Workplace Wisdom

Are You Coaching? Or Just Waving Your Arms?

A lot of what passes for coaching — in workplaces, in homes, even on kids’ sports teams — is really just a lot of exhortations and fervent repetitions of normative statements. It doesn’t help the subject figure out how to do better.

Here’s an example from a manager:

“What are you DOING?!? That’s not what you’re SUPPOSED to be DOING!”

For someone who’s executing inaccurately, and already painfully aware that something is going wrong, is there anything at all in that intervention that could change performance in any way other than by ratcheting up the worker’s fear? And fear — although it may be accompanied by intensified focus — is more likely to create more errors or disruptions, not fewer. Not to mention its role as a relationship-killer.

Or what about this one, from a sports coach:

“HELP each other! You’re supposed to HELP EACH OTHER!!”

Who? How? When?

The kids on the team clearly did not know what “help each other” meant. The only perfectly clear message was that the coach was dissatisfied and wanted something else. Some players ignored him and continued to do what came naturally; others just seemed more anxious.

And how about my own silly story:

As someone who applied for a driver’s license relatively late in life, it was this very brief interchange with my husband that convinced me I needed to pay for a driving instructor:

Urgent him: “Turn the wheel! Turn the wheel!”

Plaintive me: “Which way?!?”

Each of these examples demonstrates the coach’s expectations of the learners’ prior knowledge and mind-reading ability — but no sense of detailed situational analysis, or specific teaching, or actual help.

Coaching is neither innate nor instinctive. It takes clarity of thought, careful understanding of and empathy for the learner, and practice. But the majority of people in positions of authority apply pressure instead of support and create fear of failure instead of hope for success.

It’s very easy to critique, and much harder to provide an actual corrective to imperfect performance. What examples of poor coaching have you observed, or experienced or, heaven forbid, subjected others to?

Onward and upward,

LK

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