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Coaching for Effective Communication, Part One

Pat Kufeldt
Burke, Virginia, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 36 No. 3, June-July 2000, pp. 56-57

This is the first in a three part series about coaching for better communication. There are times when a Leader can offer the encouragement of coaching support in addition to information. Part 2, "Coaching for Better Communication, Part 2: Effective Limit Setting" appeared in the August-September, 2000 issue of LEAVEN and Part 3, " Coaching for More Effective Communication with Your Doctor" appeared in the August-September issue.

How many times have you wished that there was just one more way that you could help a mother get ready for a meeting with her doctor or her family? You provide her with reading material and good wishes, then you hold your breath and wait to hear how things turned out. Sometimes we forget that there really is an additional concrete technique that a Leader can use. You can try coaching.

Although it is most often thought of in conjunction with sports, coaching can be an aid to better performance in many areas. Even highly paid executives use coaching in order to improve their administrative skills. When you give people the opportunity to practice something and then give them feed back on the results, you are coaching them.

Coaching is most useful when a person is interested in trying a new behavior. For instance, a mother in your Group might want to talk about nighttime parenting with her husband, set a limit about babysitting with her mother, or discuss medical alternatives with her doctor. All of these situations have the potential for being difficult. It's easy enough to give the mother the information that she needs. But there are times when she wants more. She wants to know how to say what she means, how to assert her position and how to keep the relationship undamaged. She wants the opportunity to practice with someone who knows how important these discussions are to her.

Here's an example of how coaching might work with a mother who wants to know how to dialogue with her husband in a positive way.

Leader: Hello Joanne. How did our last meeting go for you?

Joanne: Oh, it was wonderful. I was intrigued by the idea of bringing the baby into bed for nighttime nursing. Do a lot of people do that?

Leader: You were surprised to hear about the family bed. Many families do find it helpful, but it's a new idea to you and you're wondering how common it is.

Joanne: Yes, but it makes sense to me. I don't like the idea of getting up and down all night. The baby is only two weeks old and it's wearing me out. This seems a whole lot easier. I'm just not sure what my husband will think about the idea.

Leader: When you think about talking this over with your husband, you're hesitant because you're not sure how to present the idea so that he will accept it.

Joanne: Exactly! I checked out The Family Bed and I've been doing some reading. But I just don't know how to approach the subject. He's kind of funny about stuff like that. He was a bit dubious about me nursing in the first place! I guess I'm afraid this might be too much for him and I don't want to get into an argument.

Leader: Bottom line is, bringing the baby into your bed at night sounds to you as though it might help you get more rest and you are really interested in trying it, but you don't want to jeopardize your relationship with your husband. Have you thought about when you might bring up the subject?

Joanne: No, is that important?

Leader: You're surprised by that question! Yes, it really is key to the discussion. People don't like surprises and they especially don't like them if they are tired, hungry, or in a hurry. It's effective to approach something like this in a relaxed atmosphere. I know that might be hard to find in a house with a new baby.

Joanne: Well, actually Saturday mornings are good, There's no rush to go anywhere.

Leader: So you're thinking that might be a good time to broach the subject?

Joanne: Yes, Jack has been making breakfast for me and he is relaxed then.

Leader: That sounds ideal. Have you thought about how you could start the discussion?

Joanne: I guess I could start by telling him that I have a book I'd like him to read. Or is that coming on too strong?

Leader: You're worried about how to lead into the conversation without being abrupt. You know your husband best, Joanne. If reading a book is something that might appeal to him, you are on the right track. I'm wondering if it would be helpful to mention how tiring it is to get up to nurse at night.

Joanne: Oh, that's a good idea! That would be a way to start the conversation and then I could bring up the family bed and move on from there. But what do I do if he says “no way”?

Leader: You're worried about your reaction if he happens to respond negatively, because you'd like to continue with the conversation and yet you want to preserve your relationship with him. Actually, you've hit on a most important aspect of dialoguing. The answer is simple. Listen to what he has to say.

Joanne: Listen?

Leader: Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? It's hard sometimes to hold yourself back and just listen, but it's important to know what his objections are and it's just as important to make sure that he knows you've heard what he said.

Joanne: Awwkkk! Now you've got me worried. It all sounds a bit scary.

Leader: Joanne, I'm sorry. I've thrown a lot of stuff at you here. How would it be if we sort of acted this out. l could be Jack and you would be yourself, of course.

Joanne: Oh, that's a good idea! Let me see. Okay, I've got it. “Jack, nobody ever told me how much work there was to having a new baby! It's exhausting getting up at night to nurse Ben.“

Leader (as Jack): ”Well, I never thought it was such a good idea for you to nurse anyway.”

Joanne: Oh dear! Hmm. You said to listen to him. “You're not surprised that I'm tired, because you believe that nursing is hard work. “

Leader: Terrific. Good! You didn't get defensive. You just listened to him. “Actually, I am surprised at how much hard work there is in just taking care of a baby. I though you were happy with nursing.”

Joanne: “I am happy nursing. I love it! It just gets tiring getting up every three or four hours, walking down to the nursery and sitting there in the dark. I'm not getting much sleep and it leaves me fuzzy all day long.”

Leader: ”Well, what do you want me to do? I can't nurse him! Do you want to just give it up? That way I could help.”

Joanne: ”Give up nursing! Are you crazy?”

Leader: Wait a minute, Joanne. Remember men are often problem solvers. He's just trying to help you out. Can you tell him what you just heard?

Joanne: “You're suggesting that I give up nursing because you're upset that I don't seem happy and you're trying to help. I appreciate that. I have another idea. Remember that La Leche League meeting I went to the other evening? They suggested something called the family bed. I could actually bring Ben into bed with us at night. That way, I wouldn't have to get out of bed and run down the hallway. I'd be Iying in bed. Lots of people do that.

Leader: “A baby in bed with us?”

Joanne: “You're surprised. You never thought about having Ben in bed with us.”

Leader: Super! I think you've got the hang of it now, Joanne. What do you think?

Joanne: I'm eager to talk about this with my husband. Just working it out with you has been helpful. It's hard to remember to listen and not just barrel on. But I can see that it's important for both of us. If I don’t listen, then it's just a one-sided conversation.

Coaching is an important tool for Leaders. Some people need more than information. They need an opportunity to practice new ways of talking to the important people in their lives.

This is the first of a three part series on Coaching for Better Communication: The next two parts will deal with coaching demonstrations of limit setting, problem solving, and dialoguing with a doctor.

Possible Responses to New Information, and What They Might Really Mean “I didn't know.” Surprised “What do you mean? ” Confused “You have your nerve! ” Betrayed, Disturbed “Yes, that's true, but...” Hurt “After all I've done for you!” Dismayed

This article is the beginning of a theme on coaching for better communication from the last issue of Leaven. The other articles in this series:

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