How To Be A Good Situational Coach

We all know the David and Goliath story of Singapore’s 21-year old Joseph Schooling defeating 28-time gold medallist Michael Phelps in the 2016 Olympics 100m Butterfly Finals in Rio. 

But behind the giant-killing feat stood his coach of 8 years, Sergio Lopez - former Spanish international top swimmer and renowned coach. When asked about his relationship with his coach, Schooling raved, “He is like a father to me. Our close relationship had its ups and downs but it was definitely instrumental (in) guiding me onto the global stage.” 

Undoubtedly, the best athletes and championship teams owe their success to their coaches. 

“How does that translate to workplace coaching?” you might wonder.

Here’s what sports coaching and workplace coaching have in common:

  • Both aim to unleash the best in coachees.
  • Both thrive on trusting relationships.
  • Both fully utilise the three components of Situational Coaching - Coach, Mentor, and Counsel. 

The business coaching industry revenue increased to $15 billion internationally in 2019 from $2.35 billion in 2015, according to estimates from IBISWorld. Since then, COVID-19’s global presence has created new problems requiring innovative solutions and creative thinking. It’s up to us to make sure our teams are ready to handle them with confidence. How can we be the best coaches for our teams?

Here at PACE, we’ve developed our Situational Coaching model to help. In this article, we will focus on the Coaching aspect of Situational Coaching, and consider how best to coach through different scenarios. 

Coaching is the act of helping others to attain cognitive break-throughs when they are mentally ‘stuck’ by asking quality questions. In situational coaching, the coach encourages the coachee to think deeply about possible solutions to resolve the issues at hand. 

“In every quality question, there are seeds of brilliance.” - Professor Michael Marquardt. 

Generally, coaches ask more than they tell. The quality of the responses they get is dependent on the quality of the questions they ask. Hence, a coach who asks quality questions can expect brilliant answers.

How do we know what quality questions to ask?

There are six key techniques, better known as coaching conversation caps, that a coach can use. Multiple caps can be used at the same time, even in a one-minute check-in conversation.  

1. Possibility Cap
  • Used when: Coachee finds a challenge ‘impossible to resolve’
  • Questions to ask: What might be some other options that you could explore to make it happen? What is one thing you could do differently that would resolve this issue?
  • Intended outcome: Facilitating a shift in the coachee’s mindset, encouraging creative problem solving without being told the solution.
2. Assessment Cap
  • Used when: Coachee is reluctant to learn or develop themselves
  • Questions to ask: What skills would you need to do Task A? What skills do you need to work on?
  • Intended outcome: Encouraging the coachee’s self-reflection to assess their competency gap and developmental needs, thereby taking ownership of the need to close the gap.
3. Drawing Out Cap
  • Used when: Coachee is unable to or reluctant to express a point or idea
  • Questions to ask: What examples could you show me to represent your idea? What images might reflect your thinking? How would you describe your idea in the simplest terms?
  • Intended outcome: Prompting and creating a safe space for the coachee to express their thoughts
4. Reframing Cap
  • Used when: Coachee is stuck in a negative mindset
  • Questions to ask: Let’s suppose there is another interpretation of this matter, what could it be? What if you have misconstrued the situation, what might be the true situation? 
  • Intended Outcome: Reframing the coachee’s way of thinking to a more positive one
  • Avoid: Telling the coachee they are being negative - this will stir up defensiveness and foster disengagement
5. Teaching Cap
  • Used when: Coachee is at a complete loss for what to do
  • Questions to ask: How good would it be to have a second opinion? How might receiving advice help solve the problem?
  • Intended Outcome: Priming the coachee to receiving help willingly
  • Avoid: Telling coachee what to do without engaging them first
6. Action Cap 
  • Used when: Encouraging coachee to follow up with actions, usually at the close of a coaching conversation
  • Questions to ask: When can I see your report on the task progress? What specific actions would you take and in what timeframe? What is your progress on the execution so far?
  • Intended Outcome: Creating a sense of urgency to motivate the coachee to act. 

A skillful coach knows how and when to use the coaching caps seamlessly to inspire coachees to discover solutions for themselves. While coaches often start the conversation with the Drawing Out Cap to get the conversation going, a skillful coach knows how to switch between caps to get the conversation going positively and productively. All good conversations should end with the Action Cap, to inspire the coachee to act. If the conversation is a follow-up from a previous conversation, it might be appropriate to begin the new conversation with an Action Cap. Asking how their preparation is coming along or which stage of their implementation plan they are at should suffice for the coachee to account for the actions he has or has not taken.  

Being Comfortable With Silence 

The ability to be comfortable with silence is an essential skill all coaches should cultivate. After asking a quality question, the coach needs to allow time for the coachee to consider the question before answering. Experience shows that coachees usually respond within 7 seconds. If a coach asks a follow-up question within the 7 seconds, the coachee is distracted from the first question and no longer feels the pressure to think and respond to it. Silence is crucial to the coaching process.

To sum it all up - quality questions are imperative when it comes to coaching. A good coach knows how and what kind of questions to ask, and then allows time for the coachee to formulate a thorough response. The journey to becoming a good coach is an ongoing one, but with time, practice, and dedication, we can bring out the Olympic champion in all our coachees.

Here at PACE, our Master Coaches have over 20 years of experience in Organisational Development (OD) and guiding executives and managers to be better leaders. Book a session with one of our Master Coaches now to turn your potential into possibilities. Let's work together on your journey of becoming a better coach and mentor.

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