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No, you are not the coach you think you are

di 24 okt 2017 - Erik de Haan

As promised in my earlier posting here are the results of our study of coaching behaviours both as reported by executive coaches, consultants and managers, and by their clients.  

The latest version of our Coaching Behaviours Questionnaire (CBQ) was used in a large-scale study of coaching behaviours, amongst 537 professional-coaches, 196 consultant-coaches and 559 manager-coaches from a total of 54 countries, and also 221 clients of coaching. The study demonstrated significant differences in perceived behaviour by coaches who differ in age, gender, and nationality. Significant differences are also found for those that identify themselves as “managers” versus “consultants” versus “coaches”. Finally, we found that client-reported behavioural profiles are systematically different from their coaches’ own profiles. A research article with all the statistical tests and numbers is due to appear in the next issue of the Consulting Psychology Journal.  

In order to start investigating coaching skills, one needs a basic tool measuring the full range of interventions that is general and broad enough, not too detailed and complicated, and with a limited number of classes of interventions, so that reliable measurements can be made. The model should have high validity as well: both clients and coaches need to be able to recognize each of the classes of intervention from a short description, and their ratings should conform to their intuitive appreciation of the interventions. We have found such a model in the CBQ which has 72 items and is an adaptation of Heron’s well-known model of counseling interventions. Summarising in brief, it has three “push”, coach-centred (directive) sets of behaviours—Prescribing, Informing, and Confronting—and three “pull”, client-centred (nondirective) sets of behaviours—Exploring, Supporting, and Releasing (see the figure).  

The six classes of intervention illustrate that as a coach you have a dizzying range of interventions at your disposal. At any point of time in a coaching conversation, you will have the options of:

  1. not doing anything, devoting your energy to following the coachee and to listening;
  2. offering a piece of direction, either by means of an advice or suggestion (Prescribing) or by means of information that might help the coachee (Informing);
  3. offering a challenge to the coachee, a different way to look at his or her issues (Confronting); or
  4. offering facilitative interventions, by offering warmth and support (Supporting), an effort to summarize and inquire more deeply into the issues at stake (Exploring), or an invitation to open up emotional undercurrents to the issues and the conversation itself (Releasing). 

Here are the systematic differences on these behaviours that we found in our sample between various groups of coaches and also between coaches and their clients:

Firstly, women score themselves higher on the pull interventions and lower on the push interventions than their male counterparts, while they do not differ significantly in the amount of “challenge” and “support” they think they give their coachees.

Secondly, older coaches/consultants/managers score significantly lower on push interventions than their younger colleagues. They also reported giving less active support while their emotionally Releasing interventions are more prevalent in their self-scores.

Thirdly, job role influences the scores on the questionnaire as well. Manager-coaches, consultant-coaches, and “professional” coaches self-score progressively lower on push and supportive interventions while they score themselves progressively higher on pull (Exploring and Releasing) interventions. In other words, participants who describe their role as “coaches” report a more “coaching” (pull) profile in their scores. This may be the influence of progressive “acculturation” in the consulting and coaching professions, where coaches learn to think about their interventions progressively in terms of more “typical” coaching interventions, i.e. the “pull” behaviours within Exploring and Releasing. In fact, we find that if client scores are compared to all three categories, the discrepancies are largest for professional coaches, which indicates that coaches may be changing their selfperceptions more than their actual coaching behaviours.

Fourthly, there are significant differences in scores when measured against country of origin. Just to name one example, we found substantial differences in terms of how many Confronting interventions have been reported: highest in The Netherlands, mid-level in Belgium, and lowest in the United Kingdom. Similar contrasts of “directness” and “nonavoidance” were found in studies of negotiations between Dutch and U.K. managers.

Fifthly, clients of workplace coaches are scoring their own coaches significantly higher on push interventions than the coaches themselves do, while they score them significantly lower on some pull interventions. We believe this shows that coaches may be more central in their interventions than they themselves realise: they may be giving more advice (Prescribing) and information (Informing) than they think. Moreover, they do not go as deeply into the client’s inner world and emotions (Releasing) as they perceive themselves doing. We do not know if any of this ‘general feedback for coaches’ is related to skill; however, it is tempting to think that these coaches are sometimes so busy with their own ideas and suggestions that they attend less to their clients’ emotional process and so become less effective coaches. Certainly their clients are saying demonstrably that the coaches are placing themselves more central with their advice and information than the coaches themselves think.

Sixthly, we have found evidence that the differences in self-perceptions of coaches are not replicated by their clients, namely for the “gender” and “job description” dimensions where this could be tested. It seems therefore that perhaps self-identification of female and professional coaches is more ‘pull’, whilst this does not show up as different behaviour towards the clients.

This study shows that we can now reliably measure a wide range of coaching interventions and make powerful comparisons between samples of coaches and between the client and coach perspective on those same interventions. One might think of the patterns we found as indicative of development and adaptation, with older and professional coaches perceiving more “typical” pull and client-centred coaching behaviours over time and as they specialize more as coaches. We have found some indications that these are mainly self-perceptions of the professional coaches, which are not shared by their clients. We have found some evidence of coaches adapting to their national cultures and becoming more confrontational, direct or explorational in cultures where that is more the norm.

So no, you are not the coach you think you are. Your clients probably have a different view of how you are using your coaching skills with them, and so it is worth asking them now and again how they experience working with you.

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