What is the difference between coaching and training?
Coaching vs training
When people ask me what I do, I say that I train people to be executive coaches. The most common response is “oh, you do train the trainer”. I’ve often wondered about this, so I decided that it’s an issue worth addressing.
I’ll address the question, and also explain similarities and differences. Plus, a look at the skills that are needed for each role, and the transferability of the skills.
Definitions of coaching and of training
The definitions for each approach that I am happiest with are:
Coaching: supporting another individual make progress on a topic of their choice, by listening, questioning and challenging respectfully. Helping them come to their own conclusions and next steps.
Training: sharing of knowledge, teaching of skills, encouragement of attitudional and behavioural change, by a trainer. Approach can be either facilitative (discussions, group activities..) or presentational (slides, lecturettes, recommendations…)
Similarities between coaching and training
At first glance, the main similarity is that both approaches are in the learning arena. Indeed, in most organisations both coaching and training are organised by the learning and development departments. Also, there may be an element of choice of involvement by the participant. As adults, in our personal lives we choose the courses to attend, and so are probably invested in the learning experience. The possibility of growth, development, change and new approaches are possible via both coaching and training. As the old saying goes “you can get there from here!”
There are also some skills based similarities:
- Listening. Both coaches and trainers are finely attuned to what is being said, to respond or adapt accordingly.
- Respectful challenge. In both roles, we are not passive so don’t allow people to do and say what they want without any response. In coaching, respectful challenge of unhelpful thoughts is a powerful support for change. And in training, it helps to shift attitudes and beliefs.
- Trust. There can be no assumption that the participant will trust the coach or trainer because of their role. This has to be worked on and developed. Often this is done by committing to the needs of the learner and providing powerful support for them.
This is where the confusion starts! There is probably confusion because of the similarities. Also because some coaches bring a bit of teaching into their coaching activities, and some trainers use a facilitative style.
The main differences are:
- No information sharing. Coaches don’t provide information, resources, nor insights. It is not the coach’s role to teach the coachee. Their role is to let the coachee use the time and space to learn what they need to learn.
- Topic choice. Trainers set the topic to be trained on, or at least write the material based on a headline brief from the client. In coaching, the topic is always, always chosen by the coachee.
- Stories. Stories, anecdotes, case studies and examples are often the lifeblood of training, but are avoided in coaching. The coach may have had a similar experience (of say, managing a difficult person, an interview that went wrong…). But they hold back from sharing this, to not take over the session from the coachee.
Coaching skills to take to training
A number of coaching skills are relevant and useful for trainers to access. From the long list, my favourites are brevity, listening, and memory skills
Brevity is a good crossover skill. As a coach we have o be brief, and as a trainer it is tempting to fill the time with our talking and presenting. The most powerful trainers say less and engage more.
Listening is a good addition to the list, especially coupled with flexibility. Good trainers can truly hear what the participant says, and understands some of the emotion behind it. This allows them to have the opportunity to tailor the training experience to the needs of the training room.
Memory is crucial in coaching as we hear so much, and can’t write it all down! Remembering what is said from session to session, and remembering which words have been oft repeated is an essential coaching skill. And in training, it is incredibly useful too:
- to be able to refer back to something said earlier by a participant
- to remember the names of everyone in a big group
- or to remember the order of slides without having to look at crib sheets –
Training skills to take to coaching
And the reverse is true – that some training skills can be used well in the coaching setting. Of the many, my favourites are unattachment, awareness of time, and next steps.
By unattachment, I mean that good trainers will present their stuff, be enthusiastic and encouraging with it, and will provide options for next steps. But the trainer won’t be attached to the participant taking on the actions. Of course the trainer wants the participants to implement what they have been taught. But apart from in mandatory/compliance training, they have to stand back from insisting.
The coach can learn from this by not being attached to one line of questioning, or from deciding they know the “truth” for a coachee.
Awareness of time – trainers are good at this and always know where they are at in the process. Pre-break, mid activity, 20 minutes to go… they are on it. And coaches can benefit from being like this. Subtly, and not worrying about or announcing time. But keeping the pace going so that the hour finishes with the opportunity to explore next steps, and the process is complete.
Next steps – standard in training, but sometimes rushed through in coaching. Leaving a good 10-15% of the coaching session to explore next steps and insights is powerful. It is of the things that separates coaching out from “just a good chat”.
Can I be good at both?
In short, yes! And in fact being good at one supports being good at the other. The most useful thing for someone who is a coach and a trainer is to consider these two skills as separate ones. It is helpful to reflect on, learn about, keep learning logs about coaching and training as two distinct processes. Develop the two sets of skills side by side, have resources, mentors and colleagues in each of the worlds, and learn to be very good at both.
There are lots of very good coaches, and very good trainers. There are fewer who have invested enough in both skills to be called very good at both. How about you: do you want to be good at both? If so, the choice is yours!
Happy coaching… and happy training!
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Charlie Warshawski is a leadership coach and coach trainer. He runs an accredited coach training organisation, Love Your Coaching. In his coaching, he works 1:1 with leaders, business owners and entrepreneurs, supporting them on topics that are both professional and personal – according to their needs
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