Want to improve your coaching skills? Try this: Put down your phone. Turn it off. Put it away. Stop reaching for it during the moments of boredom. Our addiction to our devices is undermining our ability to focus, concentrate, and listen—and those are key coaching skills. Don’t expect that you can just sit down in a coaching conversation and flip a switch in your brain and be a focused and intent listener—because you can’t. It takes practice to hone focusing skills, to find the place in your mind that is like a still pond.
In a coaching conversation, if you listen from a quiet and focused space, you are going to be far more effective. Your intuition will come online and will feed you the information you need in order to truly help your client. But you won’t find that place in your mind if during the rest of the day, you’re constantly reaching to send a text or an email, browse Facebook, check Instagram or Twitter or whatever.
Multitasking is a myth. Our brains can’t do it. They can only do things sequentially, and constantly switching tasks only makes your brain tired. In fact, some research says that it takes your brain 20 minutes to recover from switching tasks. Many of us feel like we don’t have enough time in the day to do what we want. Maybe the problem isn’t how much time we have, but how we use it—and how divided our attention is at one time.
What makes our devices so addictive is that every time you reach for them and get a message or see that your post was liked, you get a boost of feel good hormones (I’m not making this up. It’s science—see here and here). And that’s what makes them addictive. Our brains have literally started craving that jolt of dopamine.
A good coach is entirely, unwaveringly in the moment during a coaching conversation. And that takes practice.
I remember the days before cell phones, even before answering machines. I, too, love my cell phone and I have to exercise intentionality to leave it alone. But we will be okay if we don’t check them for four or even eight hours. Start by setting a goal to not check your phone for a couple of hours, or to take a social media break for a few days, perhaps turn off notifications, and just leave your phone in your bag (or off the table) during a meeting. And then during moments when nothing is happening, rather than reaching for you a device—be still. Be quiet. Notice what’s going on in your mind, body, and surroundings. Listen to ambient sounds. Observe people. All of that is practice in noticing and paying attention, and that’s a core coaching skill.
I have a friend who has a no cell-phone policy in her house. By the front door, she has a basket where cell phones rest while we visit. Guests can leave the ringer on in case they get emergency calls from family. At first I was irritated by this and now I love it. I love the way our attention is focused and no one’s eyes are darting to a buzzing device and no one checks on whether or not they really saw that pair of shoes on sale recently. We’re just together.
I’m declaring No Phones as an expectation for my team’s meetings—no cell phones in the room, and I’m going to create clearer and more strongly-worded directives for when I facilitate PD sessions. Cell phones have been proliferating like a plague of locusts in recent years in the PD I facilitate and it’s having an impact on the learning for all. Ultimately, all that distracted attention impacts our ability to be effective coaches, to support the clients we work with, and finally, to serve children.
When I train coaches, they often ask me how I know in a conversation what to say. I can offer some thoughts, but ultimately, I know what to say because my observation skills are very refined—and my intuition plays a major role in contributing to my observations. And so if you want to improve your coaching, put down your phone.