Leadership Article

Coaching Your Way through Conversation by Gary Edwards
I remember the first time I heard the expression “being parental” in the context of discussions I had with my kids as teenagers. Suddenly I had a clear realization of how I felt over the years when people were “parental” to me. It came back to me how often I said to my kids “this is the way it is!” instead of, “what do you think would happen if you did it this way?”, or “have you considered this alternative?”

This isn’t only true in the case of discussions between kids and parents. The same thing can apply to work conversations between a supervisor and employee or discussions with a co-worker. If the subject matter taps into our insecurities or fears, the tendency is to want to be in charge and have the final word.

The emphasis in a conversation is entirely different if you are talking down to someone as opposed to having a conversation with them. It’s possible to coach others on an alternative point of view or another perspective with the ultimate objective of having them discover their own wisdom or truth, and letting it be their decision.

It’s often tempting as a parent (or in any other role) to say, “this is the way it is, get over it!,” instead of leading from behind or practicing the art of persuasion. However, the damage that “being parental” does to a relationship is significant and is often more about wanting to control the situation than a matter of right or wrong.

A friend once told me, “I gave my kids roots and wings in equal proportions.” I like that sentiment. In coaching conversations, you can encourage people to strike a balance between their own grounding and inner wisdom while looking at appropriate outside help and resources. The difference can be rather subtle at times, but the outcome leaves the individual’s pride, self-reliance and dignity intact. And, most important, they are free to learn from their own decisions.