Whether we want to admit it or not, communicating isn’t easy. We’re rarely taught how to communicate positively and productively unless we seek ways to improve our communication style.
Yet somehow, everyone starts off thinking they have out-of-this-world communication skills — at least that’s what our early resumes said! But soon enough, we all realize good communication doesn’t happen overnight or is something we’re born with. We have to practice and hone our skills as communicators.
Fostering open communication channels improves company culture, creates better work environments, and encourages more employee communication. Additionally, learning these skills strengthens more than just our relationships with team members — we develop bonds with our clients and stakeholders, who also love good communicators.
As coaches, we know understanding others (and being understood) is a huge part of client relationships and will make or break the customer experience. We’ll cover seven communication best practices to boost your coaching skills.
What’s the most important skill for coaches?
Clients seek our help, advice, and guidance as they strive to overcome obstacles, improve their skills and emotional intelligence, and reach their goals. Communication is essential for us as we assist our clients and perform our role as a coach to the best of our abilities.
Much of our day-to-day interactions with clients involve communication, whether we’re providing feedback, supporting someone, or discussing the next steps. And remember, communication doesn’t end when the session does. Here’s our list of seven communication best practices to improve your coaching:
1. Active listening
To succeed in your coaching career and help clients achieve greatness, we’ll need to learn (or re-learn) both components of effective communication: Speaking and listening.
The best and easiest way to engage in effective professional communication is by being an active listener. Intently listen to what our clients have to say and repeat important details so they know we understand them. This will ensure our clients feel heard and supported.
When we’re listening to our clients, we should show genuine interest, ask great questions, and be compassionate and respectful throughout. Whether we agree with them or not, our clients appreciate our respect and having time to fully express their thoughts. Here are four tips on how to communicate effectively face-to-face:
- Maintain friendly eye contact. It’s easy for our attention to drift in the middle of long conversations, but it’s our job to remain engaged and listen to our clients. Drifting off in thought or paying more attention to our notepad than our clients isn’t a good thing as they’ll perceive this as us being disinterested or preoccupied. We can avoid this by focusing all our attention on our clients and showing them they’re our main focus through eye contact.
- Don’t plan ahead while your client is speaking. Being prepared with our next amazing point, question, or response is less important than actually engaging in the conversation. Having a conversation takes a lot of focus, and planning our responses gives us less mental capacity to process what’s being said. When our clients are speaking, we should give them our full attention — we’ll have plenty of time to respond later.
- Don’t interrupt. We all know interrupting is rude. Plus, it suggests we find the conversation uninteresting (this is the opposite of what we want as coaches). Interruptions also disrupt the speaker’s train of thought and create more miscommunication.
- Repeat back important details. This communication practice is possibly the most powerful and important one. We’re reassuring our clients that we understand what they’re saying and give them the opportunity to clarify any miscommunication.
Try to incorporate these four tips into your daily conversation to build your skills. Remember: Practice makes perfect, and the more we train our communication muscles, the more these communication best practices will become second nature to us.
2. Use analogies
Another way to improve understanding when we’re coaching is by using analogies. They help us explain complex concepts by connecting and comparing different elements to better explain the main idea. Plus, analogies are often easy to remember, which is a huge advantage if we’re explaining particularly important concepts to our clients. Using analogies is much easier than finding a needle in a haystack, so why not use them in our sessions to help clients understand difficult topics?
3. Understand your “audience”
In this case, “audience” refers to our individual clients, not a conference or forum of people. We understand everyone resonates with things differently and tailoring our approaches to each client is essential. The same thing applies here — perhaps one client loves sports references, and another relates to movies. Maybe one client needs practical examples, and another prefers a theoretical understanding of a subject.
Based on each client’s education, age, emotional situation, and reason for our services, we’ll have to adjust our communication styles and strategies accordingly. Once we become more familiar with our clients and strengthen our relationship, we’ll better understand how to support them and what analogies will click with them.
4. Body language
Our bodies often speak louder than our words, so paying attention to our body language is paramount in interactions with clients. A great way to appear more friendly and approachable is to have an open stance or posture and maintain eye contact. Crossing our arms will close us off and make us appear guarded.
Our facial expressions also matter, especially when reacting to our clients. Our expressions should mirror the context of the conversation. For example, a smile while delivering or hearing bad news may be seen as mockery or even thoughtless and cruel.
One thing to remember about communicating effectively is that it’s a two-way street. It’s particularly important for us to watch our clients’ body language for insight into how they actually feel and to sense the general mood of the conversation.
The more we indicate to our clients we’re focused on them, we value what they say, and are actively listening, the more they’re likely to feel at ease about open communication with us.
5. Write things down
Taking notes can be a powerful communication tool and provides many benefits for coaches, but we shouldn’t spend entire sessions with our eyes glued to our notes. It’s all about balance. We want to engage in meaningful conversations and show our clients they’re our top priority while still writing down important details. A written record of the conversation helps us remember and fully understand our clients’ feelings and concerns. Plus, these notes function as a reference point if clients wish to revisit past conversations. A log of written communications doubles as a timeline and milestone chart, which is useful for tracking growth metrics and improvements.
If you’re in the middle of a conversation, referencing your notes can lead to jumping-off points for responses. Note-taking demonstrates we value our clients’ thoughts and feelings and gives us the chance to think about what we want to say before we say it.
6. Ask questions
Asking relevant questions is another effective communication practice and shows our clients we’re listening. When we prompt our clients to expand on their thoughts, we can get the conversation rolling and help them translate what’s stuck in their heads into words. Here’s a list of some useful questions:
- What’s on your mind?
- Can you tell me more?
- What makes you say/think that?
- What would you like to talk about?
- Is there something you want to change?
- Could you give me some examples?
Integrating these questions into conversations deepens our understanding and shows we care about our clients. It’s also a great way to clarify things and avoid miscommunication.
7. Get feedback
As part of active listening, it’s important for us to take stock of our clients’ feedback to change the direction of conversation or coaching style to better suit their needs. Although critical feedback can be hard to hear, it’s important to keep an open mind and adjust. Keep the following tips in mind for effective professional communication:
- Always be grateful. Our client is taking the time to bring up a subject that may be difficult to address.
- Don’t take it personally. Remember, our goal is to learn how to communicate effectively and best serve our clients.
- Understand what the other person is saying. If we have questions or need clarification, it’s important to ask. This demonstrates we take our clients’ concerns seriously and are willing to adapt to their needs.
- Don’t fight it. Think of giving and receiving feedback as a collaborative opportunity rather than a confrontational one.
- Ask for examples. Just as using analogies is helpful to illustrate key points, specific examples from past conversations or situations help coaches grasp the issue and how to correct it for the future.
Communication is a two-way street and a collaborative effort. We should keep this in mind when engaging with clients trying to give feedback. Chances are, they’re coming into the conversation with the intent to work together to improve their relationships with us and give us more information and insights to become better coaches.
Communication best practices
Achieving great communication skills, as with all other things, requires regular and dedicated practice. Luckily, we can hone our skills as communicators through daily practice in and out of our professional lives. We should stay open-minded and listen more than we speak to ensure our clients know we’re giving them our undivided attention.
The best thing about receiving regular feedback is we can take these pointers to further enhance our communication skills. When we actively listen, take notes, and act upon the feedback given to us, we’re simultaneously practicing these crucial skills and learning how to improve on them.
At Practice, we know the best communication strategies involve putting our clients first. Try Practice’s client management system today so you can do less admin work and focus more on your clients.