In a previous blog post, titled Technology as a Safety Net, I focused on the importance of a coach playing a supportive role, rather than controlling one. “Teachers want a coach to be a peer, not an expert” (Foltos, 2013). Establishing a trusting, respectful relationship requires effective communication, a major component of which is listening. People in leadership roles have a tendency to want to take charge and be in control, but to be a truly effective coach and to help colleagues grow and develop, we first must listen. We need to hear what their goals are, where they need support, and also listen to what they are already doing successfully before we have any chance of supporting them towards professional growth. Listening is a difficult skill for many people and one that must be intentionally learned and practiced. Active listening is a person’s willingness and ability to not only hear, but understand what others are saying. Most of us have heard of active listening, but aren’t exactly clear on how to do it. Here are 5 active listening skills to support effective peer coaching:
- PAY ATTENTION. Minimize distractions by closing your laptop, putting your phone out of reach and try not to let your mind wander. This takes effort! It is also extremely important to avoid thinking about what you want to say in response and just focus on what they are saying. Do, however tune in to your peer’s body language and tone and try to sense their level of comfort and what they are feeling.
- HOLD JUDGMENT. Keep an open mind and try to think objectively. This requires you to use empathy and be patient. Allow pauses in the conversation to be a time of thought and reflection rather than a hole that needs to be filled.
- REFLECT. Act as a mirror and paraphrase what you hear back to your partner without agreeing or disagreeing. For example, “I heard you say _______: or “You’re feeling ________ about ____________ because __________.” Restating your coachee’s perspective makes them feel heard and refine his/her own thinking.
- ASK QUESTIONS. Ask open-ended to help your coaching partner expand on their thinking and lead him/her to develop a solution.
“What could you do?”
“What impact is this having on you?”
“What is stopping you from doing that?”
Tips for questioning:
- Avoid asking “why?” as is may come across as judgmental.
- Keep questions simple and to the point; avoid double-barreled questions.
- Don’t use leading questions that imply your opinions, such as “Wouldn’t it be better if you…”
- Limit the amount of questions asked so that the meeting doesn’t turn into an interrogation.
5. SUMMARIZE. Make brief statements periodically throughout the discussion about what your colleague has said. You can also ask your colleague to summarize their own thinking to help keep him/her focused on the main points.
It is hard work to listen without giving advice, suggestions, or opinions. It is not how most of us have been socialized and educated. However, it can be very powerful for the coachee to be listened to without agenda, without someone trying to swoop in and fix things or give an opinion. Wait until the end of the meeting before providing any suggestions and be sure to ask your colleague if they want your opinion. It would also be wise to follow up any advice with an email or check-in to see how it was received.
Remember, as a peer coach the goal is to guide your colleague to developing his/her own resolution, so keep in mind just how golden your silence can be.
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Johnson, S. M., & Rigby, B. (2012). Peer coaching guidelines. Why Dev. Retrieved from http://www.whydev.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/WhyDev-Peer-Coaching-Guidelines.pdf