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“Did you even hear what I said?”, “I didn’t realise that was what you meant”, “I just want him to understand”. These phrases pop up a fair bit during all types of relationships, be it friends, family, colleagues or loved ones. Chances are you could be as guilty of them as the person who is annoying you by doing them. This article will explain some easy to learn skills used in coaching that can help reduce these type of thoughts. Whether you are a qualified coach, in training or have no interest in coaching whatsoever, the skills below can be used to improve your relationships. There are 2 basic principles used in coaching and most of the following points come under those two umbrellas – listening and questioning. Both seem pretty obvious on the surface but honing these skills can lead to better communication, understanding and therefore better relationships.

1. Listening

We shall start off with this because without listening, you can’t really ask good questions. It is almost the foundation of all communication. Here’s the thing though, just sitting opposite someone while they are talking, doesn’t constitute listening. You have to make an effort to concentrate on what they said – in coaching this is known as active listening. People speak because they want to share facts or information about their thoughts and feelings, if you aren’t paying attention that could be an ego slap for the other person. By listening with intent, you can really get to know someone on a deeper level. Pay attention to the language they use, their tone and pace of voice, the way their body language presents itself and you will be able to pick up on more than just the words that are coming out of their mouth. All this information means we have a better understanding of the other person which can shape our actions going forward.

2. Reflecting

Related to the above, reflecting is a technique used to show you have been listening. It can be done in a few ways but the most common is paraphrasing what the other just said. You can use your own words if you like but if you use their words, it shows you really were paying attention. This build of rapport also has a great potential side effect. When you reflect back what you have just heard, it gives the speaker a chance to hear what they have just said. And as silly as it sounds, sometimes they don’t realise what comes out of their mouth. Don’t be surprised to reflect back contradictions, negative language or even benign phrases that the speaker suddenly has an insight about.

3. Questioning

Conversations should be a dialogue between two people so unless you engage in this part of the equation, it just becomes a monologue. Carefully thought out questions really show to the speaker that you were listening and that you care. Try to be curious. Try to find out a bit more information about what they are talking about. Try to find out what happened next. Try to find out what was behind their thinking. When doing this detective work, try to use what are known as ‘open questions’ – ones that don’t prompt a simple “Yes” or “No” response. Using closed questions allows the conversation to be put to a halt with a one word response. By rephrasing your question using Who? What? Where? When? and How? you allow the speaker to divulge more information which you can then use for further conversation fodder and get the interaction to flow. You may have noticed that “Why?” was missing from the above list and there is a good reason for this. When a Why? question is posed, it can lead to defensiveness or negativity. For example, “Why did you do that?” Can come across as judgmental (more on that later) so we try to avoid them in coaching. However, there is a cheeky trick where you can quite easily turn a Why? question into something less judgemental by rephrasing it using How? or What? Eg. “What was the thinking behind that?” It’s less of a ‘proddy’ question and the speaker is more likely to want to answer it. And the answer they give will give you great insight into their thought process behind a particular behaviour or action.

4. Clean Language

This phrase has a quite a ‘coachy jargon’ feel to it but it essentially means finding out what the speaker means by a particular phrase or word. Eg. “I just want it to be easier.” Ask, “What do you mean by easier?”. “Well, I’d like it to be like X where Y happens.” By knowing this information about X and Y, you can get more clarity on the other person’s needs and how they see their world. Leaving it vague or assuming the other person knows what is meant by a certain word can lead to a potential argument-inducing miscommunication. Get clear. Get clean.

5. Holding The Space

Another coachy phrase that basically means knowing when to be quiet. You know when you are talking and you are in full flow and someone pipes up mid-sentence, interrupting you (sometimes with a completely irrelevant sentence – which shows they weren’t even listening or don’t care about you or what you re saying – see above)? Annoying as shit isn’t it? Well, try not to do that to other people. Let them finish what they are saying. Not only is it polite and a sign of respect, it shows that you are interested in what they have to say.

The gap between when they finish and you start is often extended quite a bit during coaching sessions. Initially, this can feel a bit uncomfortable and strange but many times, giving them those extra few seconds after they stop talking can give them time to have an insight or an ‘aha moment’ with regard to what they have just spouted (or what you have just reflected back to them). These moments don’t happen much during everyday conversation as it can be a bit rapid-fire, back and forth, but biting your tongue for a few extra moments can have some surprising outcomes.

6. Being Non-Judgemental

We all have our own way we see the world. This ‘way’ has been developed over time by our childhood, our experiences, our environment and many other contributory factors. Everyone has a different view (or map) of the world. By remembering this, we can avoid conflict by asserting our view onto others. Instead, make an effort to understand their view and how their world works. By not judging, people will open up more as they know they are in a safe space where they can talk about it. If you shoot people down with your opinions (by explicitly or implicitly saying they are wrong), often they will be less likely to express theirs. This open sharing of information can help toward understanding and deepen relationships by going into the non-superficial territory of feelings and emotions. Just because what makes them tick is different to you, doesn’t mean they are necessarily right or wrong, they are just different.

7. Being Non-Advisory

“Who are you to tell me what to do?” I often get this as a question from people who don’t (yet) know how coaching works. Coaching is considered non-advisory because we as coaches never tell the client what do do. We listen and then ask questions to get the client to work out their own answers or way of doing things. I think the confusion arises from the term ‘coach’ which can conjure up images of a person with a clipboard and whistle, shouting orders.

Anyway, the concept of not telling people what to do can be transferred into everyday life. Bottom line is, nobody likes to be told what to do. So give it a try and ask questions to see if they can think of a different way to do something themselves. People are more likely to want to do it if it was their own idea. Even if you think your idea is the perfect solution for their situation, sometimes people will reject your suggestion simply because you have told them what to do.

Obviously sometimes people do need to be told what to do at times with regard to laws, agreements and boundaries but this tactic can be used to great effect in some situations.

8. Being Present

Finally, another woo-woo sounding header but the principle is simple, pay attention to what is happening now. Ignore thoughts going on in your head (they will never go away but don’t give them any attention or get caught drifting along with them). Ignore any other distractions, be it other people in eyeshot or especially your phone. Turn it to silent or put it out of sight. Relax and enjoy the company. It’s a nice feeling when someone is paying you full attention so give that feeling to the person you are talking with and it will make them feel better and in turn like you a little bit more.

I’d love to hear how you have tried these in your non-coaching life and what the results were. Have you noticed how other people are using them (deliberately or not) when communicating with you? How does it make you feel? Please comment below.

If you think coaching could help improve your relationships or any other aspect of your life then book yourself in for a no-obligation, complimentary session (or use the contact page to arrange a chat if you’d like to know more first).


About Me 

I help people get to where they want to be quicker than they would have done on their own.


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