Haupz Blog

... still a totally disordered mix

Communication Traps

2022-09-04 — Michael Haupt

When communicating, we can fall into some common traps - and it's not just people in leadership positions who are prone to falling into them. I'll give them each with a headline including a symptomatic phrase, description of how one's behaviour looks in the trap, questions one can ask oneself to validate one's position, and suggestions for behaviour to get out of the trap.

  • The solution trap: "I know how to do this!"

    I'm being prescriptive rather than collaborative, I come with a canned solution rather than allowing one (probably better?) to emerge from discussion.

    Do I really know better? Am I bored and want this conversation to end?

    I should put myself in the other’s place, take their perspective, and try to ask myself open questions from there.

  • The ego trap: “I’m right about this!”

    I'm imposing yourself on others, rather than seeking common understanding.

    Am I really right? Am I too lazy to explain my point?

    I shouldn't counterargue. I should avoid using “but” / “no” / “however”; I should rather respect the other’s view and develop the next iteration from there by offering alternative perspectives.

  • The judgment trap: “This is why you did that!”

    I'm jumping to conclusions about the other’s motives rather than thinking about what might drive them.

    Am I seeking confirmation for some prejudice I have? What prejudice might I have? Might the other be after the same thing as I?

    I should assume good / shared intentions and ask questions to understand.

  • The Sinatrap: “Do it my way.”

    I'm imposing my way of doing things on the other rather than letting them find or follow their own way.

    Am I so convinced of my way that I don't see merit in any other? Do I just want the other to follow my rules, am I defending some ground?

    Unless actual harm is done, I should let the other be and seek to understand why they address things the way they do.

There are many overlaps between these, and the differences are often nuanced. They lie in the ulterior motives, which the validating questions hint at.

How does this work?

Tags: work, coaching

Coaching and Mentoring, and Boundaries

2021-10-18 — Michael Haupt

When is it "OK" to not coach, in what is supposed to be a coaching session?

Many first-time coaching clients come to their first coaching session with the desire to "get your advice on this", "pick your brain about this", or "hear your opinion about this". This indicates a desire for mentoring rather than coaching: a coach will serve the client by being a catalyst for the client's thoughts, a mentor will share experience and give advice.

Since coaches are expected to stay in their role, one possible reaction to a client coming with a desire for mentoring can be to gently point them towards mentoring providers, or to help them find a mentor that suits them. It's also possible to convert the session into a mentoring session on the spot, if the coach is also capable of mentoring the client in their field of interest.

Both of these may be missed coaching opportunities. Given this is about first-time coaching clients who haven't had prior exposure to coaching.

What I usually do when a first-time client expresses a desire for mentoring is to clarify on the spot what the coaching/mentoring difference is, and that we could also have a mentoring session, "but rather not now, this is a coaching session". The client, being aware they haven't got any coaching experience, will usually agree to give it a try. In the overwhelming majority of cases, that works very well.

One approach that has led to very nice and sometimes surprising outcomes is to turn the "I need mentoring on X" situation into a coaching situation by shifting the focus from the client's immediate desire ("mentoring") to the situation ("X"). Diving deep on the "X" will typically reveal the client's real needs - the needs underlying the expressed desire. Once the perceived need for mentoring is replaced with the actual need coming from the situation, coaching gets into full swing.

There can also be cases where the ethical boundaries for coaching need to be invoked. When it turns out a client actually needs counselling or therapy, e.g., because their situation looks more like a full-on burnout, it's better to err on the safe side of not coaching on that topic. (I'm not a qualified therapist, so I must not attempt to do something about a burnout, lest I cause more harm than good.) When that happens, a coach can still point a client to the right places - often, companys' HR departments can establish contact with professional counsellors or therapists.

While this ensures the coach doesn't violate the necessary ethical boundaries, it can still give the client a feeling of being pushed away if the coaching session is cancelled on the spot. One thing I usually try in these (rare) cases is to ask the client if they had any practical topics (time management, for example) that somehow have to do with the burnout, but aren't the core topic. That way, the client can still get tangible value out of the session.

Tags: coaching, work

Dreaming, Goals, and Coaching

2021-08-22 — Michael Haupt

In a recent leadership training, the trainer recommended the book Rethinking Positive Thinking by Gabriele Oettingen.

