To Really Help Others Learn and Change

Coaching is a process. It is helping others learn, grow and move toward their aspirations or new adventures in life and work. The process consists of many specific actions, like listening. But more than that, coaching is a frame of mind, or as we say today, a mindset.

Adopting a coaching mindset is a somewhat selfless act. We move outside of our agenda for the other person. We don’t try to fix them or get them to conform to our image of what they should be, do, feel or think. In our research, we call this approach coaching with compassion. We contrast that with what many people often do, which is try to fix, correct or help someone conform to what we think they should do. We call this coaching for compliance.

This requires humility and caring for the other person. It sounds simple because it is so basically human. But given the daily pressures around us, this becomes a major feat. When facing such pressures, it is difficult to place the needs and desires of others above our own.

Our many outcome studies, as well as neuroimaging and hormonal studies point to a clear message that coaching with compassion extends the durability of any openness to learning and change inspired in the other person. Whether it is a client, student, patient, subordinate or even a child, this coaching mindset helps them find energy to keep pursuing a dream, a possibility, or a curiosity.

Let’s put it to a personal, experiential test. Think of someone who helped you the most become who you are. Or think of several people. Now remember a particular moment in which you realized, learned or discovered something that stuck with you – possibly through to today. In that moment, what did the other person say or do? How did they make you feel?

We have involved hundreds of thousands of people around the world in this reflection. They most often tell us that the person cared about them, listened to them, encouraged them and challenged them. Rarely if ever was the moment focused on them fitting into a company culture or completing a task. Nor was it instrumental for job related performance.  Instead, it was something deeper. And the impact is often still felt decades later.

In our new book, Helping People Change, we told the story of a young high school soccer player. She had been groomed since adolescence by her parents and coaches to play soccer (the US version of World Association Futbol). The family included a number of great soccer players. Her high school coach had been noticing, however, that she really didn’t seem to have a passion for the game. After practice one day, he asked her, “Why do you play soccer?” She was puzzled by the question and said, “Because everyone in my family plays soccer. And because I am good at it.”  Then the coach asked, “But do you love it?”

Somewhat dejectedly, she said, “No, I don’t…It was fun when I was younger, but now it feels like something I have to do…I don’t want to let my family down.”  Her coach had noticed something else in her behavior and asked her about it. This resulted in a revelation for both her and her coach. She loved running, but no longer felt the same about soccer. So she changed sports and become a phenomenal long distance runner!

This dynamic goes unnoticed, actually ignored, every day in offices, physician/nurse and patient discussions and around the family dinner table. It is so much easier to subtly (or not so subtly) tell someone what they should do than to take the risk and time to understand what they really want. If you are trying to encourage learning or change in another person, a coaching mindset will really help discover what the person has energy, commitment and desire to do!

Have you experienced someone using this coaching mindset and helping you to discover, learn or change? What did they say or do? How did it feel?

Have you tried it with others?

Think like a Coach
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Helping People Change
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We all want to help others learn and change whether our subordinates, clients, patients, students, or children. But the typical way we go about it has the opposite effect.
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Boyatzis, R.E., Smit, M., & Van Oosten, E. (2019). Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth

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