Excellent coaching depends on effective communication. Coaching relationships require trust, and open, honest conversations are foundational to building that trust.
Communication is more of a skill than a talent. Even if you naturally get along with others, you can always improve your communication techniques. And like any other skill in life, if you don’t practice and try to improve, you might take a step backward.
Below, we’ll demonstrate eight ways to take your conversations to the next level and create a more inclusive and productive environment for your clients.
8 good communication skills examples to improve your coaching
1. Active Listening
Great communication starts with your ability to actively listen to others. When practicing active listening, you should hang onto every word the other says and digest the information in real-time. Here are some ways you can improve your active listening skills in face-to-face conversations:
- Listen with your ears and eyes: When you make eye contact, it shows that you’re paying attention. And they call it body language for a reason: crossed arms or clenched jaws suggest anger, while relaxed hands and strong eye contact suggest relaxed, friendly conversation. If someone starts fidgeting after you ask a question, they might be uncomfortable or preparing to say something honest.
- Smile and nod: Make the other person feel comfortable by smiling and nodding to show you’re receiving information and understand what they’re saying. Use a pleasant tone of voice (that’s genuine, of course).
- Mirroring: While we usually recommend smiling if someone is delivering heavy information or bad news, you can show empathy by mirroring their facial expressions or body language. If they’re avoiding eye contact, don’t stare directly at them; give them some space. You might notice their posture is very rigid and uncomfortable, and matching an upright posture will help them feel more at ease. This non-verbal communication skill will display your emotional intelligence and remind your clients you’re there to help.
As a coach, you’re in a position of influence. To help your clients trust your guidance, knowledge, and expertise, make sure you speak confidently. Here’s how:
- Speak clearly: If you mumble or speak quietly, it sounds like you’re unsure what you’re saying. Speak at a reasonable volume and articulate your words, but remember to take your time to avoid rushing or stumbling over your words. Speaking clearly is especially important during phone calls, since there might be interruptions or a poor connection.
- Good posture: Poor posture can imply a lack of confidence, and this isn’t the non-verbal cue you want to give off. Even if you aren’t having the best day, sit up straight while talking to clients. Reminding them that you believe in yourself can also help them believe in themselves.
3. Practice and preparation
When you genuinely want to help someone else, you must consider the nuances of their personality and determine the best approach. Since every client is unique, taking notes and planning the next steps can help you stay on track and appear confident and engaged in the conversation. You should:
- Plan your conversations: Yes, a conversation may take unexpected twists and turns, but you should start each session with a plan of what you want to accomplish. This will help maintain focus and get the client back on track as needed. Tangents are fine, and you should listen to what your client needs. But if they aren’t feeling talkative or have a specific problem to tackle, it helps to be prepared.
- Practice: Even if you’re a confident speaker, you may want to practice delivering delicate or complex messages ahead of time to find the right words.
Invite your clients to engage by showing them a bit of good, old-fashioned friendliness. One of your goals as a coach is to help your clients open up. Here are some ways you can invite them to do this:
- Communicate openly: Engage in the conversation and resist coming off as aloof, despite being in a position of authority. Keeping a relaxed, open posture will help put them at ease. Use subtle gestures to avoid taking up space and dominating the conversation. Listen with an open mind and encourage your clients to participate honestly.
- Check-in: Before starting, ask your client how their day is going. It’s not only a way to break the ice, but also a great way to make your clients feel relaxed; plus, it reminds them you care.
- Remembering details: Keep track of what your clients tell you about their lives, and be sure to ask appropriate questions to show you’re thinking about them. For example, if they went to an event over the weekend, ask them how it was. Reinforce that you’re a good listener.
Advice and feedback are best served directly. If you waffle or backtrack, it can generate mistrust. Remember that your clients came to you for help and believe in your power to provide it. Show them you have the answers by speaking clearly. Here are some tips:
- Be brief: Convey your message in as few words as possible. Short messages are easier to understand.
- Get straight to the point: Beating around the bush can do more harm than good. Using too many words can confuse your client as they try to pick out the important details. Say exactly what you mean.
In coaching, you must assess a client’s situation honestly and communicate the next steps. Hard truths can be difficult to deliver, but your clients will feel supported if you do so in a clear, compassionate way. Remember to:
- Invite honesty on both sides of the conversation: Be truthful in your assessments and advice. Invite your clients to open up, even about difficult subjects like their weaknesses. Remind them that they’re in a safe space, you’re there to help, and you’d never judge them. Being honest in return (“I struggle with that too,” “That was a problem area for me”) will help them feel safe and understood.
- Address issues as they arise: Don’t avoid certain subjects because they’re difficult to discuss. Instead, plan a concise and prompt conversation around challenging topics.
- Act with empathy: You can reinforce the idea of a safe space by acting empathetically, putting yourself in the client’s shoes, and trying to understand their emotions.
Be friendly, direct, and honest but also respectful. This will help you retain your authority and remind your client this is a serious working relationship. Here are some ways you can show respect in conversation:
- Use the person’s name: Using one’s name doesn’t just show you’re engaged in the conversation, it can even release serotonin in the listener’s brain.
- Don’t interrupt: Take notes if you need to, and avoid interrupting a conversation to interject. Wait until the client has finished making their point, and respond coherently while addressing your notes.
- Give the client time to think: It can sometimes feel in a session like you have to fill up space, but allowing room for the client to think can be a helpful tool to achieve insights.
Coaching is a working relationship, and it’s constantly evolving. If you have a suggestion to make, go ahead and say it. The client is there for your advice:
- Provide solutions: Making observations is important, but don’t forget to provide solutions that clients can implement.
- Invite feedback: Remind your client that the coaching relationship is a two-way street and you’re also open to receiving their constructive feedback.
Poor communication skills examples
For examples of poor communication skills, you can take the list of good habits and turn them on their head. Active listening is a great skill, but passive or distracted listening is a damaging quality and a prime example of poor communication. Getting straight to the point is helpful, but you can throw your clients off by talking in circles. Here are some other quick examples:
- Hostile body language, like crossed arms
- Ignoring someone’s feelings
- Assuming you know someone better than they do
- Being overly defensive
How to improve communication skills
Being mindful of strong communication skills can help you improve your ability to communicate and help you become a better coach.
Practice makes perfect. Consider your communication strengths and weaknesses with respect to the list above. Form new habits by practicing and improving the more difficult skills for you, check in with yourself after every interaction, and be honest about how you’re doing. Improving your communication will help you and your clients.
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