InsideOut Development

5 Common Coaching Mistakes and How to Fix Them

by Alan Fine
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Integrating an InsideOut approach isn’t always easy. Every coach will make inevitably mistakes. In this excerpt from his New York Times bestselling book, Alan Fine discusses the five mistakes every new coach makes and what to do about them.


1. Failure to Plan.

When we neglect to plan before engaging in difficult conversations, we tend to fall into the "Ready…fire ..aim!" approach. An example of this is when we yell at our children, repeatedly, over the same issue. (And we think they're stupid?) In all my experience, I have yet to find a child who will say, "Oh, thank you! I do so much better when you yell at me." I also have yet to find a situation in which yelling actually accomplishes what a parent thinks it does!

The reason we get into "Ready…fire… aim!" is basically interference. We become frustrated, and yelling seems to be the quickest way to let our frustration out. Planning helps us avoid the frustration. We go through the GROW process ourselves to be clear on our Goal (to engage the person in a breakthrough conversation), our Reality, our Options (including which actions we would be willing to take if there's no resolution), and our Way Forward. We anticipate what interference we might encounter and determine how we will handle it.

Again, just as no self-respecting athlete would ever go into his/her most difficult challenge without thorough and careful preparation, whenever possible we should never engage in difficult conversations without carefully and thoroughly planning first.

2. Failure to Listen.

Clearly, listening is critical. Not only does it help the other person feel respected and understood; it's also a powerful way for us as coaches to create Focus and reduce our own interference. When we don't listen, we don't show respect. In the language of leadership expert Stephen R. Covey, we deprive people of "psychological air," and when people are suddenly deprived of air (physical or psychological), the only thing they focus on is getting it. Not listening also causes us to miss getting vital information we need to come up with viable solutions. In addition, there's no way we can play back to people their own thinking or help them put it under a microscope and examine it if we don't listen and help them give expression to their thoughts.

However, listening is not always an easy thing to do—particularly if we're not in the habit of doing it. And even when we think we're listening, most of us would be very surprised if we could literally watch ourselves in the interaction and see how little real listening is taking place. One client I worked with said: "I always thought I was a great listener. But when I put the GROW process into actual practice and stayed very attentive to it, I discovered I was much more anxious to share my opinion than listen. It was almost comical when I realized just how much I was biting my tongue in order to listen more."

Another person told me that the most helpful thing about using GROW was that it forced her to "shut up." She said this insight created a profound revelation for her because she began to see how often she had been thinking about what she was going to say and worrying about telling her stories in the right order instead of really listening. She had created a rapport with her performers, but they hadn't gone anywhere with it because instead of helping them release their Faith, Fire, and Focus, she had basically just been using up time.

Realizing that we probably aren't listening as effectively as we could is the first step to improving our own performance as a coach. From that point, helpful things we can do include the following:

—Making the conscious decision in each interaction to set aside our own agenda/experience and focus on seeing the world through the performer's point of view.

—Consistently reflecting back what the performer is saying in our own words ("So what I'm hearing you say is…") and noticing how often the performer says things such as, "Yes," "That's right," or "No, that's not what I meant."

—Observing others in coaching situations (or even ourselves in video-recorded interactions) and asking, "Whose needs are being addressed here—the performer's or the coach's?"

The better we get at truly listening, the better we're able to help others raise their performance and help ourselves, as coaches, raise our own.

3. Failure to Follow the Process.

A common reason people don't use GROW effectively is that they don't follow the process. And the most common reason they don't follow the process is habit. They've responded to others in their own particular style for so long that they fall into it naturally without even thinking. They do what's comfortable rather than what works. The key here is to keep your goal of actually helping the person in mind and being very clear on what creates results­—and what doesn't.

Another reason is that people get emotionally caught up in what the person they're trying to help is saying. If you're trying to help someone who's struggling with how to stop a five-year-old from throwing temper tantrums—and you think, "Wow! I'm having that same problem with my five-year-old"—then you're likely to ditch the process and just sit there and commiserate: "You're right. This really is a tough problem. Just let me tell you what my daughter did last week…" Your shift of Focus creates interference that obstructs your Faith (“I’m not sure this can be solved") and your Fire (“I'm not excited about trying to help you when I don't think I can even help myself”), and therefore impedes your performance. In other situations, coaches get emotionally caught up in the right/wrong mechanism. They get ego-invested and start judging, responding, defending, correcting, or explaining instead of simply moving on.

Again, one of the best ways to avoid this problem is to thoroughly plan ahead of time and, again, to keep the Goal clearly in mind. Another key is to remember that you have no need to explain, defend, or justify anything; only to clarify choices and consequences and help the person reach a point where he/she is willing to engage in a performer-driven conversation.

4. Falling into "+K" Coaching.

Because most of us are in the habit of giving advice—and because we're in the midst of a cultural collusion that reinforces it—it's often hard to keep from falling back into outside-in (or "+K") coaching. It's hard to keep from just telling people what to do.

One way to avoid falling into this mistake is to watch the results of your coaching more carefully. Most people stop doing outside-in coaching only when they realize that it's not delivering what they think it delivers. Another way is to be rigorous in following the process. In other words, control what you pay attention to (what you Focus on) because that's what changes your Faith (your belief about what to do) and your Fire (your energy or passion about doing it).

5. Making Comfort the Driving Force.

Despite centuries of historical evidence (and our own personal evidence) to the contrary, most of us seem to think that happiness and success come from the absence of challenge rather than in overcoming it. As a result, we try to avoid anything that creates immediate discomfort or pain. However, if we're really making a difference as coaches, much of the time—perhaps a majority of the time—we're not going to be comfortable.

Really getting into the world of a performer with a different thinking and/or decision-making style can be challenging. In addition, the very process of helping a performer discover (rather than telling him/her) what to do may create discomfort at first.

But we need to keep asking ourselves those three critical questions:

—Who is this about—the performer…or me?

—When I speak, whose need is getting met—the performer's…or mine?

—Am I reducing interference…or increasing it?

If we are truly committed to making a difference in the lives of our performers, we can prioritize the end result over our temporary discomfort. We can learn to listen to others without taking ownership of their pain. We can keep reminding ourselves that the results that come from the uncomfortable, difficult conversations will often make the greatest difference in performance. Many of these things come naturally as we go through our own InsideOut process before engaging in difficult conversations.


This has been an excerpt from You Already Know How to Be Great, the New York Times bestseller by InsideOut Development founder Alan Fine.

Now that you know which coaching mistakes to avoid, click here to learn 7 essential behaviors all the best coaches practice in this article by Alan Fine.

7 Essential Coaching Behaviors

Category: Coaching Excerpt Mistakes

Picture of Alan Fine

Alan Fine is a New York Times Bestselling Author, the co-creator of the world-renowned GROW® Model, and Founder and President of InsideOut Development. As the pioneer of the modern day coaching movement, Alan has worked with many of the world’s most respected athletes like PGA golfers Phillip Price and David Feherty, and other organizations such as IBM, NASA, Honeywell, Gap, and Coca-Cola. A native of Wales, his other claims to fame include giving tennis lessons to Ariana Huffington (née Stassinopoulos) and getting kicked out of University. His favorite movie is 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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