The power of peer coaching
You may be wondering what is in it for you. Peer to peer coaching is helpful on many levels: it is about sharing experiences, building stronger connections and being held accountable for behavioral changes you set out to make. It’s also about developing your coaching skills and helping a colleague with a listening ear and, where desired, a possible solution.
It is certainly possible that the coaching session will end up covering issues or themes other than the task or exercise you were both asked to complete in advance. The ‘rules of the game’ and questions below are generally applicable, so by all means go with the flow and use the suggested tools no matter the topic.
We suggest that you look at the session as an informal opportunity to connect, learn and help each other. Experimenting with peer coaching is also a way to improve how you provide feedback, raise issues within the team in a helpful way and learn to listen empathically.
Rules of the Game
The ‘Rules of the Game’ are set out below. While there is no need to stick to the rules rigidly, they will help you get more out of the session, both for yourself and for your colleague.
Ideally each session takes a total of one hour, with each person coaching the other for 30 minutes.
- Listen with a sense of interest and engagement;
- Avoid multi-tasking. Remain fully focused on your peer;
- Ask open-ended questions (why, where, how, what, when…);
- Ask even more;
- Use eye contact (yes, digitally too);
- Take short notes.
Why these ‘Do’ rules?
Coaching is about connecting with people, inspiring them to do their best and helping them to grow. It’s also about challenging people to come up with the answers they require on their own. Coaching begins by creating space to be filled by the coachee, not by you; and the best way to start this process is by asking open-ended questions. The key is to remain open and receptive to whatever the other person wishes to discuss, without assuming anything or offering immediate solutions. This means being engaged in deep listening and being fully focused on the other, for the other.
- Criticize. Belittle. Be cynical;
- Multi-task, as in checking emails or apps or your watch;
- Jump into conclusions. Check regularly with your peer that you understand them correctly;
- Offer solutions or ‘to do’ advice, unless specifically asked.
Why these ‘Do not’ rules?
For the other person to speak openly, s/he needs to feel safe. Criticism, negative commentary, cynicism and even what might seem like a funny joke, but is at the expense of the other, will quickly and firmly stop the other person from trusting you and shut out constructive communication.
Listening is a whole-body process that happens between two people; it is way more than simply hearing. Let the other person see that you are fully engaged in listening by avoiding the urge to complete other tasks in parallel. Your role is to be a good listener and inquirer, so ensure you understand the other correctly, and resist the urge to jump ahead and offer your experience, knowledge or solutions. The more time you spend in pure inquiry, the more likely will the other person be able to come up with their own solution(s).
First 5 minutes: check in:
Getting to know each other by sharing 3 roles:
- Private: e.g. father of 3 children, divorced, expat etc.
- Professional: e.g. what you do for a living, your career path
- Playful: e.g. your hobbies, what you do in your free time or what your guilty pleasure is.
What if I already know the other person well?
Do you know the familiar situation, when two people who were married for a long time decide to separate, and you hear them say “I had no idea this was the person I was married to…” There is so much more that we do not know of the other, even when we think we do. This is even more likely when it comes to working together as colleagues, when there is not so time to get to know each other personally and even less so since the Coronavirus restrictions necessitated working from home fulltime.
If you think you know the person well, ask them to tell you something about themselves you don’t know, such as a special skill or hobby they have, the best or worst holiday or journey they ever took or what they would love to do if they could quit work right now. Inquire about their lives in the past COVID-19 year – how has their life changed? How do they feel about it? How do they keep themselves fit? What habits have they changed and how? What helps them during this challenging time? How does their family cope? What have they learned about themselves in the past year? Have they discovered any new interests or adopted any new habits due to the situation? Will any of this have an effect on them when post-Covid life resumes?
Next 15-20 minutes: inquire
Bearing in mind the task you were asked to complete before the session or the topic the person would like to discuss, here are some sample questions you could use to find out:
- What would the person like to bring up for discussion or focus on?
- What went well?
- What did not? Why?
- What external factors had an effect?
- What internal factors (e.g. certain beliefs) stood in the way?
- How has the issue/topic impacted them?
- What would help them look at the topic from a different perspective?
- What would their mentor say about a similar topic/issue/new habit?
- What do they stand to gain from resolving the issue or adopting a new behavior or lose from not doing it?
- How will they feel once they resolve the issue or adopt this new behavior/tool/tip?
- What could help them achieve their goal or new lesson?
- What tools or characteristics do they have that have helped them in the past in similar situations?
- Is there anything else they would like to bring up?
Why these questions?
When you coach you do not need to be the know-all expert with the smartest solutions at hand. You do need to be able to connect with people, make them feel safe and listened to with full interest and help them search inside themselves for their own answers.
The questions above are designed to help you elicit the core of the issue/topic; to find out what works or does not work around it; to understand where the other person is challenged; and to encourage the person to find out for themselves the way forward.
The list of questions is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to use any other open-ended questions you may see fit, so long as they are open-ended and encourage supportive self-inquiry.
Last 5 minutes: evaluation
- What is/are the main take-away(s) from the session?
- What help, if any, does the person need from you, their buddy?
- How will they evaluate their success in applying the new skill(s) or insight(s)?
Close off your part as a coach by thanking the other person for their openness, their willingness to discuss the topic they brought up and the trust they showed in you. Let them know you are willing to listen to and support them at any time, should the need arise. And…. plan a next session!