Expert Panel, Forbes Coaches Council
When someone begins working with a coach or mentor for the first time, it’s natural for them to feel a little overwhelmed or intimidated. They may not be accustomed to sharing their biggest professional challenges and insecurities with someone who will be brutally honest and objective, especially if it’s about a business they’ve built. The very notion makes some people feel overly vulnerable, and they may be afraid of how they’ll react to this constructive criticism.
If you’re giving someone professional advice and insights, part of your job is to make clients or mentees feel comfortable enough to open up to you and welcome your feedback. Follow this advice from Forbes Coaches Council to create a non-threatening but productive and open coaching environment.
1. Listen Well
Listening appears to be an art that has diminished significantly over the last few decades. When you do listen well, ask questions for deeper clarity and validate your client -- it makes them feel special and safe. This, in turn, leads to them opening up, often to a level that surprises them. Developing this safe space empowers them to want more for themselves and ask for feedback. - Frances McIntosh, Intentional Coaching LLC
2. Teach Them To Practice Vulnerability
Typically, people get pulled into leadership ranks because of their drive, their ability to get results and their skills of influence. Vulnerability is not practiced very often and, yet, is such a powerful leadership tool when it comes to earning trust with your team. I challenge my clients to find just one situation where they can practice vulnerability, and then I ask them to report back the result. - Amy Douglas, Spark Coaching, LLC
3. Focus On Growth Opportunities
One thing I forged into my vocabulary is the idea that I am not with my client to point out their faults, mistakes or what they aren’t doing well. Instead, we jointly focus on identifying opportunities for growth and areas where improvements can be made. This change in mindset allows the engagements to be positive and future-focused. - Dr. Stephen Kalaluhi, The StephenK Leadership Team
4. Actively Create A Safe Space
I tell my clients three things: First, my number one priority is to help make tangible progress toward goals. Next, I am completely neutral on the politics of what they experience. Finally, I ask how they would like to measure our progress. Following that, they often feel pretty good about being themselves. I work hard to teach them how to create that safety for the people they manage. - Courtney Feider, Courtney Feider, LLC
5. Discuss Your Own Failures And Shortcomings First
The best thing that a coach can do to help a client feel comfortable is to be transparent about their own shortcomings and failures. When we can make ourselves more "human," clients are more likely to open up. Tell them about times you failed and the advice you got. It is smart to acknowledge how hard the advice may have been for you to hear, but let them know the impact it had on your life. - Amy Modglin, Modglin Leadership Solutions
6. Frame Your Insights As 'Third-Party' Knowledge
The purpose of sharing advice is to benefit them, not for you to get credit. Present the insight as if it comes from a third point, such as an article or someone you know. This ought to be easy, since you learned it somewhere. Then, you and the client can look at the idea together, considering the insight instead of the client seeing this idea as being tied to you. - Evan Weselake, GetPureFocus
7. Acknowledge And Validate Their Feelings Without Judgment
One of the barriers to openness is often fear of judgment. Step one is to acknowledge what they say without judgment. Step two is to validate their feelings with statements, such as, "It's very understandable that you feel that way, based on...." Integrating acknowledgement and validation into your coaching helps to build trust and sets the foundation for a powerful session. - Rachel Bellack, The Improv Advantage
8. Assure Them Of Your Confidentiality
Establishing trust is the first step. This entails enabling the client to feel safe and supported. Explain the confidential nature of the coaching relationship, be transparent and professional, and demonstrate respect for the client. Give them ownership of the process, reminding them that they are the expert and you, the coach, is the cheerleader. - Daisy Wright, The Wright Career Solution
9. Coach Them Through Storytelling
One of the best ways to help clients receive advice without apprehension is through storytelling. I frequently use the approach of beginning with a personal story aligned with the area of focus. I share a specific challenge, tell the client what I did to resolve the problem and the ultimate outcome. This lays the foundation for the trust, comfort and relatability needed to help the client succeed. - Dr. Terri Horton MBA, MA, SHRM-CP, PHR, HCS, SWP, TLT Consulting: Brand & Workforce Strategy
10. Define Coaching For Them
When I do my best work, I really want an answer to this question: "Are you coachable?" I go on to explain that this means I may ask you to think differently, read something you don't want or embrace uncomfortable changes. If they are not ready for that, knowing I am not going to put them into precarious situations, then they probably aren't ready for my insight. Be open to discomfort up front. - John M. O'Connor, Career Pro Inc.
11. Have A Conversation
Ask open-ended questions like you would with a new friend. Don't jump right into the problem. Make small talk; ask them what they did last weekend. Tell them some things about you. Just have a conversation. When they get to know you, they will open up. If you are really struggling, you might want to refer them to someone else. You need to do what is best for your client. - Kathleen Houlihan, Dream2Career
12. Work On Building Their Confidence
Beyond sitting close, making eye contact and exuding interest through active listening, find ways to demonstrate genuinely that you are excited to learn more about them and want to explore more. Often, starting a statement with "Tell me more about..." is a great way to begin. Give them space, time and air to speak. This leads to confidence and comfort. - Joanne Markow, GreenMason
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