Footprints in sand

Tips for new coaches and mentors

A list of factors to reassure new coaches and mentors to build coaching effectiveness.

Be YOU during the coaching conversation: if you don’t know the person, outside of the coaching relationship, then ensure they know enough about you to begin to build a relationship of trust. What three things are you known for and that are relevant for coaching? Why are you interested in coaching and being a coach? How have you seen its impact? Remind them that what you talk about will stay between you both and remain confidential.

Allow yourself time to be ready for the call: I have ten years of experience of coaching and still feel a level of nervousness before a call. I see this as good. I care about doing a good job and how I can best help the coachee. This nervousness is a reminder to me to:

  • calm my mind,
  • stand up and stretch if I have been busy working at my desk for a long time,
  • look up notes if there has been a previous conversation,
  • have a few questions on the notepad I will use, which are there as a reminder if my mind needs a prompt. Most times I don’t use these but the very act of writing them down means that they are now more accessible if needed in the flow of the conversation.
  • Finally, I tune into myself ensuring that the nervousness feels more like a positive energy, which means I am alert and excited about what may happen. All this takes me at least 15 minutes and so I ensure that time is free ahead of a scheduled call or meeting.

Your opening to the conversation: we are people and we need some small talk to warm up to be able to take part in a conversation and this applies to coaching too. After a few minutes, you can ask a question to bring some focus or direction to the coaching conversation. What is on your mind for us to focus on in this conversation? What do you want to use this coaching session for? You can always remind them in an email that you will ask such a question and for them to give it some thought ahead of the session.

Listen to what your coachee is saying. Either of the questions above will get the coachee speaking and sharing. They have begun to share their story of their present situation and the coaching has started. Listen to the content – the words they use, particular descriptions. Listen for the content – the way they express what they are saying. Are they thoughtful? How deep/superficial does it feel? Remember that you only need to engage with sufficient detail to support them as they make sense of it all. You do not need to know everything. Questions are useful such as: What do you notice as you outline the situation to me now? What is the most interesting thing for you in all this? Is this new or part of an ongoing pattern?

Breathe when you are distracted: If you find that you are not listening but that your attention is on your next question, or allaying your anxiety in the moment, then simply take a deep breath and remind yourself that all that you need is there in the conversation. If the coachee suddenly stops or says ‘I don’t know’ to one of the questions, then acknowledge this and perhaps ask: What makes it difficult to answer? What would be most helpful to talk through? Our questions are a guide and allow the coachee to get in touch with a change or action that is already there for them but needs to become more tangible for them to access it.

Be human: the relationship is key. The more you acknowledge the feelings and emotions that accompany the voiced ideas and challenges, the more you can laugh with the coachee, the more openness will come into the relationship and you will connect more fully. Such connections allow the coachee and us (the coach) to get out of our heads for a while and to be in touch with the energy behind our thinking. That energy might be flat, vibrant, high, overwhelmed, exhausted. If you notice a difference in the energy behind the coachee’s words then point it out. It will give your coachee further discovery into what is important for them.

If you don’t ask the best question, then rephrase it or ask something else. Our coachees are sometimes too polite to tell us if we have asked them something that is not so relevant for their understanding (we might have asked it for our own curiosity!). We can notice if the conversation goes a bit flat and check in with them. I am not sure if I have asked the most relevant question for you right now. What does it make sense to look at now? On the whole you don’t get things wrong and such awareness helps the coachee to take responsibility and control for the agenda which is very much what you want to see happen. You can also include such a prompt in regards to time too: we have 20 minutes left. How do you want to use that?

End well: if you have agreed that the session will last an hour then do your best to keep to this. If the conversation is still full of content with ten minutes to go then you can say: This feels too important to rush in our last ten minutes of this session. We can continue this next time. What are the main takeaways for you? What do you want to work on/think about before we talk again. Then make a date and time for your next session.

Reflect and keep notes of your own skills. It is good to write up some notes to remind yourself of a coaching conversation. Whether you do formal coaching or informal coaching on the way to a meeting with a colleague, also jot down a few notes to help you with your learning, as coach. What did you do well? When did it feel scary? What would you like to remind yourself to do next time? Remember that if you are doing effective coaching you will accompany the coachee into unfamiliar territory. They will not have considered such a topic in that way before and as coaching is not formulaic, the experience with this person will be different to previous ones you have had.

Your ability to help a coachee to feel safe enough to think in new ways is powerful coaching. Using the tips above will help you to let go of your own need to control everything and be in the unfamiliar with them.

These are tips that are relevant for all of us, however long we have been coaching for.

In addition for mentors

All of the above applies to mentoring. In addition, we would add:

  • What is the need that the mentee has at this time?
  • Why does this matter to them at this time?
  • How best can you share your experience and make it relevant to their context?

Keep asking yourself these questions, in your head, to ensure that you do not dominate the conversation.

After a mentoring session, analyse how much time you would say that you spoke for and how much your mentee did. Remember the acronym WAIT – why am I talking. It can feel safer for us to fill the space with advice and examples but it is more important to explore with the mentee how these things land and can be used. Mentors cannot make that judgment for the mentee.