It's not strictly a necessary and important read, unless you have a very specific interest, and even then, the value is limited. Here's why. The book's gist, put very bluntly, is that, in order to realise your dreams, you have to be realistic about the obstacles and make plans for working around those. Well, go figure - that's about as common sense as it gets. Snark aside, the book is happily not one of those wordy self-help tomes, but provides an overview of all the empirical research the author has conducted to prove what looks like a truism true. That's good: the psychological effects of imagining obstacles and thinking them through are a thing, and they spawn more determination. Oettingen then also introduces a small but powerful framework called WOOP (wish, outcome, obstacle, plan) that can be used to do the mental exercise, and gives examples of its application.

So, while its gist can be summarised in a paragraph, the book extensively describes the numerous studies and thinking journey. This is the value a reader can take from it: if you're interested in empirical study design, it's a treasure trove. The value is limited, though, as the book stays at the storytelling level and doesn't describe the study setups with the statistical rigour that would be needed to unleash full social sciences thinking.

The book did have some unexpected value that emerged when I processed it, post-reading, in the context of goal setting and career development conversations. In fact, something bigger may yet emerge from that (stay tuned).

Reproducing an idea from the book, dreaming is a substitute for doing, from which short-term happiness ensues, but no action and no change, and consequently less energy and momentum to realise the dream. This reminded me of the importance of the "accountability exercise" in coaching - i.e., the part where the coach works with the client to define and commit to actions and check-ins. In other words, generating an insight is not enough: what actions follow from it is important.

I have since applied Oettingen's WOOP framework in coaching, using it right there, or proposing it to clients as a mental tool for getting more clarity about goal setting. This had a good impact both in the sessions and during the periods until the next check-ins and follow-ups. In the greater context of goal setting and career development, it can be a valuable tool to work towards better goals with more clarity, probably even towards structured approaches like SMART goals and longer-term vision manifestos like V2MOM documents.

Dreaming is good. Taking the obstacles into account helps devising and implementing the plan. What's not to like?

Tags: books, coaching, work

Negotiation and Coaching

2021-07-13 — Michael Haupt

Having finished reading Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, I'd like to point to some relations between the negotiation techniques described in the book and coaching as defined and detailed by the ICF (as competencies and visible behaviours or "markers").

Reading the book, I found it striking how many of the coaching core competencies are also core ingredients of negotiations. At the more abstract level, this includes empathy, active listening, and building rapport. More concretely, techniques like building agreements about what the conversation is about, mirroring and labelling, and unveiling deeper insights come to mind. I cannot help but note that skilled coaches and negotiators will have methodical toolboxes the contents of which overlap considerably.

And yet, negotiation and coaching are strictly different. I believe this has to do with fundamental differences between the agenda, or intended outcome, of a coaching or negotiating conversation.

In a negotiation, the agenda isn't necessarily the negotiator's personal one, although that's possible. However, the negotiator is definitely accountable for both process and outcome. The negotiator represents a clear interest they are an agent of.

In coaching, the agenda is strictly the client's. While the coach is accountable for the process, the client is accountable for the outcome.

Conflating coaching and negotiation can be dangerous, and this goes both ways. The problems begin where techniques meant to be used in one setting are applied in the other.

Negotiation, quite frankly, is about getting to a desirable outcome, so the negotiator will use techniques that look a lot like manipulation. And they are: Negotiation frequently involves giving subtle or not-so-subtle guidance towards the intended outcome. In coaching, this is considered unethical. Open questions are a powerful tool in both formats, but asking open yet leading questions must stay in negotiation land, as using them in a coaching conversation would imply imposing the coach's view on the client.

Conversely, the almost total non-presence of the coach's ego in a coaching conversation would completely derail a negotiation, or even lead to the other party getting all they want. Negotiation requires presence with an intent that is usually not aligned with the counterpart's.

All of the above notwithstanding, I think there's one part in a coaching conversation where a little negotiation-style assertiveness can actually be beneficial. This is the case when a coaching conversation contains a bit about accountability, i.e., when the coach works with the client to support them to commit to implementing a change they've come to understand as necessary. In that particular setting, the client is still accountable for the outcome, but the coach's process accountability here can imply to guide the client to a commitment. Some of the negotiation techniques used to "get to yes" can be fruitful, however the coach must continue to pay attention to not impose their solution on the client.

(Disclaimer, for what it's worth: I'm on the ICF's ACC certification path, thanks to the ILAP training offered by Intellicoach.)

Tags: coaching