Management, Wellbeing

Interview with Helen Martin: Coaching tips and techniques to encourage positivity

21 April 2020

Being an effective manager right now requires a toolkit of sophisticated set of skills and behaviours. As well as needing to focus on their own mental health and changing circumstances, people managers are looking out for the well-being of their direct reportsadapting to changing strategic objectives and trying to get the most out of a dispersed and unsettled team. 

Coaching is rising to the top of the list as a desirable skill to have during these tricky times. We spoke to Helen Martin, Professional Development Expert at Corndel about her view of coaching and how to build confidence, positivity and ultimately high performance among team members. 

Thank you for joining us, Helen. There is a lot of talk at the moment around workplace mental well-being and how we can all as employees survive and thrive during this time. From a manager’s perspective, what are the warning signs of a team member who is in a negative state of mind? 

Taking the time to understand and discuss what a team member is going through at any given time, is the best place to start for any managerWhen someone is feeling negative and on a downward spiral, dig a bit deeper into how they are feelingWords to look out for include ‘I can’t’, ’never’, ‘always’. 

These types of words are very definite and fixedThey are reluctant to ask questions, to collaborate, to get feedback. They don’t necessarily want to know they are no good at something because when they feel that when they fail they are actually no good.  

As a manager and coach, you want to try to break what is a fixed mindset and transform it into a growth mindset. Research shows that those who believe their intelligence can be developed outperform those who believe their intelligence is fixed and they are not going to do any better.  

I’ll give you some examples of fixed versus growth mindset, as coined by Carol Dweck. 

  • The growth mindset is about people who think I can learn absolutely anything I want to. The fixed mindset might believe they are either good at it or not. 
  • The growth mindset is about rising to a challenge that you are faced with, and not being fazed by it. The fixed mindset says I don’t like to be challenged. 
  • The growth mindset is about failing fast and moving on. The fixed mindset says that if you fail you are no good.  

It’s about having those conversations with a coachee to find out what is stopping them from using the information they are getting from the people around them to understand that when they fail they actually do learn. 

A common example of this might be a team member who is disappointed or annoyed that a colleague got a promotion and they didn’t. With a fixed mindset they may feel that ‘if you succeed, I feel threatened.’ With a positive mindset, the person will think ‘if you succeed I’m inspired because it gives me all the opportunity in the world knowing that I can do the same as you did. I can gather information from you, I can perhaps take courses like you’ve done and can succeed in the same way you have done. 

For those employees who tend to focus more on the things they do badly than the things that they do well, how can managers use coaching to help them to be more positive? 

Yes it’s quite sad really that people will focus on the negative. For example, they might go into a meeting and find that 90% of it goes well. When they go home they have a sleepless night over the 10% that didn’t go so well. 

Think of the parable of ‘The wolf that you feed is the one that grows big and strong.’ Inside every single one of us there are two wolves fighting to win. If we think that inside all of us there is a bad wolf and good wolf, the bad wolf is all about arrogancegreedself-pitydoubt and focusing on that 10% of the meeting that went wrong. The good wolf is about believing in ourselves, joy, empathy, peace, kindness to ourselves and focusing on the 90% of the meeting that went welloften ask my coachees the question: Which wolf wins? Generally, they will choose one of them, the good or the bad wolf and give a reason for that. I reply to them ‘no, the wolf that you feed is the wolf that grows big and strong. 

This is especially useful for learners who are not that positive. It’s a way of catching them and stopping them in their tracks. If you are feeding the bad wolf all the time, the bad wolf will get bigger and bigger, stronger and stronger and it’s going to win over the good wolf. It’s reminding coachees that they have a choice. They will often ask themselves ‘why did that happen?’ or ‘Why did I say that?’. But I ask them, why such a subjective, emotional question? When you ask yourself more factually ‘what happened?’, followed by ‘what could you have done differently?’ (not better as that is also subjective), they are feeding the good wolf. Thinking it through and coming up with alternatives is key. They can then draw on that when they find themselves in a similar situation in the future. 

This parable often makes the penny drop – more so than the theory of the fixed and growth mindset, which makes sense to them but doesn’t always speak to them in the same way. 

What other traits do you see in those who find themselves in a negative place? 

Another common trait in those who are struggling to be positive, is the finger of blame. We all do it to a certain extent. ‘My colleague did this, my partner did that, my manager does this.’ The thing about pointing fingers, even figuratively, is that when we point a finger, there are three fingers point back at us. We must remember that when we cast blame, we do have to understand that we have some responsibility ourselves. As an individual and as a human being that is emotionally intelligent and knows we have choices, we can choose at any particular moment to make tweaks to the situation to get a different reaction. It’s those slight changes that start to make a difference.  

Are there any particular tools that you recommend managers use when coaching others? 

I often use the wheel of life. For those that haven’t come across this, it’s an exercise that helps you understand what’s important to your team and what each of the areas means to them in practice. Ask them to rate each area of their life on the scale according to how well they feel they are satisfying it right now. Then ask them which area they would like to improve and what’s the easiest change they could make right now to move the line by one point. Then ask them if another area will need to shift to make this change possible? In what way will it need to change? 

