Four Modes of Coaching Magic: Co-Create Mode: My Coaching Wakeup Call - Part II

Feb 15, 2023

Last time, we talked about why it’s best to avoid Dictating when you’re Coaching people. Instead, it’s better to think of this process as Co-creating. Here are some ways to engage in Co-creating instead of Dictating:

  • Let them go first: When you move into Co-creation Mode, ask the person you are coaching to share their ideas first. There are two big reasons why this is an approach that helps the thinking engage.
  1. When you ask them to go first, you get to observe how they are thinking about the issue without your input. 
  2. If you go first, they are less likely to think on their own. They’ll just rely on your thinking to get them to their answer. I like the phrases, “What do you recommend?” and, “What are your first thoughts on this?” or, “What's your plan?” or, “What's your next step on this?” 
  • Build on their ideas: Let go of needing to have the perfect answer. The best answers are co-created. This is an approach that you probably use all the time. You're talking to someone with an idea and you add your thoughts and twists, then they take your thought and enhance it just a bit, or simplify it a bit and together, you come up with something better than you could have on your own. You didn’t have the answer, but with you, they found the answer. 
  • Offer instead of advise: I use this one frequently when someone really has no idea where to start. This approach is helpful when someone says they need guidance vs. support. Instead of jumping in to tell them what to do, I like to offer a couple of things that they could try. I literally use the phrase, “Here’s a couple of things you could try.” There are three main elements to this approach:
  1. Always offer more than one option. 
  2. Always use the word could, as in “Here are three things you could try.” 
  3. Speak from experience. Relate the three options to times when you’ve seen those options work. Being humble and real with this approach to co-creating is very powerful. 

Pro tip: “You’re right!” Oftentimes, when you are co-creating with a direct report or a peer who is junior to you, you’ll hear them say, “You’re right, that’s exactly what I should do.” At first glance, this feels to you like a breakthrough, like clarity, like we are getting somewhere with this solution. When people say, “You’re right,” they are giving you the power and credit for solving the issue. To create great thinkers, I like to use this dialogue: 

Salina: “You’re right, Jill, I should be having more great conversations with my people.”

Jill: “Actually, Salina, you’re right! If what I said feels right to you, then you are the one that’s right. I simply offered you some options. But it sounds like you’re sure of what your next step is. Did I hear that correctly?”

Using this technique when coaching increases Salina’s confidence in her thinking and also reinforces that the outcome is her choice.

  • Leave the coaching experience with clarity on the action: Adults really learn when we put things into action, when we are able to have an experience or interact with the thing we are learning. We want to create a thinking organization not for the sheer love of it, but because we want it to produce results! We need to decide and take action so that individuals, departments and the company continue to get unstuck and move forward. As a coach, if I’m really invested in helping them become their best, I will invite them to decide on their next step, even if I’m not their direct manager. Here are some ways to help them decide on their next step.
    • What feels right to you? Proactively ask the person you are coaching to think about how they are feeling about the next step. It’s the opposite of you saying, “So, here’s what you should do.” You could also say, “I’ve seen it work both ways; what feels right to you?”
    • What will you do next? More often than not, what really needs to be co-created and decided upon is simply the next step, not the entire solution or entire plan. When we ask, “What are you going to do next?” you are just asking for the next step, not a solution that will solve everything. “What will you do next?” is a simplifying sentence for the brain.
    • What might get in your way? By asking people to verbalize the obstacles, you are setting them up for success. When we talk about obstacles, we see more possibilities for overcoming them. If we just ruminate on the obstacles, it's harder to find solutions and we just add fuel to our worries. Worry is a poor use of the creative brain and takes up so much energy. Getting people to verbalize the obstacles gets them out of their heads and into solution mode. 
    • What will you try first? This question works really well when someone says, “I don’t know,” easing them into experimentation mode rather than perfectionist mode. In asking the question, “What will you try first?” we are asking them to engage in probability thinking.
    • What is your best guess? This also implies that there needs to be some action taken, even if it's wrong. Theodore Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” 
    • Here’s what I would do, and why. Use this one sparingly and most often only after they’ve come up with some ideas of their own and really engaged in thinking with you. I use this when I know that they really need direction and are just starting to form their thinking skills. If you use this too early in the conversation, it’s just dictating, and you’ll foster dependency on you for the thinking. We can use stories of failure or of our own learning when coaching others. Sometimes, it’s the main thing they’ll remember from the interaction. Following this statement with a loop back to “What feels right to you?” will help them know that it’s still their decision. 
    • By when? We work so efficiently with time-based goals. Adding this two-word phrase to the end of your conversation kicks the brain into action. The brain doesn’t put anything on its priority list until there is a due date! 
    • Possibility and encouragement: I like to leave all conversations with a possibility focus and a word of encouragement. Most of the time, these encouragements come in one of three forms. 
      • It’s normal . . . and you’re normal! Leaders are known to feel isolated, like they are the only ones experiencing these issues or having these experiences. When I let them know that these issues are normal, it helps them take their actions with a more positive mindset.
      • Growth-minded grit! I remind them that this experience is essential for their growth and that if they can do this, they’ll be able to solve this issue better and faster next time. The obstacle is the way! Embrace it and celebrate it. 
      • I’m on your team! Sometimes, people just need to be reminded that they have a support system. If a leader is feeling particularly isolated, I remind them that I am with them. One of the leaders I coach says that the reason he appreciates my coaching is that he knows “I’m for him,” as in, I’m in his court, on his team and rooting for his success. Leaving the conversation knowing that someone is for you strengthens your confidence. 

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