Coaching skills

Coaching Skills



Build rapport and empathy by remaining detached and non-judgmental

Active listening

The Art of Listening.

Listening is the most important part of communication and yet in the era we live in, it has become a forgotten art. The hustle and bustle of modern life and social norms mean that interactions with other human beings brings “noise” from all parties engaged in conversation.

Try observing people engaged in conversation and you will see that it is exceedingly rare for one of them to be silent for very long. Polite society dictates that we make small talk, the normal prelude to conversations at a deeper level; we the English are sublime in our ability to fill silence with subjects such as the weather, or football or last night’s episode of X factor. This cacophony of noise is, in fact, getting in the way of communication. A lot is being said but not much of it is truly heard. There are two basic parts to any communication: firstly, what is being transmitted, and secondly that which is received. If we are busy filling any silences due to pressures of wanting to be polite and engage with people, as is the social norm then how much of what is being transmitted is actually being received, and in what level of detail?

In a training environment, this can create great difficulties if we only really hear part of the message. If we are not truly tuned in to the transmission, and by that, I mean really listening, in an active way. We learn as trainers to compensate for the lack of message content by second guessing or using our experience and knowledge to “fill the gap.”

There is a different (better?) way to tackle this and there are two aspects to it. The type of question asked, and the type of listening we do after asking the question.

As trainers, we often believe we are listening and that we are in fact good listeners (I used to count myself as a good listener), but the reality is quite often that we are just being silent and waiting our turn to speak. Or worse still, being silent thinking about the next question we are going to ask that will surely get our learner to where we both wish to be. We are trained as driver trainers to ask questions mostly designed to furnish us with the answer that we wish to hear, for example, “How might you have negotiated that last roundabout better?” or “What do you think would improve that last junction emerge?” These are questions that are designed to get the learner to tell you what you already know, i.e if they did x, y or z that it would improve things. This is an extremely limited form of questioning which reduces the number of answers the learner can give. We often then complicate things further by asking supplementary questions, asked with the best of intentions by an eager instructor to give clarity to what they want, or sometimes to correct a badly phrased question, it is often the case that 4, 5 or even 6 questions are asked, leaving the poor learner confused as to which particular question they should answer.

The type of question outlined above is designed to have the learner find out for themselves what you would have told them otherwise, and in this way, they will learn (and they will). However, there is a form of questioning that can be used that will enable instructor and pupil to find solutions to issues that really cut to what the problems are. the type of questioning outlined above is almost learning by rote! What we need is real learning to take place and solutions to issues discovered by the learner themselves, in this way the solutions will seem more relevant to the learner, and they are more likely to stick with the solution they produced themselves.

So, to get to this point, we need to ask questions that we the instructor do not know the answer to (a coaching question) and they would be questions like “How did you feel as you negotiated that last roundabout?” or “What were you thinking while we drove out of that junction?” As the instructor, you do not know the answer to these questions, and yet the answer to the question will surely unlock the learner, and un-stick them from a plateau they may be on.

The secret is in what we do after the question is asked, how we listen is critical to better outcomes for our learners as well as us as instructors. There are several levels of listening, but only the upper level of proper “active listening” will yield the results we are looking for. Take the time next time you are in a coffee shop or a pub and watch the interactions between people and you will see the various levels of listening on display, the body language of the person “listening” will almost give away what sort of listening they are doing.

Level 1 Not listening

Body language signs

  • body turned away slightly from speaker
  • glancing at watch
  • looking around the room
  • no eye contact
  • arms folded
  • messing with phone/iPad

overheard conversation example

Person 1 “I’m thinking of putting in for a promotion at work”

Person 2 “did you see the footy on telly last night?”


Person 1 “I’m thinking of putting in for a promotion at work”

Person 2 (interrupting)”I did that once, it was great I got the job”

Level 2 Half listening

Body language signs

  • start off looking interested but then turn away slightly from speaker
  • appear distracted by looking out of the window
  • switch from listening to taking over the conversation
  • limited eye contact
  • not sitting still (shuffling)

overheard conversation example

Person 1 “I’m thinking of putting in for a promotion at work”

Person 2 “I’ll tell you what you need to do”

Level 3 Attentive listening

Body language signs

  • looks interested in the speaker
  • maintains appropriate eye contact
  • head tilted to one side demonstrating interest
  • sitting still
  • smiling
  • nodding

overheard conversation example

Person 1 “I’m thinking of putting in for a promotion at work”

Person 2 “That’s interesting: tell me more about that”

The final level is true active listening where you are engaged with the speaker wholeheartedly and are demonstrating it with your body language and the way you listen. It is important to make encouraging noises such as “hmmm, ah, yes, I see” (but not interrupt) and active listening looks the same as attentive listening, but it is different in the way things are followed up.

Level 4 active listening

Body language signs

  • looks interested in the speaker
  • maintains appropriate eye contact
  • head tilted to one side demonstrating interest
  • sitting still
  • smiling
  • nodding

overheard conversation example

Person 1 “I’m thinking of putting in for a promotion at work”

Person 2 “What is it that has prevented you from doing it?”

