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Posted: May 13, 2007 13:11


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Five Critical Skills for Coaching Parents Of Struggling Teens and Young Adults
by Bill Valentine PsyD, CC

Bill and Penelope Valentine are the co-founders of Next Step For Success, a parent and family coaching service headquartered in Redmond, OR. 541-504-5224

This six-part series is directed at those individuals, practices and programs currently working with, or wishing to work with, parents of struggling teens and young adults. The series reviews the differences between coaching, consulting and therapy and identifies five specific skills that the experienced coach must bring to the relationship.

Part III
Skill #2: Clean, Clear, Concise Communication

Communication has been defined as "message sent, message received." Too often, our public conversations are better described as soliloquies or competing monologues - self-propelled agendas not concerned with another's reception.

The last several decades have been described as the Communications Revolution. Certainly, more messages, using more forms of media, are being directed at us every day. But communication? It seems that more people are feeling less heard than ever before.

Common coach communication errors:

  1. Talking too much

  2. Not checking for understanding and/or meaning

  3. Fluff and sugar coating

  4. Inappropriate or irrelevant self-referencing

  5. Lecturing rather than questioning

  6. Using jargon (program, hospital, psychological)

  7. Environmental or physical distractions

  8. Blocking

The coach is responsible for the quality of the communication in every session. That means being aware of what you say, how you say it, what you hear and how you are heard.

Our choice of words is something to which we don't normally give a lot of thought. However, when dealing with fearful or distraught parents, the coach's words can serve as balms or inflammations. Especially when framing questions, the coach must choose carefully.

Avoid using "you" or "you're" or "your" as much as possible. Especially early in the relationship, the coach doesn't know the client well enough to make statements about them. In addition, guilty parents need to focus outside of themselves for a while. Keeping observations or statements to "I" words will keep you on familiar turf while the relationship builds.

Now here comes one of those apparently contradictory concepts. While you want to keep early conversations away from making statements or observations about the client as much as you can, and you want to use "I" statements, it is necessary that you check yourself regularly regarding the amount of personal sharing in which you engage.

Personal sharing and self-disclosure can be powerful bridge-builders to the client. They can also be off-putting and self-indulgent at the expense of the client's need to be heard. Before making a personal disclosure, ask yourself, "Why am I sharing this? Does what I am going to say serve the client's needs, or my own?"

One of the key roles of the coach is to serve as a mirror for the client. Through reporting what she hears and what she observes about the client, the coach provides invaluable feedback. None of us can see ourselves as others see us. In order to accurately judge our impact on others, we must rely on honest feedback from caring individuals.

In providing feedback, the coach must be especially aware of how and what she is saying. Being "brutally" honest is a guaranteed turnoff and can cost you a client. Likewise, "sugar coating" needed feedback does the clients the disservice of abandoning them to their own limited awareness.

Asking for feedback can be a hard thing to do for coaches who are unsure of themselves. Still, feedback is one of the most helpful teachers of new coaches. Even veteran coaches benefit from regular feedback from clients, mentors and peer coaches.

To be sure you hear the feedback, try detaching yourself emotionally from the words. Instead of viewing feedback as a measurement of your deficiencies, listen carefully for ways to apply the feedback to your growing skill base. Look upon feedback as another tool for making you the best parent coach you can be. Asking for feedback at the end of every call is the way you extend your professional growth and learning.

Often ignored in our casual conversations, is how we say things. Keeping in mind that at least half of normal face-to face communication involves interpreting body and facial language, when coaching via the telephone, voice quality and speech delivery become nearly as important as the selection of wording.

The most effective way to improve your vocal skills is to regularly tape your phone conversations. A simple phone adapter to your cassette recorder will allow you to hear what others hear. Of course, you must always receive the listener's permission to tape over the phone.

Your recordings will allow you to check for tone, speed and verbal "tics." Throw-away words such as "Uh" "You know what I mean?" "Like" "Know what I'm saying?" and the many other meaningless inserts into our conversations are simply verbal crutches we lean on while pausing to think of what we are going to say next. They reflect our fear that if we don't fill the airspace the other person will jump in and interrupt us. (How dare they!)

We describe "hearing" as reaching for the meaning in what someone is saying. In order to really hear someone, we must suspend our need to interject and interrupt. Really hearing another requires effort and focus. Since you, as the coach, are responsible for what you hear as well as what you say, when in doubt, check for understanding. "Am I hearing you say " or, "I'm not sure I'm following you" or even, "Let me check for my understanding."

Most of us are better listeners than we are hearers. To overcome a lifetime of tuning out and paying half-attention to what others are saying, the professional coach must first be aware of his frequently applied blocks to hearing. Once aware of his blocks, new hearing skills must be practiced and practiced. Hearing the client is the most important skill and the greatest gift in the coach's kit.

Common Blocks to Hearing:

  1. Judging - While critiquing the other person's history, character or choice of words, the meaning of what they are saying is lost. Suspending judgment requires an open mind.

  2. Identifying - Mentally identifying with what the other person is saying shifts your focus from them to you and leads to .

  3. Comparing - Again the focus is on you. You look for their similarities to you instead of their uniqueness.

  4. Mind Reading - Is a lazy way out of doing the hard work of really hearing the meaning in what someone is saying. It almost always leads to .

  5. Interrupting - One of the most common and devaluing habits of our increasingly combative society. When utilized by a coach it is, at best, arrogant, and at worst, insulting.

  6. Drifting - A wandering mind must be reined in if the coach is going to hear her client. Removing all distractions in the immediate environment is one defense against drifting.

  7. Advising - Possibly the most prevalent block to hearing among helping professionals. True, our clients come to us for help. Yet, the greatest help we can provide is assisting the clients in finding their own answers. There are times for advising, however, they come only after you have heard what is truly needed. (Sometimes clients only need to be heard).

  8. Deflecting - For some, hearing unpleasant news or views is too uncomfortable. They will try to change the subject or sweep the subject under a verbal carpet. When we are deflecting, we are in a closed, defensive posture. We are afraid to hear that which we don't want to hear.

  9. Rehearsing - Coaches lacking experience or self-confidence will often be focused on what they are going to say next that will resonate with the client forever. Or, they may feel under personal or professional attack and begin to prepare their rebuttal before the client has even stopped talking. Obviously, concentrating on what I will say keeps me from hearing what you are saying.

Finally, to be sure you are communicating, and not engaged in soliloquy, you need to be aware of how you are heard. As suggested above, when in doubt, check for understanding. A great way to keep yourself in check, and engage the client, is to occasionally ask, "Do you follow me?" or, "Does that make sense?" or, "Any questions?" and then wait for an answer.

Coaching Defined

Recognizing the Human Condition in Every Client

Revealing the Barriers to What Is

Identifying Areas for Primary Focus

Celebrating the Process

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