Coach’s corner

I started writing this as part of a RBO Work Stuff post, but it got way too long so I’m making it into a stand-alone item. I’ll post the rest of the stuff tomorrow… probably…


I’m taking a great course called Coaching Out of the Box, to help me with my work with our trainees.  Coaching is, at essence, a structured way of asking open, “clean” (i.e. free of bias and judgement) questions that will guide someone towards identifying their own solutions to their work or personal problems. I find it very intense – it’s a very different way of thinking, and I think we’re all finding it difficult to really, truly listen to what the coachee is saying while simultaneously thinking about the structure of the process and coming up with the next question – but very rewarding. It’s fascinating to me how some people come in with a very specific problem, which you expand wide open before focusing back in on what the real problem is (sometimes very different to the one stated at the beginning) and what to do about it, while others start with a very nebulous, ill-defined issue that you then focus back down in a similar way.

The structure of the course is two full day classroom courses, two weeks apart (which I finished last week), followed by four 90-minute practice sessions in a group of three students and one teacher (I’ve completed two sessions so far). The highlights of the classroom sessions for me were:

  1. when they made a bunch of Canadians be purposefully rude to each other, to demonstrate the right and wrong way to listen to someone (everyone apologised to each other profusely afterwards);
  2. the experience of coaching someone who’s a novice in something at which you’re an expert, so you have to constantly fight the temptation to just tell them what you know. This is something I experience almost every time I’m asked to help a trainee with the contents of the training expectations / career goals sections of their proposals, so it was great to get a chance to practice; and
  3. the fun I had during the second session when I was handed someone’s list of pet peeves (we’d all written them down as part of a get-to-know-you session at the beginning of the first day, then forgot all about them) and had to ask him for coaching on an issue that, unbeknownst to him, deliberately triggered his pet peeves. It was hilarious – he got all red in the face and kept saying “I don’t know what to tell you, because if you knew me, there is NO WAY you would EVER come to me with THIS PROBLEM!!!” We had a good laugh at the end, when I handed him the list of pet peeves he’d written down…

The course is run by the Provincial Health Services Authority, and I was one of only a handful of people in my session who came from the research side of their operations. The other participants I met were paramedics, ambulance dispatchers and dispatch managers, corporate HR staff, nurses and nurse managers, physicians, psychiatrists, family liaison, and others I can’t even remember – a diverse mix, and I really enjoyed hearing about their work. My “triad” for our extra practice sessions contains one other researcher and one HR person. Colleagues who’d taken the course before said that the composition of your triad can really make or break the whole experience – one person had someone quit and said the other member of the group just wasn’t very committed – but I’ve been very lucky and have a great group.

One of the most valuable lessons from the first classroom session was that even though we’re just learning how to coach, we can still be enormously helpful to someone – I’ve already received and given coaching on several real-life work and other scenarios that really has got me unstuck on a couple of things, and the people I’ve practiced with have said that I helped them in a similar way. It was really great at the second classroom session, and at my second triad sessions, when people sought their previous practice partners out to proudly report what progress they’ve made since and to reiterate how helpful the coaching had been.

Since starting my new job I’ve really come to appreciate the difference it makes when your managers (and their managers) have taken this kind of course and have also put a lot of thought into other aspects of how a team works, how to foster team members’ individual career goals etc. I’m therefore very happy to have had the chance to learn some of these skills that have benefited me, so I can help our trainees in a similar way. I know this sounds very uncharacteristically touch-feely for one of my posts, but it really is a very powerful skill and something I’m really enjoying.

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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4 Responses to Coach’s corner

  1. Grant says:

    This sounds so like a Monty Python sketch:

    “they made a bunch of Canadians be purposefully rude to each other, to demonstrate the right and wrong way to listen to someone (everyone apologised to each other profusely afterwards)”


    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      Heh – nice mental image!

      I imagine that in some other cultures, it might be the being purposefully polite to each other part that would cause problems…

  2. Laurence Cox says:

    It’s also worth looking at how sports coaches work, because apart from specific techniques, the methods used in sports coaching are very transferrable to other situations.

    Take a look at, for example, Frank Dick’s book “Winning” (ISBN 1 872317 01 4). he started as an athletics coach, but went on to coach Boris Becker, Gerhard Berger and Katarina Witt amongst others.

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      Interesting – not being a sporty person myself, I have no exposure to sports coaching other than sadistic evil high school PE teachers and bland television interviews by the pros… thanks for the tip!

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