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Casual Chat Vs Coaching Conversation

A recent BBC article ‘Conversational habits that build better connections’ explores a range of research findings that show how we can build effective relationships with others through conversation.

Reading it sparked a realisation that these ‘characteristics’ align very closely with the nature of the coaching process.

The article outlines the ‘Top 5 steps to better conversation’:

1. Ask questions

‘if you want to have a meaningful dialogue with someone – rather than two “intersecting monologues” – then you should make the effort to ask some questions’… it says.

Core to coaching is the ability of the coach to ask powerful questions that support reflection and exploration.

2. Beware empathy - the article notes

‘We are often told to place ourselves in other people’s shoes – but our empathy is rarely as accurate as we think it is. One reason for this is egocentrism. “It’s when I'm using my own experience, my own mental states, as a proxy for yours”’.

Coaching is different. Empathy can be important to build trust and rapport, but typically the coach acts in the service of the coachee/ client. As such, the focus is not on ‘self’ (ie the coach is not focused on him/herself) and therefore tends to avoid the pitfall of ‘egocentrism’.

3. Favour familiarity over originality - The article shares research that shows

‘If we are talking about something completely new, our audience may not have enough knowledge to understand everything that we are saying.’

Our awareness of this leads us to gravitate towards conversations on ‘familiar’ topics as this can help build rapport. As coaching is focused on the experience of the coachee/ client, ‘the “informational gaps” in our conversation’ (as the article terms it) are unlikely to occur.

Further, coaches often support their coachee to explore new thinking and experiences in their pursuit of agreed goals and objectives. ‘Originality’ (new experiences and thinking’ are very much part of the coaching process.

4. Don’t be afraid to go deep - the BBC article notes that

This need for common ground should not limit our conversation to mundane small talk’ and cites research that ‘people appreciate the chance to explore their innermost thoughts and feelings’ .

In coaching, and process of active listening, combined with powerful questions, are shaped to support the development of deep insight. As such, coaching is a natural process for exploration of feelings, emotions, thoughts and behaviours in a way that a casual conversation just doesn’t achieve.

5. Value tactful honesty over mindless kindness - In our desire to build connection, we can be conscious of what we say and the possible impact on the person we are in conversation with. The article references a piece of research where two groups of participants were asked to engage differently.

The first ‘were asked to be “absolutely honest” in every conversation, at home and at work, for the next three days; the second set were told to be kind, caring and considerate’. The results of this showed that

‘the honest participants scored just as highly on measures of pleasure and social connection …as those who were told to be kind, and often found a lot of meaning in the exchanges’.

Whilst the article also notes that ‘honesty is best served with a healthy dose of diplomacy’, this speaks volumes about how we can hold ourselves back in conversation because our assumptions are built around a perception that we need to be economical with honesty, and generous with kindness.

For coaches, the intention is to support the coachee in an honest and authentic exploration of the issue at hand. By modelling honestly and authenticity, we create space for the coachee to do the same

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