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Big chats, little chats - A 21st Century coaching model: Module 1 - creating the right environment


Last week we published a case study explaining how we developed an innovative new coaching model for the 21st Century called Big Chats, Little Chats. The programme has been piloted with O2 and has been hugely successful, boosting retail sales by 23 percent where its been used and increasing management engagement scores.

We explained how BC,LC consists of three modules, and this week we will explain the first module: creating the right environment.

Not only that, but we also give you details of how you can create the right environment in which to have your own great conversations. Then, over the following weeks, we’ll also give you details on the other two modules within the BC,LC programme. And it’s all free. Are we mad? Maybe. But we like you. And we also believe that if more organisations and individuals followed this simple programme, working lives and personal lives would be improved.

The first thing to consider about creating the right environment in which to coach in the BC,LC way is that the onus is on you to make yourself available both mentally and physically.

To do this:

  • Have an open-door policy and let people know you are available for them.
  • Be present when you are talking to people. Put phones away and turn off screens. If you are in the middle of a task finish it first. Don’t try and talk and email at the same time.
  • Be open and positive. Have welcoming body language, make eye contact, smile. You are more likely to show positive behaviours if you think of something positive before you chat.
  • If it is a prearranged chat, plan it. Spend time thinking about when and where the chat will take place to ensure the best outcomes. If it’s ‘off the cuff’, be mindful of how available and open you are.

The second important element of creating the right environment is feedback, both giving and receiving. In order to create a genuine two-way relationship, you need to be open to hearing feedback. Ask people: ‘How am I doing?’ If you ask for feedback listen intently, enjoy it and learn from it. Watch out for your own dismissive language or personal biases. Weigh up the pros and cons and be seen to act on good ideas.

Traditionally feedback tends to affirm what the person already knows and identify problems. It doesn’t always offer a plan of action. The BC,LC model aims to remedy this by looking to the road ahead, rather than in the rear-view mirror. Instead of giving feedback, feed forward.

This more helpful approach:

  • Consists of future-oriented options and solutions, rather than purely positive or negative criticism
  • Focuses on precise actions, rather than general principles
  • Empowers people by offering them options for development
  • Is respectful and non-judgmental
  • Helps to solve potentially recurring negative experiences

Be clear and simple. Do not try and give an answer if you do not have one, instead, work together to find solutions. Give advice when it is needed and use feed forward phrases such as ‘next time…’ and ‘may I make a suggestion that might help in future’.

The third important element of creating the right environment for BC,LC is listening, which it turns out isn’t as easy as you might think. Scientific research shows that we listen to people at a rate of 125 to 250 words per minute, but think at 1000 to 3000 words per minute – so there’s always a lot going on in our heads while we’re listening to others.

There are three types of listening: internal, focused and observed. Each is important, but for in the BC,LC model we focus on focused and observed listening.

Internal listening relates to our inner dialogue and how it interprets the situations we are in.

Focused is a more active type of listening, where it’s ‘all about them’ as we focus on the other person. It requires concentration, non-judgement and an awareness of what is not being said as well as what is being done. By doing this, we not only listen to words, but we also notice expressions and emotions. We recognise the points in the conversation when the other person is engaged, or when they are withdrawing.

Observed listening is the most active and skilful level of listening.

At this level, we:

  • Take into consideration our own thoughts, the environment and how we hear the conversation;
  • Match the other person’s tone and body language naturally, to build better rapport and empathy with them;
  • Listen using all our senses, keep an eye out for other subconscious elements, and read between the lines, confirming what we assess with the other person.

In BC,LC we aim to dial down the internal and tweak the focused and observed. A good way to do this is to ask open questions, which start with who, when, why, where and how, or variations on these, as phrases such as ‘Tell me more,’ can be less threatening than, ‘Why?’

When listening, don’t interrupt. Write down your questions and thoughts. This will help you focus until the person has finished. Observe and listen to ‘how’ the person is talking. Look for cues that will give you more information about how the person is feeling. Does their tone change? You can clarify this by saying, ‘I noticed, when you said X, your tone sounded upset. Tell me more about that.’

These are the three elements which, put together, allow you to create an environment in which communication and ideas will flow.

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Are organisations and companies just paying lip service?
Join some of the most interesting and respected voices in positive psychology for our Our Big Chat about…Thinking outside the tick box, inaugural webinar. Our two and half hour interactive event will look at the best mental health strategies for organisations, identifying what works and what doesn’t.

Dave McPartlin:

Dave is the Headteacher of Flakefleet Primary School.
Creating the right environment for people and communities to flourish

Sunita Hirani

Sunita is one of the BBC’s key equality, diversity and inclusivity experts.
Why inclusion is essential for mental wellbeing

Professor Sir Cary Cooper

Cary is one the world’s most influential voices in occupational health and wellbeing.
Enhancing Mental Wellbeing at Work. Evidence based strategies for creating a wellbeing culture at work.

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