Coaching is often described as a way of achieving an ‘un’ of some description, for example unlocking potential, uncovering opportunities, or getting unstuck from problems. Coaching is a skill, and skills can be learnt and practised by everyone. We define coaching yourself as:
The skill of asking yourself questions to improve self-awareness and prompt positive action.
Your ability to coach yourself isn’t determined by the level you’ve reached in your career, or how many years of experience you have. What matters much more is the time and effort you dedicate to continually improving your coaching skills. There is no such thing as the ‘perfect coach’ and we’re confident that everyone reading this book will make lots of positive progress by trying out and applying the ideas that we share.
Coach yourself: mindset
Coaching yourself is usually prompted by the motivation to make a change of some sort; it might be getting promoted, improving the relationship with your manager or something more general like looking for purpose in the work that you do. Coaching challenges are often knotty, messy and complicated. There will be times where you feel frustrated and as though you can’t take action because the barriers are just too big. Everyone feels this way at some point in a coaching process, but it’s critical that you don’t lose confidence in your abilities or even risk giving up altogether.
Mindset action 1: moving your mindset from fixed to growth
When you feel the pull of a fixed mindset you can consciously counteract it by recognizing moments of growth. This helps you to appreciate how you have successfully worked through challenges before and increases your confidence that you can do the same again. You will already have lots of growth mindset moments every week, you probably just don’t ‘label’ them in that way. Take a moment now to write down and recognize a few of your growth mindset moments over the past few months:
- When have I felt in control at work?
- When have I felt confident in my job?
- When have I done something that has stretched my competence and skills?
Mindset action 2: your coaching preference and pitfalls
One of the things that can get in the way of coaching yourself is when your inner critic takes control. Your inner critic is the voice inside your head that tells you that you’re not ‘enough’ in some way.
We all have an inner critic, and it’s fuelled by what’s called our negativity bias. This is our tendency to pay more attention to, remember and dwell on the things we don’t do well rather than our positive characteristics.
Mindset action 3: tune into your coach and calm your critic
The more we listen to our inner critic the louder and more powerful it becomes. And it’s a vicious cycle – the further your inner critic creeps in, the more control it has. It prevents us from both seeing ourselves clearly and taking positive action to make progress.
Talk to yourself in the same way your best friend would. We can be our own worst critics and guilty of putting ourselves under unrealistic pressure we would never expect of anyone else. Take a minute to write down the names of three friends who support you.
What is it about what these people say and how they say it that you find supportive? Perhaps they don’t judge you, or help you see things clearly, or make time for you when you need it. When you’re facing a coaching challenge keep these friends front of mind, so you can imagine what they’d say and listen to their supportive voices.
Coach yourself: skillset
Your mindset and skillset go hand in hand as you develop your coaching abilities.
There are three critical coaching skills that are important for every coaching challenge:
Coach yourself skill 1: self-awareness
We don’t get much practice at pressing pause as part of our working lives. We feel too busy with actions and tasks to take the time to stop and pause for thought during the day. And though we can blame technology, managers and work overload for getting in the way, many people find pressing pause uncomfortable. As Kate Murphy, author of You’re Not Listening, says: a hesitation or pause is seen as unbearably awkward and something to actively avoid. But pressing pause, however lightly, gives us the opportunity to understand ourselves, learn more and maybe even surprise ourselves.
Coach yourself skill 2: listening to yourself
How would you rate your listening skills on a scale of 1 (useless) to 10 (excellent)? In our workshops most people give themselves a score of 7 and above, though research has found that listening is a skill where we often overestimate our ability. For example, Professor Ralph Nichols found that after a short talk most people missed at least half of what was said.
We think we’re listening when in fact we’re waiting to speak or distracted by something else that’s happening at work. The same thing happens when we listen to ourselves. We don’t finish our thoughts before we move on to the next one, or we assume we know the right answer without fully exploring all the options. Practising listening to yourself (and to other people) is critical to your coaching success.
Coach yourself skill 3: questioning
The 3 Os of a coach yourself question: open, one at a time and ownership
Good coaching questions can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. Open questions start with who, what, where, when, why or how. If you spot yourself asking a closed question like Am I committed to taking this action? it’s easy to re-ask yourself the same question in an open way: What would increase my commitment to taking this action?
- One at a time
The problem with asking too many questions at once is that our brains get overloaded and we can’t remember them all, let alone answer them properly. In this situation what typically happens is the last question asked gets answered and the others get lost. As part of coaching yourself you will be asking yourself lots of questions that build on each other, but you will improve the quality of your insights if you ask one question at a time. One at a time questioning helps you to generate more options and actions as part of your coaching approach.
Your coaching questions are all about ‘I’, for example: how might I …, what could I …, where will I … Your coaching challenges will often involve other people, but your focus should stay on what you can control and the actions you can take. If you find yourself blaming other people or factors when you’re coaching yourself it’s a signal you need to refocus on what you can control. When you become aware of a lack of ownership in your coaching approach a good way to refocus back on yourself is to ask an ‘I’ question that only you have the answer to. This could be What will I do next? or What have I learnt? or What do I feel? The best person to come up with solutions to your challenges is you, and by improving your self-awareness and identifying your own actions you will be much more motivated and committed to making change happen.