The first lesson a new coach has to learn is to zip it. When someone comes to you with a challenge, the overwhelming temptation is to jump in with advice. Coaches are taught to keep quiet. A good rule of thumb is for the coach to be the one talking no more than 20 per cent of the time.


Two reasons for shutting up are:

First, the coach’s understanding of the problem is only superficial compared to that of the coachee. It’s ill-advised to give advice about something you know relatively little about.

Second, the coachee is far more likely to feel ownership of the solution if it comes from them, not someone else. We don’t get empowerment from being told what to do.

The coach’s job is to listen, to encourage and to ask the questions that help the coachee move forward.

Having said all that, I, like you, still burst with useful advice, so here are four life maxims that I wish I had learnt sooner than I did:

1. ‘It’s OK to say no’. Until we learn this, we spend too much time serving other people’s interests and neglecting our own work-life balance. Hard at first – but it gets wonderfully easier with practice.

2. ‘Don’t worry about what other people think of you’. We should know what they think but shouldn’t let the nasty stuff get to us. Try to sort the valid criticism from the rest dispassionately.

3. ‘The worst thing that can happen is a catastrophe’. Not a real catastrophe, but most of what we worry about is relatively trivial in the greater scheme of things. Some people spend so much time worrying about what might happen that they neglect to enjoy what does happen.

4. ‘If what you’re doing isn’t working, try something different’. Don’t dig yourself into a hole. Be open to alternatives.

A coach can help with these. But beware those who give glib advice.

Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, writer and coach, based in Malta, who helps people develop their communication and leadership skills for working internationally:

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scan Magazine Ltd.’

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