Coaching for Mutual Understanding

Leaders and team members need to be perfectly clear when communicating with each other. We cannot assume that the other person will always understand our meaning, and very often we will have to clarify ourselves to be sure that both the message and received message is the same. This lack of common language can be very frustrating when coaching someone on a very sensitive issue.

While my instance didn’t have a dreadful outcome, difference in understanding caused a leader inconveniences, if not major problems. One of the employees at the department store where I previously worked as a manager was a good clerk, but often caused an issue because of the way she dressed. While the elderly gentlemen at the retirement center across the street adored her and would wait in line just to have her talk to them, our women customers (particularly mothers) and the other clerks often complained about her dressing habits. The way she dressed was more conducive to a bar or pub rather than a department store.

It fell to me to discuss the issue with this clerk. Knowing what I know now, my conversation would have been much easier if I had the 8 Step Coaching Model to help me through. In Step 2, Dr. Stowell explains how a coach should Define the Topic and Needs and in Step 3 Establish Impact, always in a supportive way. Unfortunately, when I talked with this clerk, I immediately went to Step 3 – Establishing Impact. “The way you dress is inappropriate, tone it down a bit. Okay?” She showed up the next day in her uniform top still too tight and still too immodest.

If coaching others is not properly executed, there may not be a mutual understanding of the performance issue at hand.When I questioned her why she still dressed the same way, despite our conversation, she looked at me defiantly and said, “I didn’t even wear any makeup!” She then proceeded to complain vehemently how no one else was told to quit wearing makeup. My communication has been totally misinterpreted. “Toning it down” had nothing to do with her makeup in my interpretation, but that was the way she understood it. I should have taken the time to explain that the “topic” was the provocative fit of her clothes, not her cosmetics. Step 2 of the Coaching Model is to create a mutually understood picture of what is happening.

Something I might have said was, “I can see that you are sincere in doing the best job you can. I am concerned of the representation of our organization through the way you wear your clothing.” After she thought about it, we could talk about why her dress style could affect the organization. She needed to understand how the way she dressed impacts the organization and her team members.

Or maybe I could have said, “Our customers shop here because we serve family needs. So our dress code requires clerks present a family friendly appearance. You are very important to that image because you are one of the last and first people our customers see. What do you think you can do to present an image our customers would be more comfortable with?” This would have given both of us an opportunity to clarify exactly how we could reach the most appropriate result.

When you address an issue, do you slow down to make sure the recipient understands or do you assume you are always understood? Coaching requires that both parties are on the same page before proceeding to “Establishing the Impact.”

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About the Author

Martha Rice