Leaders need to get comfortable with direct communication in coaching conversations. No flannel, just directness. I am frequently asked the question, “how can you be non-directive at the same time as providing direct communication? Aren’t those diametrically opposite?”
Direct communication is an offer, to which we should be unattached. If it doesn’t land with the person, we should leave it behind and move with their agenda. As soon as we stay attached to it, we are deciding what the agenda should be, and that is not our role as coach.
Direct communication is about providing feedback – about how we experience them in the moment (that is different from performance feedback). How we experience them may be an indicator of how others experience them, which may be helpful or it may be a hindrance. Either way, it’s great for them to hear that from an impartial person, because they can decide whether they want to consider that feedback and do something with it. If they don’t, then we simply move on.
Direct communication sometimes involves using metaphors that might be useful to the person to understand their situation. You might already use metaphors, so that might come easily to you; just ensure that you don’t push your metaphor if it doesn’t help them to make sense of their situation. They may have an alternative which will serve them better.
Direct communication might involve you sharing what you are feeling in your body and where that is, to see whether that offers them anything useful. For example, I might say (if it’s true), “I have a knot in my stomach as you say that – I wonder what that has to offer you about your situation”. This might be less normal for you to pay attention to your body, but it’s powerful information. As Fiona Adamson says, “the body speaks when the body hears”, so you need to be fully present in the here and now to be able to hear these signals.
Direct communication is always respectful towards the person. It goes without saying that there should be no judgement, simply an observation of what you see or hear.
Next time you are in conversation, try it out. This may take some courage, but it will transform your coaching, as this will add some challenge to the person. Almost all coachees say that they would like more challenge, so be brave and give them what they want.
For more in this series about coaching competencies for leaders, you may wish to read the following posts:
If you have comments or questions, I’d love to read them in the comments box. Let’s get a conversation going.