Coaching Requires Good Communication Skills

Is There Stale Air In The Room?

Many of us rely on supervisors to reinforce our safety message and help coach employees.  Yet we often make a big mistake by not teaching them what it means to be a coach and provide basic communication skills.  Or if we do, it’s often not done effectively.  It’s cursory, without role playing or situational practice.  Their training doesn’t help them learn how to really be a coach.   The next day they find themselves in a situation where they observe a problem behavior, realize they need to coach for improvement, but they don’t have a clue how to do it.

I’ve been working with a company that wanted to improve the coaching ability of their supervisors.  As I was observing the interactions between individuals at work, there was an open and  almost fun air about their communication.  However, when this one supervisor entered the room a mist or black cloud appears, and it seems like people weren’t people anymore.  Most conversation stopped and they acted sort of like zombies.  I wondered why?

Are the Communications “Real”? 

As I continued to observe these dynamics I noticed that the supervisor seldom asked questions.  His method of communication was to tell the workers what to do, or how to do it differently (which he interpreted as better).  He never asked them why they did work in a certain manner, or why they may have taken a short cut.  There was little give and take, or coaching going on.

I spent some time talking with this supervisor, trying to learn about his style.  Was this his personality at play, or had he learned to behave in this manner?  He had come into this company 5 years earlier, after graduation from college and was placed into their management training program.  During the past 5 years he has worked in 4 different positions, all designed to help him learn more about the various aspects of the operation.  Much of his training had been about how to run the business, and not so much about how to communicate with, coach and supervise those who do the work.

What I learned was that this supervisor didn’t really talk or have meaningful conversations with any of the workers.  He didn’t know much about any of them, their families, interests outside of work or anything.  They only engaged in small talk when he was around.  He was seen as the boss.  He wasn’t even “real”!   Unfortunately, it was also apparent that there was little or no trust between the supervisor and workers.

This situation seemed to pervade the organization from department to department.  In fact, the entire organization seemed to have a line drawn between their supervisors and the line employees.  I mentioned this to the Vice President who hired me.  She said that they were aware of this situation, but that it has always been this way.

I looked her in the eye and asked, “So, how do you expect to improve the coaching ability of your supervisors if they can’t even have a simple conversation with their workers?”  Fortunately for me she smiled.

Change Began With The Golden Rule

Learning to treat people right means remembering that at the end of the day we’re all pretty much the same.  People are people.  Treat them the way you want to be treated”  Quote by Steve Garfield

Without going into all the details, this company began the process of opening up.  They all learned to talk with each other, not at each other.  Listening skills were taught, as was giving and receiving feedback.  Most effective was something called the “Discovery Agreement“.  All the supervisors learned how to ask questions, “seeking first to understand, and then to be understood”.  The discovery agreement occurred when the supervisor would repeat back to the employee what they had been told to verify what had been discovered.  This was a great trust builder and helped the supervisors learn valuable coaching techniques. 

The results have been dramatic and can be for you as well.