Four Modes of Coaching Magic Part II: Ways to Observe Like a Pro

May 10, 2022

We learned in our last blog post that the best leaders are really good observers. To be a great coach, you need to live in Observe Mode when you’re around your team. Actively look for moments when someone has a chance to think, and then encourage those moments, too! 

Here are a few ways to observe like a pro:

1. Listen with your eyes: All too often, we rely on words alone to ensure that we’ve communicated. Similarly, we rely on the words other people say as the truth, when in reality, the words people use are not always clear or reflective of what is really going on. I’m not talking about flat-out lying; it’s more subtle than that. Humans still have an innate need or instinct to protect ourselves and we’ve “mastered” our languages, sometimes creating 100 words for the same object, feeling, etc. (If you want to do a fun exercise, create two teams and have one team find synonyms for the word “big” and the other team find synonyms for the word “little.” You’ll be surprised how many synonyms they’ll find!) Because of this, words sometimes hide the real story. One way to get to more of the truth is to listen with your eyes. This means watching the body language of others and inquiring when the words and body language seem incongruent. Michael Allosso, of You on Your Best Day, calls these “micromessages.” If we are not proactively in Observe Mode, we’ll miss these micromessages and our brains will get confused.

I listen with my eyes regularly when I’m in sessions with leadership teams. During a preparation call with the leader of a manufacturing company, the leader stated that he wanted his team to be more engaged in the planning of the Vision of the company, yet, during the session, I observed that when his team spoke, he was not looking at them, rarely reflected on the ideas they contributed, and appeared tired in his body language. His words, which expressed his desire to have them more engaged, and the micromessaging in his actions were incongruent. When I inquired about this further, the reality was that his real thoughts were not about engaging his team, but how to re-engage himself with the Vision. He had become disillusioned over the years. Another example: in the middle of a session with a long-term client, I noticed that one of the leadership team members had been unusually quiet, so I asked him his thoughts on the topic. At the break, a woman on the team pulled me aside and commented, “You watch everything, you seem to know exactly when someone isn’t saying what they want to say. How do you do that?” The secret is observing the micromessages!

2. Use your feelings as a barometer: One of the myths of being a coach is that a coach, facilitator, or boss must stay neutral. That we can’t “take sides.” If you’ve approached your work with this thought, one thing that you might be missing is how to use your feelings as an observation tool. Sometimes we try to approach situations with a neutral mindset (a forced and unnatural state, just like perfect balance is an unnatural state). We need tension and relief, push and pull, ups and downs to keep the momentum in life and business going. I encourage you to let go of neutrality so that you can allow yourself to feel your way into Observation. 

Lest you think that I’m advocating for leading or coaching with only feelings or subjectivity, I’m not. I’m encouraging you to use your feelings as a data point and allow them to help you observe that something may be going on that you are not seeing in the data or hearing in the words your team is saying. Just like I listen with my eyes, I use my feelings often when I’m in the Observe Mode of coaching. Just after a tension-filled argument between a father and son on a leadership team of seven, I said to the team, “Well, that was uncomfortable for me to coach the two of you through. Is anyone else feeling the same way?” On the surface, one could caution me that by admitting that, I might lose my credibility as a facilitator. People on the team could be thinking, “Shouldn’t facilitators be used to doing that? Shouldn’t facilitators expect some uncomfortable moments? If you’re such a great facilitator, shouldn't you have learned ways to not be uncomfortable?” But in reality, I am feeling that way and people are feeling that way in the room. I’m not going to argue with reality because when I do, I always lose! In acknowledging my feelings, I allow others to acknowledge their feelings. In this particular situation, the team discussed how the public arguments of the father and son had caused a rift in the culture of the company, making many people question the future viability of the company under the son’s eventual ownership. Because I used my feelings as a barometer and asked if anyone else was feeling the same way, we got to the root of an issue faster than we would have using facts-and-figures data.

Feelings are a data point. Use them as a signal that something is not being said, something is funky, or that there are issues we need to look into or that we are not seeing. Important note: I don’t use my feelings to find the answer or solution. I use my feelings to ask the questions. 

Speaking of questions, consider these as you think about what it means for you to be in Observe Mode:

  1. What structures or tools do you already have in place to help you observe?
  2. What are you observing now that you used to ignore?
  3. Think about a time when you thought, “I wish I would have known this sooner?” In hindsight, what were you observing that you didn’t acknowledge?
  4. Is there anything that you are observing now that you’d like to solve? What is your next step with this?

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