A way of being

Way of Being

To facilitate the ownership of the process and total buy-in from the learner, we need to create the right environment (the relationship) for this to happen – We refer to this as the coaches “way of being”. The coach’s ability to create an environment which is an adult-to-adult relationship of equals, free from hierarchy and judgment. This creates the right environment for facilitation of learning.

You may have experienced such a relationship in your lifetime. Think about those people who you have encountered in your lifetime to this point that you respect or those who have influenced you greatly; what behaviours were best used to describe how they were?

The chances are it will be most, if not all, of the behaviours, or ways of being on the list below:

  • they treat you with respect
  • they didn’t judge you
  • they listened to you
  • they were interested in you
  • they didn’t tell you what to do
  • they asked you what you wanted to do
  • they accepted you for who, what and how you are
  • they were always honest with you
  • they gave you their time and their full attention
  • they trusted you
  • they made you laugh and smile
  • they were patient and understanding
  • they appreciate you for you
  • you felt their empathy for you

Are these not the traits and the behaviours we should be demonstrating as well? Do we want our learners to feel the way we felt when we encountered the above behaviours? How much trust did you have with the person/people you were thinking of?

Treat your learners as you would wish to be treated, help them to feel safe and secure, able to take ownership of the process by treating them as:

  • a valued customer
  • a welcome guest in your work environment
  • an equal partner on this journey of learning

We refer to this as establishing an equal relationship, meaning it should be one that is:

  • respectful
  • none-judgemental
  • none-hierarchical
  • authentic
  • honest
  • trusting
  • showing an unconditional positive regard for the learner

The learner will only be open to engaging fully and without inhibition in the coaching process if they have faith that the relationship is genuine; this may take a little time to develop. As you gain experience and confidence in your own abilities, you will be better at creating this environment.

Once they believe the relationship with you is truly equal, they will usually fully engage. However, if they don’t feel it is genuine, you are more likely to hear what the learner thinks you want them to say rather than what they actually think – which is not coaching!

So, we, as trainers, should be striving to provide an environment that places an emphasis on learning rather than on teaching (i.e. getting the learning out not putting it in)

  • encourages the learner to develop their own tools, processes, and resources, direct their own learning and aid their own personal growth in bite-sized chunks
  • follows the learner’s interest by helping them to clarify and home in on their goals and choices
  • inspires self-trust (confidence) within the learner and helps them to increase their awareness of what is, without judgement
  • encourages the learner to give preference to learning methods which actively involves them to a high degree and promotes their independence
  • embraces openness and transparency to about the trainer’s role and responsibility as a facilitator of learning and guardian of safety
  • shares the responsibility for the management of risk with the learner
  • tailors the session to the learner’s goals and needs

Without the equal relationship, a coaching approach to learning simply cannot be fully achieved, meaning there may well be barriers in place in the mind of the learner. For example, these barriers may be seen in the learner as reluctance to take part fully in the process. We arrive to a point where the coach asks the learner what they wish to achieve and they are met with the ubiquitous “I don’t know” answer, further probing only results in frustration for all concerned. It is important when it isn’t working to focus on the work of the coach in creating the right relationship/environment rather than focusing on the learner’s reluctance to buy in. It is almost always the relationship not being strong enough or the learner fearing judgment or failure that is the issue.

However, we cannot reasonably expect that the perfect equal relationship will exist from day one; it may take time for the learner to trust you and see that you are genuine so be patient and they will eventually respond in kind. We as coaches need to earn the relationship. Once we accept this, we see that the effort needs to be from the coach rather than from the learner. I hear all too often “my learners cannot do that, they just say “I don’t know!” All learners are capable of feeling safe, secure, and happy to input. If it isn’t happening, the blame lies at the door of the coach.

Some people may, of course, have been conditioned by life in such way that they will be exceedingly difficult to lead to a position where they fully trust you, but we should see a difference in the way they respond as a result of our efforts to create the right relationship. Putting effort into helping the learner feel at ease and to have them trust you more will never be a bad thing.