There are finite resources – both our time and effort. At any time in their career your coachees have choices. It’s about making people understand what their values are at any particular moment so they feel comfortable saying no to the things that are not valuable to them. This is particularly useful to think about during periods of change to gain control of their own choices. It’s nice way for them to understand themselves and for you to understand and help them.

So much of high performing team is about getting the right people doing the right jobs. Do you have any tools to guide coaching conversations around personal and career development? 

I created a simple exercise that managers can use during appraisals, to understand their team members, get to know new team members, support an employee who’s struggling, or to build high performing, highly motivated teams. 

It’s about determining a person’s passion or sweetspot. Here’s how to conduct it: 

  1. 360 degree feedback. Write down all of your expertise in a list (use your CV) e.g. project management, writing skills, PowerPoint, events management, etc. Between 5 and 10 tasks is generally a good start. 
  2. Give yourself a score 1-5 (1 being the worst and 5 the best) if you are good or bad at doing the task.
  3. Using the same list, give yourself a score, from 1-5, if you like or dislike doing the task. Not everything you like doing, you’re necessarily good at doing and not everything you dislike doing, is something that you are bad at doing.
  4. Ask three to five people that you trust, and who know you well enough (from a business perspective), to use the same list and to score you on what they believe you’re good or bad at. They should use the same scoring system 1-5. Do not let them see your own scores. They do not need to score you on how you ‘like or dislike’ a task.
  5. Where there is more than a two point difference, ask the person to explain why they think the way they do about you and ask for concrete examples of when you worked well or ‘not so well’- remember perception is reality.
  6. Listen to the feedback and write it down. Do not challenge the feedback.
  7. Hopefully by doing this 360 degree feedback with 3 or 4 people, you will start seeing a trend in their answers i.e. what you are perceived at being good or bad at. 

The sweet spots are the tasks that the coachee likes doing (their passion), they are good at doing and that other people recognise that they’re good at. This gives direction for development and a solid base from which to build confidence. 

On the subject of confidence, how do you help coachees build self-esteem? 

There is a technique I use successfully, based on NLP. There are some wonderful elements of NLP that can be used to make people shine. It’s called Circles of Excellence and it is used to build inner confidence. About 60-70% of the people I coached at a global bank last year, said this exercise had helped them develop confidence.  

  1. Reflect on a time that you were successful in your work. (For example, despite initial nerves about returning from maternity leave, I quickly became the go-to person in my business unit) 
  2. How did it make you feel? (Eg proud)
  3. Is there somewhere in your body where you feel that feeling? (Eg in my gut)
  4. When you feel this way, do you stand, sit or act differently? (Eg I speak louder and stand up taller) 

While the coachee is describing this situation, you may want to make notes so that you can quote this verbatim back to them. It helps them to know that you are listening to them and it also helps to embed the feeling they are experiencing into their memory.

Now tell the learner: 

In your mind’s eye, draw a chalk circle on the floor; big enough for you to stand in; and with this new positive memory of how powerful you are, step into your Circle of Excellence.  

This technique is even more powerful when it is linked to a future goal e.g. Visualising something that a learner may fear such as asking for a promotion; or presenting to a large group. By visualising the entire ‘fearful’ situation as one that can be very successful; the questions that may be asked in the meeting, the preparation that the learner will need to carry out prior to the meeting, etc. It allows a learner to completely visualise and plan a meeting in its totality in advance, drawing from the positivity of the past experience that they have relayed to you as their coach.  

This technique needs to be practiced and by practicing every day, the learner can call on this positivity at any time.   

Finally, do you have suggestions of thought-provoking coaching questions that managers can use to help their team members move forward? 

Here are a number of questions gleaned from the Corndel team of Professional Development Experts/coaches. They are powerful questions that open up further reflection and discussion. 

  • What is your definition of success? 
  • What would you advise someone else in the same position/facing the same issue?  
  • What would you do if you weren't afraid? 
  • What's on your mind? 
  • How would you tackle that, if you did it again?
  • If you did know, what would the answer be? 
  • What is your biggest challenge? 
  • What does 'good' look like to you? 
  • What would you do differently next time? 
  • If you had unlimited resources what would you do? 
  • What else? 
  • If you did, what would the impact be?  
  • What does this behaviour give you, get you or do for you? 
  • What did you discover as being your greatest strengths? 
  • What is stopping you from ...? 
  • What does that tell you about yourself? 
  • What are you saying no to if you say yes to this? 

Thank you for sharing these coaching tips and techniques, Helen. Any final thoughts? 

What’s interesting is that nine times out of ten, people say that they relate more to the growth mindset than the fixed mindset. They say they like to be challenged and will rise to that challenge. Yet the truth is that when faced with a difficult situation, many people need coaching through the situation in order to learn from it and improve.  

In summary, I would recommend keeping the following in the mind of your coachee: 

  1. Have the right mindset – feed the good wolf 
  2. Act and react responsibly – don’t cast blame
  3. Stay true to your values – use the wheel of life tool
  4. Find your passion – the sweetspot tool
  5. Have the confidence to follow your dreams – step into your Circle of Excellence. 

Do this, and your team members will realise they can become anything they put their minds to. 

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