In my full-day workshop for managers, I lead participants through a series of exercises to become better mentors and coaches for their direct reports.
Coaching is super different than mentoring; as a mentor, we’re sharing advice and our perspective on whatever the mentee is going through. But as a coach, we step out of problem-solving mode, and into curiosity and active listening mode—our goal is to help this other person introspect and explore their challenge for a while, before figuring out next steps.
It’s one of my favorite parts of the workshop. Attendees get to experience how hard it is to take themselves (and their opinions, or advice) out of the equation when they’re coaching someone through a challenge. In the workshop’s coaching exercise, they can only do two things: ask open questions (questions that can’t be answered in “yes” or “no”), and offer reflections, like:
- Just to make sure I have this right, what I’m hearing is…
- Here’s what I know to be true about you…
- Let’s reflect on where you were this time last year…
During the exercise’s group debrief, attendees often share that they had this moment of realization: when someone reflects back what they’re hearing you say, you immediately feel seen and heard.
I ask workshop attendees why they think that is. They say: you can breathe a little bit easier, because this person is genuinely… listening? They’re not totally up in their own brain, projecting their experiences or feelings onto you. Sometimes you even find something new when they reflect back; hearing it in their words can open up a whole new way of looking at the topic you’ve brought. And if their reflection is inaccurate—maybe they didn’t understand your point, or what’s important to you about the topic you chose—you have an easy opportunity to course-correct.
Lots of managers and leaders forget this very small step: hold up a metaphorical mirror to this person you’re speaking with and say, here’s what I’m hearing you say, is that right?
Acknowledging someone’s words can go an incredibly long way to make progress within your conversation, and within your relationship. It’s not about validating them, or agreeing with them. It’s about simply letting them know that you’ve heard them, and that you want to make sure you’ve heard it right. Reflecting back what you’re hearing is magical, and so, so easy.
Offer a reflection of what you’re hearing at least once in the next few conversations you have with coworkers. I’m so excited for you to see what this does for you, and your teammates.