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There are seven rather surprising reasons why your 1:1s with your employees may not be as effective as you would like them to be. That’s the bad news. The good news is that unconventional coaching can turn every single one of those scenarios around and produce extraordinary results. In no particular order, here are those hard-to-discover causes and what to do about them. 

1. Your employee isn’t telling you what the real issue is. 

More than 80% of the time, Mary Miller won’t express her issue in a clear, honest way. Sometimes this is intentional and sometimes not. However, either way, if you aren’t able to clarify what the real problem is right from the get go, then you can’t help but spin your wheels and waste time – both yours and Mary’s. Frankly, getting down to what Mary really wants and needs to discuss is more an art than a science, and it definitely isn’t something most line managers have been trained to do. Let’s correct that omission right now.  

Here are some useful questions to challenge Mary and clarify what’s really going on:

  • “Would you say that’s your real fear, or is something else on your mind?”
  • “What else might be causing you to feel like this?”
  • “I have a feeling something else is on your radar. Would you care to share it with me?”

Not only will this type of question help solve the problem at hand, but it will also prove to Mary that you really do want to uncover and address her real concerns. She will respect you for it.

2. You may not know what to ask or how to ask it when you are dealing with an emotionally sensitive or creative employee like John Smith.

There’s no denying it. Emotional Intelligence is a must-have leadership skill in today’s workplace. The way employees were spoken to and managed just five years ago no longer works well, especially if you are working with an emotionally sensitive and/or creative person. John Smith simply doesn’t respond well to “hard” words like target, objective, or action. The best way to get him on board is to use “softer” trigger words and questions. You’ll be surprised what a difference it makes!

Here are some examples of questions to ask John: 

  • “What’s your vision for this team?”
  • “What’s your feeling around that performance?”
  • “How can we add texture to this project?”

Experiment with a different vocabulary, and you’ll notice a more engaged response.

3. You don’t have enough training or experience to conduct a coaching session. 

It’s taken for granted that managers know how to coach, and yet the vast majority don’t. Why would you if you haven’t had the experience or training? The problem is only compounded if you are sent to participate in an advanced coaching course without having first been trained in the basics. You lack a strong foundation upon which to build.

Some basic workplace coaching skills include: 

  • Learning how to formulate effective, open and closed questions
  • Listening deeply (for what is and is not being said)
  • Assisting with setting SMART goals
  • Mastering the GROW coaching model for standard employee development goals

Your employees will appreciate your structured, results-driven coaching approach during their 1:1’s with you. And you will discover that this approach will not only make your life easier as a manager, but it will also produce extraordinary results.

4. You may believe coaching is too time-consuming.

If you think you don’t have enough time to coach your employees, then you may be missing opportunities to further develop them. The truth is an effective coaching session doesn’t need to take much time out of your busy schedule. You can facilitate a successful laser coaching session with actionable takeaways during a short but focused conversation. I have successfully coached colleagues in the time it takes to stand in the line at the office Starbucks and collect our cappuccinos at the other end.

It’s all about asking the right questions, keeping your employee on topic, and gaining his commitment to take action. With a bit of practice, this doesn’t require much time. Always remember that a short burst of coaching that motivates your employee is better than no coaching at all.

5. You may not be asking the creative questions that inspire Mary to think in solutions instead of problems.

Have you ever been on either end of a performance review that’s conducted like an inquisition where the manager fires an incessant stream of why-who-when bullet questions at the employee? Is it any wonder so many people – both managers and those they manage – dread this process? Next time, try a different approach that will inspire Mary to really engage and think outside the box.

Coaching excellence occurs when you camouflage your questions masterfully. Mary will want to answer without feeling obliged to, and that’s what facilitates creative problem-solving. Examples of this type of question include:

  • “What kind of encouragement or advice would you give someone who’s in a similar position to yours?”
  • “If you fast forward to the end of this situation, which solutions does the movie reveal?”
  • “How would you pitch this idea in a way even a toddler could grasp its value?”

6. Talking too much and not listening for what’s NOT being said.

If you haven’t been trained how to coach, it’s quite normal to talk too much and not keep the focus where it belongs – on the employee and his issue. Your nervousness or excitement or simply used to being the one who does most of the talking in the relationship can add to this dynamic. The result is John ends up feeling deflated.

Do you remember the last time you asked a friend to help, and they made it all about themselves? Do you remember how you felt? This is similar to how John can feel if you don’t practice good listening skills. Not only do you not want your team member to feel that way, but when you talk too much you might miss valuable throwaway comments. This kind of comment often highlights hidden, underlying concerns and patterns that require further exploration on your part.

Some examples of valuable throwaway comments you don’t want to miss are:

  • “I’ve always seen myself as second best.”
  • “My sales conversion rates are always poor.”
  • “It runs in the family.”

Unlock your coaching excellence by allowing John to think his answers through. And in order for him to do that, he needs space – the kind of space that is offered by applying the gentle power of silence. Not only will John feel compelled to break the silence, but he will also provide valuable information.

7. Performance anxiety

If you aren’t an experienced coach, you may feel the need to produce results by the end of your session with Mary. That kind of self-imposed pressure can be counter-productive because it can stop the natural coaching flow. Always remember that, yes, you are responsible for applying a useful structure to your 1:1 with Mary, but you are not responsible for coming up with all the answers. That’s Mary’s responsibility.

Of course you want your coaching to be the catalyst for Mary to discover her own answers. The best way to achieve this is to stop performing and start connecting. You’re not a coaching machine. You are, first and foremost, a human being. Be personable and use language to show you are right there and present with Mary.

  • “I know how that feels.”
  • “I’ve experienced that too.”
  • “This is what I’ve done to improve my results.”

Conventional coach training will tell you to stay neutral and never share opinions.  However, in my experience, it’s precisely your natural human way of connecting that inspires Mary to lower her defenses, feel more at ease, and actively engage during your 1:1 with her. Your short anecdotes are motivational and act as trust builders for future collaboration.

So there you have it – seven common pitfalls in which you might find yourself during 1:1’s with your employees and how to avoid them by using unconventional coaching.