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I met a person who expressed interest in becoming a coach. When we got talking I asked him what made him think he would make a good coach. He promptly replied “I am a very good listener. People feel good talking to me”.

I told him listening was undoubtedly an important skill for a coach but pointed out that coaching meant more than just listening. I shared an experience:

After several meetings with one individual I was coaching. I recognized that we were not making much progress. This led me to do a bit of introspection. In the very first session he had so much to share that it was clear that he had a lot to get off his chest. I was patient and allowed him to speak. I finally had to interrupt him and speak of the agenda we needed to arrive at.

In the next session, he merely started from where he had left off last time. There were stories about his team mates, his boss, his clients all of which had a strong tinge of “These are the cause of my troubles”.

My introspection led me to the conclusion. He was using me as a listening post and though the coach must be a good listener, the coach is not paid to merely listen.

As far as I am concerned, the coach is not an agony aunt!

Business coaching is about performance improvements. It is about helping people feel more capable and confident of achieving their goals. It is not about listening to their sob stories.

Sure, listening is an important skill that coaches should have. Nor am I diminishing the importance of listening in the coaching process. I am highlighting that listening is the means to an end- better performance and better results- not the end itself.

In the next session, he was warming up with a few more stories when I stopped him firmly with a question: “What do you plan to do about all that you have told me?” I asked. He looked shocked.

I then told him about the joint responsibility we had -to make a success of the assignment. The primary responsibility was his to demonstrate performance improvements. It was my job to help him recognize where he was going wrong and suggest how he could make corrections. It was not my job to listen to his tales of woe and go away without any clear decision on what he would do to improve. As I told him clearly: “The time to talk is over. Now it’s time to act.”

Many mistake business coaching as an opportunity to vent out their personal problems- hence my reference to the agony aunt. Playing the role of the agony aunt may be very important in personal counseling but has less of a value in business coaching. We do deal with personal problems too in business coaching. But they interest us only to the extent they impact job performance.

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This is the 108 th of the “A Step A Day” series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success.

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