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How Coaching Changes Workplace Interactions

Two women talking at a table in an office.

Businesses know the value of hiring external coaches for aspiring leaders, struggling staff members and developing professionals. And they are willing to pay for it: Coaching is a $2.85 billion industry, according to a recent survey by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and PwC.

While a third-party coach is impartial to office politics or power struggles, there is also room for HR leaders to bring coaching into their routine. Kelli Kombat, global director of employee experience for the International Trademark Association (INTA), has experienced a transformation in interactions during meetings with colleagues since completing a four-month intensive ICF-accredited program.

"I've had people say there is something different about our meetings," she said. "They tend to get much more excited about our meetings. And they have been more proactive on their end reaching out to me, as opposed to my scheduling time with them."

Prior to her training, Kombat would prepare a detailed list of questions and a vision for each meeting with her team. But the meetings lacked energy, and people didn't look forward to attending. She has since ditched the notepad of prepared prompts, and now asks fewer, shorter questions shaped by her coaching training.

"One question I asked someone recently was, 'How does your calendar reflect your values?' They were like, 'Wow, that's powerful,' " she said. "We talked about values in relation to this person's career and how their calendar did or didn't reflect the values of the future they wanted to build."

As a human resource professional and servant leader at EmblemHealth, Chief People Officer Donna M. Hughes sees coaching as an effective way to support leaders in their development and in reaching their goals. To excel, leaders need to continuously learn, evolve and be transformative. Fulfilling these needs creates the perfect intersection between HR and coaching. 

"In recent times, we've been faced with the challenges of COVID-19, racism and social unrest, all at once," she said. "I've been a coach to many who are grappling with lots of emotions around these complicated issues, including some who are soul-searching and trying to figure out how they can be more inclusive leaders and allies to their colleagues."

Here's an inside look at how taking on a coaching perspective can change interactions with every person in the organization.

How to Create a Coaching Environment

When projects get "stuck," it's natural to become judgmental. Frustration, anger and other emotions quickly follow. Since becoming a certified coach, Stephanie Page, principal, office of the CHRO for Heidrick & Struggles, said she can reframe the situation through deeper listening and a curious line of questions.

"As a coach, I learned how to listen and ask better questions. This helps me develop solutions that better aligned with firm and employee needs," Page said. "Being a better, empathic listener also helps me gain buy-in with the leaders whose sponsorship I need for program development and implementation."

Effective coaches understand the power of presence, being in the "here and now" for the coachee.

"As a leader, I have a certain level of power. But when I'm coaching, I give all the power to the coaching relationship," Hughes said. "When I stay conscious of this, it helps to build the trust needed for the person I'm coaching to be comfortable and willing to deeply explore and uncover what's at the root of any challenges."

Be ready to be addressed and helped in this way, as well.

"As an HR person, you should also receive coaching because it increases your muscle for empathy," Kombat said. "I think too many times, people who don't love the profession of HR, and just landed in HR, tend to become jaded, so they're not in that growth mindset. Being open enough to be coached yourself is important."

Next time you're meeting with an employee, try these five tips and see how they change the conversation.

  • Put electronics aside and turn off message alerts.
  • Listen at the deepest level with 100 percent of your focus on the other person.
  • Get curious about what is motivating and challenging the person.
  • Ask short, powerful questions. Try to keep questions to six or fewer words.
  • Use secondary and tertiary questions to understand how the same terms or phrases mean different things to different people. 

Find Coaching Training

Whether you're looking for a few resources, a short course or an intensive program, there are plenty of choices. Look for a format that works for you.

"Think about [whether you want] weekdays, weekends or evenings and where it is and if travel will add costs," Page said. "Also think about if having a local network of coaches is important to you. My recommendation is to create a short list of two or three and interview a few alumni to gain more insights."

Kombat suggested finding a program that stretches beyond your comfort zone. Avoid a program that is similar to what you've done in previous training, she added.

"I was very careful about making sure that I wasn't going to go into a program where it was going to be a ton of HR people and me, or a ton of people with the same personality," she said.

Katie Navarra is a freelance writer in New York state.


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