How Can I Master Coaching Techniques as a Manager?

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Self-awareness is one of the keys to adopting a coaching style in your management role.

In our Lead, Coach, Win! course, we give new and aspiring leaders the knowledge and confidence to help others reach the top of their game. Self-awareness is one of the areas we focus on. Great managers have the power to instill confidence in their team by being more coach-like. You’ll help your teams master their doubts and supercharge their productivity.

If your goal is to get your team member to open up, you need to create the right environment where they talk and you listen. Part of this includes understanding how your manner affects them.

In this article, we’ll look at how being in tune with what’s going on in your own head can make you more coach-like, focusing specifically on listening. We’ll also show you an exercise you can do to develop your (and your team’s) questioning and listening skills.

The power of listening

You may have the knowledge and skills to take on a more coaching management style. You may even have run some excellent sessions in the past. But, on some days, there’s something in the way — and it’s in your own head.

Being coach-like is about listening. If your brain is buzzing with thoughts at the specific time of your session, you can’t be present with the other person and you can’t get the full benefit.

Oscar Trimboli, one of the world’s best coaches and an expert on deep listening, recommends that before you start, pay attention to what’s going on in your own head. If you need to, take a small amount of time to clear your mind. How you do that is up to you, but it could be:

  • Journaling your thoughts
  • Going for a walk
  • Listening to music
  • Chatting with friends
  • Peloton (if you’re Shelley!)

Self-awareness is the key here. You need to be in touch with how you’re feeling and how it may affect other people.

Who is your listening villain?

86% of us think our listening skills are above average. We’re not math geniuses, but we don’t think they can all be right on that one! It’s likely that you need to work on how you listen, but how? Again, it’s all about self-awareness.

Oscar Trimboli came up with the concept of ‘listening villains’ — four types of coach that may think they’re doing a good job, but actually, they’re creating obstacles. Do you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions?

1 — The Interrupting Listener

The Interrupting Listener creates chaos in coaching conversations by jumping in before the other person can finish their sentences. They don’t mean to be rude and they’re not trying to make the conversation about them; they’re just trying to add a bit of pace to the discussion.

If this is you, perhaps you feel that your thought processes are faster than theirs and want them to catch up? Or, maybe you’re jumping into a signal that you think the other person is giving and you want to help them make their point faster.

Of course, by doing this, you’re not giving your coachee the time and space to fully form their feelings. They’ll get bored and frustrated — and you won’t be able to get the most from the session.

2 — The Dramatic Listener

The Dramatic Listener enters the conversation looking to draw out the drama and excitement from it. But by doing this, they get distracted from the content of the dialogue as a whole.

If you think this may be you, you obviously care a lot about others, so you look for the emotion in the story. But, it also means you’re only tuning into the stories that you can relate to. You’re also quick to share your stories in return.

This type of behavior can make the other person feel like their session is actually all about you, not them. It means they won’t feel comfortable and confident enough to open up fully.

3 — The Shrewd Listener

The Shrewd Listener is quite clever. They’re excellent at looking like they’re actually listening. They show the right signals, like nodding and maintaining eye contact. Unfortunately, they’re only pretending to listen.

This listening villain is busy solving the speaker’s problems in their own head, rather than paying full attention to the detail of what the speaker is saying.

If this is you, you genuinely want to help. In fact, you want to help so much you’re getting overexcited! But, if your mind isn’t on what they’re saying, you’re likely to miss something essential. You also risk making them feel judged because you’re not letting them explain themselves properly.

4 — The Lost Listener

The Lost Listener is so caught up in the dialogue going on in their own head, they’re not paying attention to the coachee at all.

It may not come from a bad place, but your lack of engagement can make the other person feel unimportant.

How to defeat those villains

If you saw yourself in any of those descriptions of the listening villains (perhaps you identified with all of them in some way!), it’s time to take action.

As we mentioned before, take a little time to yourself before you start the session to get your head in the right place. When you enter the room with a clear head, you’ll be surprised how eager you are to fill it with what the other person has to say.

The following two tips are techniques you can use in the room to improve the way you listen and understand the other person:

The Edit Back

The Edit Back is an easy way to become a better listener. It gives you the chance to take a breath, zone into the conversation, and notice what the speaker has said.

Once your team member pauses after answering a question, simply sum up what they have just said back to them. It shows that you have been listening (not pretending or lost), which makes them feel valued and heard. It also defeats the Interrupting and Dramatic listeners because you’re waiting for them to finish before you jump in.


Sometimes, what the other person doesn’t say is as important as what they do.

Our brains work six times faster than our mouths, so when the speaker is telling you the first thing on their mind, there is likely to be much more going on below the surface. Rather than accept the first answer they give you, you want something more thought through. This takes time.

Instead of interrupting or even doing the Edit Back, sometimes the best course of action is to say nothing at all. Wait and see what they do next. Will they try and fill the silence with their deeper thoughts?

You can also encourage them to share more, with prompts such as:

  • ‘What else is on your mind?’
  • ‘Tell me more about what you’re thinking.’
  • ‘What haven’t you told me that’s going to be swirling around your head tonight when you get into bed that you wish you’d have shared?’

Developing your team’s listening and questioning skills

Team sessions are a great way of getting different perspectives on a problem and encouraging your team to help each other. But, the person presenting their problem mustn’t feel like their team is being critical or judging them. Questions like ‘Why didn’t you do XYZ?’ are not helpful at all. They only put the volunteer on the defensive.

The Reflective Seat is an exercise you can try in team meetings. It’s a great way to generate a good number of questions, as well as being a powerful way of demonstrating the value of asking questions over giving solutions. Here’s how it works:

  • The volunteer briefly outlines their problem
  • The team can ask questions to clarify what the volunteer has said
  • The team now write down a couple of questions each that will stimulate thinking, not suggesting solutions or placing blame
  • The team asks their questions
  • Rather than answering them straight away, the volunteer takes time to reflect on the questions
  • Finally, the volunteer will feedback on which questions were useful and why, revealing any insights they found

You now have a bank of effective questions which get to the heart of the matter without provoking any defensive responses. Your team members get to practice listening to others and understand how what they say can affect how others perceive them — all excellent skills for coaches.

Find out more

Being more coach-like is all about building trust with your team and boosting their confidence. It requires self-awareness, knowing when your head isn’t in the right place, and what to do about it. Try these exercises as you adopt a more coaching style in your management role — you’re sure to notice a difference.

To find out more about our Lead, Coach, Win! course, visit our course page.