10 reasons why charities should use eLearning’

There are hundreds of reasons of why charities should use eLearning but we’ve whittled it down to 10. 

Whether you’re making the case to start your eLearning journey or are looking to enhance the investment you’ve already made, these are the benefits of eLearning that will deliver significant results. 

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