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Traps to avoid while trying to coach someone

Most people would agree they can benefit from a coaching approach in their thinking or management style. What is a coaching approach? It’s a non-judgemental way of helping someone by putting the person in question in the centre of the "intervention" by asking the right questions and, at the same time, being able to offer support in both verbal and non-verbal ways. It means allowing the person to experience the benefit of coming up with solutions by themselves, which are best-suited for them. With a bit of help from a coach or someone who takes on a coaching approach, they empower themselves to dig out the right resources, which they already have, but have been perhaps struggling to access. They may have simply lost the key to them, and the coach has the key.

The coaching approach is likely to work only in certain circumstances though and if we don’t disrupt the process falling into some common coaching traps.  Here are a few to think about.

1. Not having someone's permission. That’s often part of the challenge – we haven’t obtained the person's permission to coach them. In fact, this applies to many other situations when we seek to “help” when not asked. You may be an expert and know a thing about the subject, or even the process of coaching, but if the person isn't interested in being helped, it will just break the rapport between you. Not a very good start, right?!

2. And yes, let's look at rapport. If the trust isn’t fully there or the rapport is a bit patchy, it’s unlikely someone will open up to us and be receptive to what we say. In fact, they will be consciously or unconsciously resisting our attempts at getting involved. It also applies to coaching yourself. Unless you have a healthy, understanding, non-non-judemental and compassionate relationship with yourself, it’s hard to change and grow.

3. Not listening. In the coaching world, there are three levels of listening. The first two levels are more self-centred, whereas the third – global – level, is the other person-centred level, where we notice the spoken and unspoken and let ourselves view things from the other person’s perspective by really putting ourselves in their shoes. At the very moment, we aren’t preparing for what to say next, think about what to make for dinner or try to predict what they are going to say, or perhaps compare their situation to ours and figure out a solution before we even get to the end of the story. Instead, we submerge ourselves in their world to help them by feeling their pains and joys so that we can understand without the need to judge. That is precisely what prompts us to ask the right questions at the right time.

4. The latter naturally connects to being present in our conversations with others. I’m not sure who came up with the myth of multitasking, but believing it is actually possible to do two things effectively at the same time (other than perhaps some manual work) may cause a lot of damage. It’s not realistic to expect from yourself or others to be effectively doing two or more things at the same time. And certainly not while listening to another person.

If you are a manager who's looking at the screen of your laptop while having someone sat in front of you and trying to talk to you, you may want to reconsider your approach. And no matter how busy you are.

5. Giving advice or offering solutions. Not many people like being told what to do and do what they are told to. But you can still help them by asking what they would suggest someone else does were they in their shoes. This is likely to make them come up with the perfect advice for themselves – much more relevant and useful than yours or anyone else’s. If you offer advice, you practically make an assumption the person you’re trying to help is not capable of finding a solution, or reinforce this belief in them. It makes them depend on you and disempowers them. There's time and place for advice, and there's time and place for coaching.

6. Inappropriate tone of voice. If our tone of voice is incongruent with the (supportive) message, the message becomes confusing. However, we do need to consider cultural differences here as different cultures have a different pitch and volume of voice. Coming from Eastern Europe where (which, I'm aware, is a bit of a generalisation) we speak quite loud and make sounds which sound like shouting (so I have been told), it certainly takes some adjustment at one end, and awareness and understanding at the other. However, speaking with no passion may not be as impactful when it comes to getting the message across. Think Gary V., Simon Sinek and Tony Robbins!

7. My favourite one - the quality of questions. Ask meaningful, other-person-focused, open-ended questions that will help the person deploy some divergent thinking before they start to come up with solutions. If we jump to solutions right away, before looking at all possible options, we are likely to default back to the ones which we have tried and tested before – whether they have worked or haven’t!

8. Ending coaching conversation with action points. By helping the person come up with two or three action points while coaching them, you will have helped them refocus and embark on the journey of change.

Coach away!

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