Tip #2: Coaching and the importance of “Name it”

Tip 2Preparing for a coaching session is the best way to promote a successful outcome. In Tip #1: “Assume you could be wrong”, I shared the importance of keeping an open mind. In this Tip #2, called “Name it”, I will highlight the benefits of clearly articulating the facts and observations.

Sometimes it’s hard to be direct with the issue. However, to give the other person a chance to solve the problem, a clear statement of the issue is the best approach.

When I introduce the topic of difficult coaching discussion during leadership training, managers frequently say hygiene is the most challenging. Hygiene issues are difficult because it is personal rather than business related.

I once had to have the discussion with a woman who was chronically plagued with things in her nasal passages. The entire office knew she had allergies and I fielded complaints on her issue several times a week.

I felt awkward about addressing it with her so I initially took a covert approach. I bought a box of facial tissue and left it on her desk with a sticky note that read, “Hope this helps!” I added a smiley face to soften the blow.

The next day it was clear the message had not been received and more complaints rolled in. As a new manager, this was my first time addressing a personal issue with a direct report. At first I circled the issue asking about the box of tissues, discussing allergy season and an embarrassing litany of other dodges.

After a few minutes I realized from her confused face that I wasn’t getting to the point. I finally said something like, “Your allergies are leaving visible evidence in your nose and I can see it.” She quickly grabbed a tissue from the box I had strategically placed on my desk and took care of the issue.

It was also my opportunity to ask her for strategies to make sure the issue didn’t reoccur. She came up with the solution of placing a mirror at her desk and checking periodically.

BehIt was hard to do but I had to name the issue. Putting words to the issue is the best way to give the other person a chance to fix the problem.

Over the years managers have expressed similar difficulties with peers and direct reports. Sometimes even prefacing the discussion with something like:

  • “This is a difficult topic but I want this information to be helpful for you.” or
  • “I’m sure you are unaware of this so I want to share something that I’ve noticed.”

Another way to use “Name it” is to put words to behavior you are observing during the coaching session. A trick some coaches have used is to answer questions with questions. It’s okay if they are seeking clarification but when it’s an attempt to avoid answering a difficult question then the behavior has to be addressed.

When you observe this, or other unproductive behavior, name it. Say something like, “Hmm, I’ve noticed that every time I ask you about what happened this morning you ask me a question. I would like you to answer my question, what happened this morning?”

It sounds easy but in fact, in my early coaching days I walked away from more than one session and realized that I had answered all of the coachee’s questions but had not received answers to my questions. That doesn’t happen anymore.

As a coach, prepare for the session, know the outcome you hope to achieve and be fully conscious so you can name the issue you want to resolve. You can also use “Name it” to identify unproductive behaviors you observe during the session.

Caryn Colgan
Good Spirited Consulting Co


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