Starting with silence: extending my services to include executive coaching specialising in communication by Malcolm Andrews (Guest)

After more than a decade developing and delivering management skills training, I’ve recently extended my practice to provide Executive Coaching. An early experience with a Coachee started me thinking about the potential benefits of combining both disciplines.

How it started

At our orientation session ‘Ed’ described his frustration at not being able to get his Stakeholders on board with a new Change initiative he was driving.  He told me about a presentation he had made to them which failed to create any significant response: positive or negative. Ed, as it turned out, had presentation skills at the top of his agenda for our meeting. In my mind was a conversation about engaging and influencing.  

So, at our first session, I sat waiting for Ed to open up with his issues and… he sat expecting me to begin delivering solutions. After staring at each other for what seemed a long time, it began to dawn on me that my usual combination of encouraging hand and eyebrow gestures wasn’t working. Something was wrong. 

In mitigation for making such a glaring assumption about how the session would go, I should explain that the journey from training into coaching had been pretty overwhelming. To begin with, it came as a big surprise that Change could be delivered through a conversation the outcome of which was the job of the coachee and not me! Despite there being no ‘leader’, the process could be trusted to arrive at an outcome which was owned by the coachee.  

Starting from my intentions

So, when Ed contacted me, I was fully focussed on this new world of discovery and that’s the context in which I approached our sessions.      

Most Coachees I work with contact me after visiting my website which describes my Coaching offering alongside a range of Skills Development programmes. The common theme running through both aspects of my practice is Business Communication.

Whilst in my mind there has always been a clear division between Skills Development and Coaching, it is not always the perception of those who visit my site. Some people are attracted by the option of exploring training in the context of their style and behaviour and looking at how to optimise their career path. Others are focussed fully on skills ‘takeaways’ on an as needed basis.

Co-creating through silence

When Ed and I finally started to speak, he began by telling me of his concern about being unable to engage with senior management.  We explored the evidence for this and went on to talk about his work experience and the value he brought to the company. I introduced some assertiveness techniques and he came up with several scenarios in which we could try these out in role plays.

Looking back, if, when we were gazing silently at each other I had, out of habit or nerves, jumped into training mode, Ed may never have shared his concerns and an opportunity for him to see his own value would have been missed as well as an opportunity for me to discover a key aspect of  Coaching…silence, which for me has come to mean ‘space’ for both of us to breathe, stand back, think and just be present. 

 Re-testing silence in another case

Another example of mixed perceptions came with ‘Agnes’ who signed up for Coaching sessions to work on the difficulty she was experiencing leading her cross functional project teams to completion. 

During the first session, Agnes shared that she had received feedback about her lack of engagement during team meetings and it had been suggested that she would benefit from having Presentation Training. This seemed to be a good idea and I explained that using Presentations Skills as a way to get alongside end users was something I had material on if she would like to go through it.

We spent 45 minutes exploring body language, voice intonation, active questioning and listening techniques but what really caught her attention was a 3 stage communication style process tool which I had (in my Coaching file) and which she applied successfully the next day at work to understand the communication styles of her team. After that, Agnes said she felt an increased sense of confidence and we spent the rest of our sessions reviewing the progress she was making and the ongoing changes that were taking place.

Complementing Coaching and Skills development through my practice

A comparison which I’ve often heard made between Coaching and Skills Development is, that in the former, it’s about the Coachee discovering their own outcomes whilst Skills Development is based on the  preconceived objectives set by the Trainer.

As I mentioned, coming into Coaching opened my eyes to a new way of facilitating others to identify their own solutions to the challenges they encounter. Perhaps because of this awakening, I felt that the Coaching approach was in some way ‘better’ than training. I always made sure, at the beginning of my training workshops, to say that ideas and solutions could come from anywhere in the room (not just the front) but I was standing at the front! Now, though, I am feeling that the two disciplines can usefully complement each other to arrive at a common purpose … the development of the individual’s self esteem and sense of potential.

I was told that when a Coachee identifies a course of action by which to address a particular issue, my response would be to ask what steps they could take to follow through with that. I do this but when a possible solution comes up in the conversation, I might introduce a skill which when we try it out, creates some ideas about how to use it in the workplace to address the issue at hand.

When a Coachee identifies a specific skill as being a way forward, I feel positive about being able to suggest a choice …  ‘I’ve got some material on this, would you like us to look at it?’  or ’What action will you take to move forward with this? ’ Surprisingly, I’m finding that the two approaches can be complementary.

I’m no longer anxious about silences during coaching sessions. I know from experience that they provide space for us both to grow.

To connect with Malcolm via Linkedin

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I work with Senior Executives to build a personal communication style which adds to their feelings of confidence & ease when collaborating with peers, greater fulfilment when being proactive with stakeholders and satisfaction from acknowledging their personal growth as they move up in their career.