How To Use Your Coach Effectively

You’ve been offered a chance to have some coaching. You might see this as a perk, or perhaps a necessity. Or, you may take it as a sign of weakness in yourself.

Like individuals who receive it, organizations, too, have varying attitudes about coaching. Some use it to groom and retain stars. Others pull in coaches when a valuable worker falters.

The best way to view a coach is as a routine but important development tool. No matter how your organization employs coaching, consider it a great opportunity to progress professionally.

Coaches vary in approach, education level, experience and focus. It is important to trust your coach and be comfortable with his or her credentials and experience. Choose someone with whom you feel a connection and a certain level of initial comfort. The coach should understand your role in the organization and the kinds of situations you face there.

Coaching provides a unique opportunity for specialized attention to professional and personal details that augment workplace performance. Taking full advantage of this opportunity can increase a worker’s engagement in the organization and boost productivity.

There are five ways to maximize the coaching relationship:

• Identify Your Needs

People obtain coaching for a myriad of reasons, ranging from a desire to keep themselves in peak mental and emotional condition, to wanting help with a particular issue or challenge.

Whatever your reason, it is important to articulate it to yourself. Otherwise, you may experience coaching as a waste of time—you find the time spent with your coach seems directionless or unfocussed, or money—you aren’t seeing results. Deciding for yourself what your needs are helps you gain control over the coaching process since you’ve defined what success will look like.

In some cases, it may be to keep yourself performing optimally. Or, you may want to focus on how best to mentor or develop others in your organization, increase self awareness to understand your reactions in specific situations or tackle challenging organizational issues. Some people obtain coaching to groom themselves for taking on additional responsibility or to deal with a personal or professional crisis. Once you have identified why you are embarking on a coaching relationship, it is essential to outline your goals for coaching.

• Set Your Goals

Begin the coaching relationship knowing what you hope to accomplish with the coach and what goals you want to meet. They may include developing your team’s ability to collaborate effectively or mentoring a high-performing individual. You may want to delve into specific habits that may be holding you back, such as routinely withdrawing from conflict or reacting defensively to feedback. Be specific. If your organization is providing the coaching, ask your supervisors for feedback about what they recommend you work on with the coach. Generating specific goals will help you successfully meet them.

• Consider Confidentiality

Most times your organization will be footing the coaching bill. If this is the case, your company is the “client”. This means that the company may want information about your coaching progress. It is important to ascertain what will be discussed with your supervisors regarding your coaching. Your coach may only be asked if you are meeting together regularly; nothing else. However, the company has an interest in your progress since it’s investing in you. One of the best ways to deal with this issue is to include supervisors in the coaching process. This means talking to your supervisor about what you are hoping to accomplish in coaching, and meeting regularly with them to update them as to your progress. You will benefit if your coach also meets with your supervisor—most people do better in coaching if their superiors are involved, as the coach will help your superior aid you in your development.

So, once you’ve decided your goals for coaching, ask your supervisor what she would add. Then book regular meetings with the supervisor to discuss your progress. Coaches that work systemically, will work periodically with your superior too. This ensures that your superior participates in helping you develop and is part of your successes.

If this level of transparency is uncomfortable, consider obtaining help from your Employee Assistance Program (it is fully confidential) or paying for coaching on your own.

• Working Collaboratively

The quality of your relationship with your coach is extremely important. It should feel collaborative. If the coach assumes an expert role, it should be in specific circumstances only, like providing information or expertise about a particular situation. The coach who takes a collaborative stance will help you come up with lasting insights. If you obtain advice only from an “expert,” the changes you make could be less enduring. Be willing to engage fully with your coach–ask questions about why the coach is using a particular type of question or technique. Use the coaching relationship as a way to learn how to develop others as well as yourself.

Remember that you will probably experience discomfort during the coaching relationship. This is normal. Qualified coaches are adept at bringing unconscious attitudes, behaviours or ways of relating to others to your awareness. This can be challenging both intellectually and emotionally. However, challenging conversations need to be entered into with your permission—your coach may say “I’d like to take a harder look at what you just expressed to me. How does that sound?” Go your own pace, be open and honest with your coach.

• How To Know When Your Work Is Complete

When you meet your goals, you’ll know that coaching has been successful. If you find that you are not making progress within three to six months, it is important to evaluate the coaching relationship—discuss whether your goals are being met and how to best meet them if you feel bogged down. It is important to realize that goals can change and that new challenges may result due to your work with your coach. Once you reach your original goals, it is key to look at other priorities that may arise to decide whether to tackle them. Include your supervisors in this discussion—itemize the changes you’ve made and discuss them with your supervisors. They can sometimes identify new goals that build on your previous successes.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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