What then follows is absolute silence from Person 2 who has just asked the question, which allows thinking time for Person 1. The golden rule here is that the silence can only be broken by the person being asked the question. It is exceedingly difficult in the face of the training you had as an instructor to deal with silence, we are told we should fill these silences with learning opportunities. the silence is the greatest learning opportunity of all as it allows clear, quality thinking time. It may be that the person being asked the question will respond “I don’t know” and this is fine because a follow up question can then be asked, a question such as “if you did know what would you say?” or “what would your best guess be?”

Do not try to fill the silence but wait and see what results are achieved by giving the learner (and you) some clear blue thinking time.

The previous conversation started as an active listening level may pan out in a surprising way if you allow it the right time and space and ask very thoughtful questions.

For example.

Person 1 “I’m thinking of putting in for a promotion at work”

Person 2 “What is it that has prevented you from doing it?”

Person 1 “Well it’s not easy to find the time, the boss and I have such busy schedules”

Person 2 “What can you do to try and nail down an appointment?”

Person 1 “I suppose I could get my secretary to organise it with his PA, but I don’t like to ask”

Person 2 “What is about asking that you don’t like?”

Person 1 “Well he might say no!”

Although the example used does not relate to driving instruction you can see that by asking questions that you do not already know the answer to and by listening more, we can uncover things that we wouldn’t otherwise.

In a learner driver context, it may work by finding out the feelings that are underlying any issues, for example.

Instructor “How did you feel negotiating that last roundabout?”

Pupil “Terrified!”

Instructor “What was it about it that terrified you?”

Pupil “I just feel overwhelmed because I have so much to think about all at once!”

Instructor “Is there anything I can do to help you with that?”

Pupil “Could you show me how you do it?”

They will likely (given enough silence following the question) come up with a level of help that they feel would be useful to the, don’t assume they don’t know because given the chance to think for a little while (silence is golden) they do!

Try it and see!!!

Building Rapport

Building rapport is about creating the environment where learning is accelerated through someone feeling safe from harm, an environment where they feel they are free from judgment, an environment where they feel comfortable owning the process and taking the decisions moving forward. They are empowered!

We feel most comfortable when we are dealing with someone we see as being like us. This could include appearance and clothes, body language/physical gestures, word use /language, tone and accent of voice, beliefs, and values. There are several techniques that are beneficial in building rapport such as matching/mirroring

  • Body language
  • Word use
  • Voice – speed/tone/accent
  • Maintaining eye contact (or indeed not if this is not culturally acceptable)
  • Matching breathing rhythm

However, be careful that we do this in a genuine way otherwise the person may think you are trying to ridicule or disrespect them.

Most people who are good at dealing with people build rapport automatically without thinking too much about it. Nevertheless, it is good to reflect on how you are developing in this regard as it can make a significant difference to how quickly you are able to develop the equal relationship so necessary for effective adult to adult learning to take place. The best place to elicit feedback as to how you are doing in this regard is to ask your learners. If you have created the right environment, they should feel comfortable giving such feedback.

Coaching Using a Questioning Process

The coaching process is a conversation where the coach asks questions based on what the person wants and discloses with the purpose of evoking relevant thoughts, feelings, and responses to enable the person to identify what is holding them back and in doing so discover a way to move forward. It is a form of discovery learning where the person being coached is attempting to learn how to achieve a particular outcome without being advised or told what to do or indeed what that outcome should be.

What are Coaching questions?

Coaching questions help the learner to consider/explore information or experiences which when examined in the context of the discussion or event help the learner to become aware of it’s relevance as an aid to making progress towards the outcome they desire.

Another is that they follow the learner’s interests which means any question is formed because of actively listening to what the learner says and not what the coach thinks or feels. Active listening starts by emptying your mind and focusing on what the learner is communicating to you (either intentionally or not) rather than looking for confirmation to carry on with what you want to do or the point you want to make. It is about putting yourself in their shoes trying to see what they are saying from their perspective and following up with a response based on that understanding alone.

For example, after a very poorly executed roundabout, it is traditional to ask, “How might you have done that better?” the person asking (i.e. the instructor) believes they know the answer (i.e. what was wrong and what should have been done), and as such the question doesn’t really help the learner other than to make them aware of the instructor’s disapproval and the need to figure out what the instructor thinks. The coaching question might be “How do you feel that went?” possibly followed by “Can you remember when you started to feel uncomfortable?” …”Can you put your finger on the trigger that caused this?”…”What might you do to prevent the same effect being triggered next time?”…”How might you go about that?”….”Which of those would you like to try first?”…”Would you like to do a review after that or move straight on to the roundabout again?”… “So, if I have understood it properly you would like to do x first to see how you feel before considering whether to have another go at the roundabout?”… “OK please feel free to move off when you are ready” and so on.

Notice how the questioning follows a coaching process of helping the learner to establish what they want to do or feel better about (i.e. the goal) considering their experience followed by helping them to decide what stopped them moving forward or moving forward as quickly as they would have liked and how might they now move forward considering that understanding.