Coach or mentor? Ask or advise? This is the dilemma facing all leaders who are considering bringing coaching into their professional toolkit. Some crucial questions that are asked include:
|How do I know if this is a coaching or a mentoring situation? |
Is it wrong of me not to offer a view if I can see a solution?
If I don’t tell them, how on earth will they get to the right outcome?
Can I sit back and wait, and run the risk of them making mistakes?
If I don’t tell them, will they be more empowered when they come to their own solutions?
If I am coaching someone who I am responsible for, is there a conflict of interest?
Can I start a conversation by coaching, and change to mentoring at some point
These are worthwhile exploring deeply. As a coach, I have a deeply held view that coaching is the best first port of call in most situations, barring emergencies. However, flexibility is key, especially in the fast moving world of work.
Distinguish between “coaching sessions” and “ a coaching approach”
There are thousands of qualified coaches in the UK, having private 121 coaching sessions. But there are far more people who have learnt some coaching skills, and who are using them in informal, everday situations. These two groups are entitled to have a different approach to the thorny topic of advice. Our view is:
- Qualified coaches having 121 sessions: advice only in emergencies
- Leaders and others using coaching skills on an everyday basis: advice can be weaved into conversations that have elements of coaching within them
Let’s unpick both these statements and see why I have said them!
Qualified coaches having 121 sessions: advice only in emergencies
The main reason for this is that this is what is agreed with the coachee. We tell our coachees that they are “creative, resourceful and whole, and that they have the answers within them”. And if we don’t say that explicitly, we do imply that strongly! If we start offering advice, we are undermining that message. We are saying that they may have the answer, but we may have a better one. Or that they can be trusted to work out their own issues, but only until a certain point.
Also, being an advisory type of coach completely changes our thinking about the conversation, and what we are listening for. We may start listening for places to offer a bit of guidance and add value. And then, we may stop listening for the deeper themes and clues that may help the coachee resolve the topic themselves. The direction of travel could change completely.
And finally, it is hard to work out which bits of advice to give, and which to hold back from. Most coaches are highly engaged people, full of ideas and creativity. The advice monkey is probably firing on all four cylinders (forgive the mixed metaphor!) throughout the coaching session. We may give one small bit of advice early in a session, but then have an even more brilliant idea later, and then give that too. And then another one. Before we know it, the coaching session has turned into an ideas sharing.
Leaders and others using coaching skills on an everyday basis: advice can be weaved into conversations that have elements of coaching within them
There is a different dynamic at play here. A manager or colleague using coaching approaches to everyday conversations doesn’t have the same restrictions as a coach in a 121 coaching relationship. Many managers choose to use the coaching skills of listening, questioning and pausing as a way of engaging with their teams. And a bit of advice, or even some clear direction and instruction, are often part of the way managers engage.
Offering a bit of advice to a team member or colleague isn’t necessarily undermining a protected relationship, in the way that it would be with a coach/coachee scenario. In fact, offering advice or guidance is often an essential part of the way that team leaders work. If advice is delivered clearly, without strong attachment, or judgement, then it can be an incredibly supportive way of working with a colleague.
Our working model for managers – holding back from giving advice too soon.
Many people report that they have been given unhelpful advice, or advice that they would reject or ignore. Either it is inappropriate, badly timed, or just unnecessary. Think about all the advice you have been given over the years. How much of it has been great? And how much has been terrible?
The worry that people often say when I suggest that they hold back from giving advice is “but what about all these good ideas I have, that may help and may make things easier?” I agree! But I also think that there is a time that these can work well, and that is towards the end of any conversation.
Special for everyday coaching style conversations – two alternative approaches
Ask, not tell. When talking with colleagues or team members, start off with the belief of “I don’t need to offer any guidance or advice”. Let the conversation continue, ask good questions, and help them come to their own answers and conclusions. It may take longer than the straightforward way of just giving advice. But it may not!
Ask, then tell (if necessary). Same approach as above. Help them come to their own ideas and conclusions. And, after that, if there is a gap or something more that needs to be shared, then offer your thoughts, ideas or suggestions. By having this top up approach, you are giving them the best chance of coming up with their ideas. And you are also respecting your own knowledge, and your own opportunity to share and to add value.
Many people make decisions about whether to offer advice on a situation by situation basis. Others have as their default to either be very advisory or rarely advisory. In coach training, the vast majority of our coaches say, at the beginning of their training “I want to learn how to give advice less!” And they do! And when they do, the most common feeling is one of pride – pride in themselves for holding back, and pride in their colleagues/coachees for solving their own issues. Have a go, and see what feeling it evokes for you.
Happy coaching, and happy non-advising!