“I feel like I’m not getting through to them.”
“Don’t they hear what I’m saying?”
“They just don’t listen to me!”
Any time we try to teach and can’t get employees to catch on, it’s frustrating.
We pride ourselves on being good coaches. So, when we can’t seem to get employees on the same page, it saps even the most patient manager.
But before pinning the blame on the employee, consider that the problem could be coming from you.
A crucial part of coaching is to play to the person’s strengths.
It’s useless to coach a 350-pound lineman to be a fleet-footed wide receiver. It helps to think of your employees the same way.
“Coach employees to their strongest abilities and the lessons will pay off,” says David Lee, founder of HumanNature@work.
And keep yourself out of it.
Coaching isn’t the time to wax poetic about how you started at the bottom and hit heights no one expected. How well YOU do the job has little to do with how your employee can or will perform.
Here are 5 guides to hone your skills, so your coaching invests in employees performing their best and continuing to improve.
1) Let the Employee Define the Problem
Avoid asking your employee a question then immediately launching into an explanation or list of problems.
This inhibits the most critical part of a teaching moment: We don’t let the employee give a full answer.
For example, you see an employee struggle with a task and ask, “Is there something about the process you don’t understand?”
But rather than wait until the employee answers, you keep going: “Because it is a little tricky if you don’t do it very often, and it has to be done in a very a specific way – here let me show you.”
Leave it at one question, then let the employee tell you what’s wrong.
This not only makes coaching more interactive, it also spares the person from having to listen to an explanation they don’t need.
Plus, offering your own fix doesn’t teach the employee anything, other than you know what you’re doing and they don’t.
2) Be Careful About How You Point Out Errors
Never assume the employee knows he or she is doing something wrong. It could be something the employee doesn’t realize or isn’t aware of.
So, avoid interrupting the employee while he’s in the process of doing something wrong unless it’s an absolute emergency. This could come across as though you’re spying, and it’s demeaning.
For example: “Um, OK that’s wrong. You’re not supposed to start cataloging stat sheets before they get final review.”
If it is something that can be easily fixed, bring it to the employee’s attention as soon as possible – but resist pouncing on the mistake out of the blue.
Otherwise, the employee might wonder, “Does she peer over my shoulder looking for me to make a mistake all the time?!”
3) Come Up for Air
If you’re explaining something – especially if you feel yourself running-on – stop and ask, “Do you have any comments or questions?” or something similar.
Don’t just talk at your employee.
Trying to drill too much information at once can overwhelm them, which is counterproductive. Even a small pause helps keep the person from becoming confused or disinterested – or both.
4) Use Teaching Stories – But Make Them Brief
Teaching stories can help an employee comprehend something, but not if they go on for 30 minutes.
Stick to short examples limited to a few minutes. Make sure your anecdote relates directly to what you’re trying to teach the employee.
Try to intersperse teaching examples with questions, such as, “Can you relate to that?”, or “Have you had that kind of an experience?”
This helps the other person stay engaged, and it helps them connect the dots between your story and their situation.
5) Don’t Wallow in Your Own Brilliance
As with keeping teaching stories brief, also remember to keep them relevant.
Before diving into a coaching story, be clear about why you’re doing it.
Ask yourself, “Am I telling this for MY sake or for theirs?”
Good managers do tell stories from their own past in an attempt to relate to employees on their level. It’s effective if you’re using a past example of a time you slipped up to get your employee to understand what not to do.
Saying “I did ____ and realized it was the wrong move because ____” provides the employee with a real-life illustration of what he or she should do (or avoid doing).
But too many managers get caught up in the moment, relaying information that’s irrelevant to the employee or the task at hand.
Stick to lessons that truly help the employee master a new task rather than tangents that waste their time.
Focusing solely on their improvement rather than your own ego makes you a better coach – and brings employees along better, as well.
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