Naturally, before you can even start to build a relationship you first have to build rapport (i.e. make a connection and being “on the same wavelength” as the person with whom you are talking). Some of us can do this with ease while others may need a little help in understanding how we should ideally meet and greet someone with a view to developing the right rapport.

Our “way of being” is about exhibiting humility and wanting to be of service rather than getting people to think like you. This means you put the learner’s interests first, continually trying to see things from their perspective, to show faith in the learner’s ability, to facilitate them to make the right choices for themselves and to believe everyone is of equal value and has talent. We must develop (if we do not already possess it) an unconditional positive regard for the learner. Not surprisingly, if the learner believes you feel like this about them the chances are they will respond in kind.

Saying and doing the right things without believing it can give this impression and thus create the relationship necessary, but if we don’t genuinely believe it, we will not be able to truly get the learner to own the process; our guard will slip one day. It can be thought that this way of being is just being professional, but I honestly believe it goes deeper than that – it is the implicit faith in human beings and a belief that they can achieve remarkable things without my input that truly generates and maintains the right relationship and therefore learning environment.

The truth is, of course, in driver training we cannot always be equal and there will be times when we will be required to input either verbally or physically to situations we find developing around us. There may even be times when we need to exert 100% control of the situation to keep things safe, thus in that moment changing the relationship from a partnership to one where we intervene. The important thing is that as part of our goal setting and development of plans we should be introducing instructor interventions as a possibility and there should be agreement about how and why this might happen and what would then follow. What should then follow is a discussion about what can be learned from the experience rather than who was to blame for what occurred. We have an outcome we achieved, which can be compared to the outcome we were expecting. Thus, new plans and goals can be agreed upon to generate different outcomes.

We need proper reflection, a genuine performance review, to ascertain outcomes gained versus outcomes desired in order to develop the setting of future plans to change those outcomes to ones we both (coach and learner) desire. This is what is being assessed on the DVSA Part Three Exam and the Standards Check.

Becoming More “Coachy”

We have looked at the relationship and we can see that if we get it right at the outset, then our job becomes easier. We also need to pay attention to how we communicate. It is not just the message being delivered but how it is delivered. We need to look at the way we are perceived by the learner, especially if we wish to aid in the reducing of barrier.

It is particularly important to pay attention to:

  • the tone of your voice
  • the words you use
  • what you say and how you say it
  • your body language

Becoming Less Judgemental

We are being judgemental whenever we say a behaviour is good or bad, positive, or negative, better, or worse, right, or wrong, nasty, or nice. Immediately, we give the impression that we are right and someone who thinks otherwise is wrong, this is not helpful in terms of creating the right relationship.

The problem with passing judgement is the emotions they can create, the feeling of superiority in the person who claims to be right and the feelings of inferiority or failure in the person who is allegedly wrong.

When we feel we are being judged, it produces negative emotions which are particularly unhelpful to creating the right environment for learning to take place.

How often do we use words like fault, error, mistake, failure, blame, right, wrong, good, or bad?

These words serve only to stand even further in the way of the right environment if they are reinforced by negative language and body language. Things such as disapproving looks, smirks, raised eyebrows, rolling eyes, sighing, making tutting noises, etc create a judgemental environment and serve to very quickly shred trust as well as releasing the wrong chemicals in the brain which stand in the way of learning happening, freezing our learner like a rabbit in the headlights and making them much less likely to take an active part in the process.

We must therefore not only be very aware of and careful about the words we use but also the way they may be perceived. Tone of voice, speed, and rhythm of speech as well as the body language you exhibit when interacting with our learners can all set the tone of the session or future working relationship. It is easy to convey the wrong message or to create an environment that stands in the way of learning, so we must be mindful. The correct environment is vital to a good coaching relationship.

It is important for the learner to also be non-judgemental about their own performance; it is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong; it is what it is and although it may be different to the outcome that was expected, it is important we do not get into discussions about how good or bad it was. We must examine in what way it was different to the expected outcome and how we might go about turning it from what we got in terms of outcome to what we hoped for. In this action, we remove judgment and we also set out onward plans. Therefore, our focus becomes what might we do to change the outcome next time – not what they could do to correct or improve it.

