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My Thoughts on Coaching Skills and Dirty Socks

Coaching is a learning-based journey filled with solution-oriented interrogation, constant reflecting and self-awareness.

Published : 17.12.2020

The most delightful aspect of working at Haaga-Helia is the vast amount of professional training opportunities. The one I’ve been especially excited about and find most beneficial is the HH Learning Coach training by the senior lecturer and coach Marika Alhonen. It consists of three workshops with assignments and reflection in between, the main objectives being to learn and develop coaching skills for the everyday working life – or so I thought.

I was surprised at how much self-awareness and soul-searching is involved in the process, whether it is intentional or not. You have to be aware of your habits, values and internal dialogue before you can successfully get into the mindset of coaching and make use of the basic coaching skills. Here are some of my thoughts and revelations since starting the training.

Listening, mirroring, summarising. This is a delightful trio of basic skills that everyone should be mindful of and develop. I’ve always been a decent listener, trying to show empathy and appreciative mirroring rather than overriding the other person or snagging the discussion to myself. The skill I hadn’t used much before is summarising, which I now find extremely helpful. During a discussion, summarising back what you’ve heard shows that you’ve actually listened, you avoid misunderstandings, and it helps processing what has been discussed. I now utilize this skill often when talking with students. Also, by summarising you can buy some time for yourself if you need to think about what direction to take the discussion or you’re unfamiliar with the topic. Very nifty!

Emotional distance. This sounds a bit weird, right? Isn’t the point to build trust and get invested in the other person’s issues? Yes and no. I learned that the best way for me to help someone is to put on an imaginary ‘coach hat’, hop out of my normal overly-empathetic mindset and concentrate on goal-oriented discussion instead of getting upset on behalf of the other person. I’ve started to use this tactic even with my friends and family at times since I get so easily absorbed into their troubles, and my poor brain has only so much emotional capacity.

Questioning or compelling? I have a habit of giving opinions or solutions when someone comes to me with a problem, whether it be about relationships, work, or other. That’s a no-no when coaching. Instead, I’ve adopted a way of replying with questions like How does it make you feel? or What is the outcome you would like to happen? This way the person has to find the solutions themselves. Even though suggesting options is not advised in coaching, I find sometimes giving a little nudge helps: Have you thought about trying this? What if you did so-and-so?

Goal setting. This is the most basic aspect of coaching. There has to be a direction, a preferred outcome for the coaching process. It can be big or small, simple or hard. Visualising the goal and setting deadlines are simple yet powerful tools of achieving just about anything. But since coaching is meant to be a learning process, the coach can take only so much charge of the structure.

Tasks or no tasks? Assignments are usually not part of coaching, but sometimes giving a practical starting point might help. I know this from experience: I kept putting off writing my thesis for months, got paralysed with fear of failure, and finally found myself just sitting at home on a pile of dirty clothes since even cleaning felt too overwhelming at that point. Then one day I was given the tiniest task: Pick up one sock from the floor, put it in the washing machine, and that’s it. You’ve done a thing, good for you. And after picking up that one sock, I suddenly found myself cleaning the whole apartment. And a few months later, with a little bit of coaching, I had done my thesis and graduated from Haaga-Helia.

So, to summarise my thoughts: Coaching is a learning-based journey filled with solution-oriented interrogation, constant reflecting and self-awareness, and with correct guidance, even one dirty sock can change the outcome of the rest of your life.