Being in the Right Frame of Mind

It might be useful to think of the mind being in two parts, the conscious mind and the subconscious mind.

The subconscious mind is akin to a super-computer: it contains everything we know, everything we can imagine, every smell and taste we have experienced. In fact, it is our map of the world experienced through our senses and emotions. There is a lot of information in there, stored away for easy retrieval at any point we want it. The relationship and environment we create as coaches allows easy access to this wealth of information. This part of the brain will enable us to feel we CAN do things.

The conscious mind is a little less sophisticated and contains the stuff we are not really interested in: fear anxiety, doubt, judgment etc. It contains the things that are less helpful to ownership and control, and it has the power to freeze us if we allow it. The easiest way to engage the conscious mind is to trigger it through judgment (or fear, doubt, etc), which sets more judgment (fear, anxiety etc) and which inevitably causes drawing away from engagement. This part of the brain says we CANNOT do things.

This is a very simplified view of what the brain is, but it does illustrate why it is important to create the CAN do environment; therefore it is important we remove anything in our processes that speak to the conscious mind. There are many techniques for distracting the conscious mind and taking it out of our way, the most potent I have found thus far is focusing on the outcome we wish to achieve; this engages the subconscious to put in place things to achieve it.

There is no purpose served by having the learner experience negative thoughts or emotions. These serve only to stand in the way of progress. Judgement implies fault and blame and can trigger a negative emotional response which engages the conscious mind and freezes people, removing any feelings of ownership and empowerment.

We live in a very judgemental world and have become used to using judgemental language or indeed overly judging ourselves when trying to learn something new. We judge ourselves and become fearful, anxious and tense as a result of it and it becomes a negative cycle that can be hard to break. We end up, in fact, getting in our own way. We end up more concerned about the embarrassment or shame of getting it wrong rather than becoming solutions focused and concentrating on achieving desired outcomes.

As a coach, you should assist the learner to be looking forward to potential solutions rather than dwelling on things that have already gone wrong. Coaching is a forward moving process where we look at what is possible going forward, instruction tends to be based around fixing what is discovered to be “incorrect”.

We can aid the learner to be forward and positive thinking by focusing on the outcomes we are looking for from the next attempt. This helps to prevent any wallowing in self-judgement and regret by making the focus about the next set of outcomes. This creates a positive “can-do” atmosphere which is of course vital to empowerment and ownership of the process by the learner. The use of “outcome” is a straightforward way to avoid negativity. By asking the question, “Did that match the outcome you were expecting?” you move the conversation to how might we change it to the desired outcome, thus our focus is forward looking, and the conversation becomes about “How might we achieve the outcome you want based on the experience you just had?”

Final Thoughts

Human beings are very clever and have a natural capacity to learn things aided by, or even in spite of, the teaching techniques you may apply. Learning is different from teaching. Teaching cannot make learning happen only the learner can do that. Teaching may aid the learning, but it may equally impede it.

Learning can be described as a way of constructing a model of reality in our subconscious brain to give meaning to and make sense of the world around us, our place and purpose within it and how we can interact with it. It enables us to respond in ways that aid effectiveness in pursuit of our interests, needs, desires or goals.

Learning happens naturally either as a conscious formalised activity or simply as we go about our everyday activities. We do it from the earliest days of life and we set about it with great gusto. The qualities that encourage learning are

  • curiosity about our surroundings
  • a sense of excitement at the new
  • a desire to explore and experiment

These qualities appear to be pre-programmed in us. Therefore, you don’t need to work hard to make it happen, just encourage your learner to engage in an appropriate activity and watch them grow through reflection and analysis which leads to developing more goals and plans.

Belief in the above should mean that by treating all your learners with an unconditional positive regard and by creating the right relationship and environment where growth is accelerated, you can achieve that all-important, equal relationship covered earlier, thus inspiring self-trust and belief within your learner – because they can see that you truly and genuinely believe in them.