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7 minutes reading time (1477 words)

Mentoring New PMs (Part 7 of 8)

“If I want to coach other PMs, then we can have a more competitive organization, but I will have to deal with difficult personalities.”

Part 7: Use coaching techniques that challenge growth

Coaching is essentially a human experience. If developers forget this and either employ too many techniques or use techniques at the wrong time, they become more coaching technicians than developers who can make a difference in the lives of learners. The most important thing a developer can do for a learner is to listen in an active way. This includes hearing not only what is said, but also how it is said and what it means; recognizing, then encouraging or challenging, the learner's patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving, particularly those that support or detract from the learner's goals and ultimate growth; and having the experience, intuition, and wisdom to know when to just listen and when to say or do something.

In addition, there are four coaching techniques that, when used at the right time, can make a big difference in the pace and depth of the learner's development. These techniques, described below, are actually supportive challenges and target the three Centers of Intelligence: the Head Center (mental), Heart Center (emotional), and Body Center (action).

Head Center Challenges: "What if?" Questions

"What if?" questions work well in situations in which the learner makes assumptions that something is absolutely true and inviolable. These assumptions are part of the learner's mental models; unexamined mental models limit a learner's understanding of what is truly possible and therefore reinforce the current behavior.

After hearing the learner express an assumption, the developer poses a relevant "What if?" question.

During a coaching meeting, Hannah tells her manager that she is completely frustrated working with a specific client, whom she perceives as being overly opinionated and having poor listening skills and a belligerent attitude. Hannah says, "I'll never find a way to work well with this person."


"What if you could find a way to work effectively with this person, even if you still don't like the interactions?"

Before Hannah can develop a way to work effectively with this individual, she has to first believe that this is both possible and she is capable of doing so.

After Hannah responds to the "What if?" challenge with a statement that implies she recognizes that working effectively with someone like this is possible, the developer can then work with her on alternative tactics.

Heart Center Challenges: Recognizing and Leveraging Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are unconscious psychological strategies used by individuals to deal with uncomfortable and difficult situations. These mechanisms work to reduce a person's anxiety, sadness, and/ or anger and to maintain his or her self-image.

Developers need to recognize and learn to leverage the learner's defense mechanisms for two important reasons. First, the learner's defense mechanisms appear primarily when the learner is avoiding something. Thus, uncovering what lies beneath a defense mechanism is almost always a key to unlocking what the learner most needs to examine.

Second, the defense mechanism is often the most obvious manifestation of a learner's resistance to growth. When resistance is left unchecked, the progress of coaching will be severely compromised. Once a learner exhibits a defense mechanism, the developer can use either an indirect or a direct challenge, both of which are designed to highlight the defense mechanism and to explore the learner's avoidance or resistance. Indirect challenges are more subtle and less intrusive, but they may have less impact; direct challenges get the learner's attention faster, but they can heighten resistance and may be too strong for some learners.

Defense Mechanism- Distortion is a clearly incorrect and flagrant reshaping of external reality to meet a person's internal needs.

When Nathan spoke with his coach about his failure to garner approval for the new website vendor he had been asked to recommend, he was full of fury. Blaming his boss for not supporting his choice of vendor-claiming the boss had given him the authority to make this decision- Nathan also blamed the team he had created for refusing to advocate on his behalf. After listening to Nathan for half an hour, his developer, Erin, became concerned. Nathan's furor and explanations were in direct conflict with prior information he had given her about how supportive his boss had been and how well the team had functioned. Because she perceived that Nathan was distorting what had really occurred, Erin decided to challenge Nathan's defense mechanism.


"To help me understand better, can you remind me of the original agreement you had with your manager about this, conversations you've had since then, the role of the committee you created, how often they've met, and how they have functioned? My memory of this doesn't match exactly what you're telling me now."


"I know you are very, very upset by this, and this may be causing you to distort some of what actually occurred. Let's talk about your feelings, then what actually transpired."

Individuals of the community use a variety of defense mechanisms at different times; however, specific defense mechanisms are strongly associated with personality types, and these particular coping strategies are most obvious when the learner is dealing with difficult issues.

Body Center Challenges: "Why would you want to do that?"


Although learners may say they both want and plan to change something, they may possess neither a deep desire to make the change nor the necessary will and endurance. Learners usually expect the developer to respond by saying, "That's great. How will you go about doing it?" Consequently, a "Why would you want to do that?" question, stated in a neutral voice, constructively challenges learners to reflect more deeply on their wishes and intentions. As a result of the "Why would you want to do that?" question, the learner either changes his or her course of action or becomes more deeply committed to the original plan.

In a coaching meeting with his mentor, Michael says, "I've decided what to do about the promotion I want. I'm going to get a degree-one that is not required but is suggested for the job."


CHALLENGE "Why would you want to go back to school for a degree?"

The "Why would you want to do that?" challenge is also useful when learners articulate a plan of behavior that could be counterproductive to their goals or best interests. For example, if the learner says to the developer, 'I’m going to walk into my coworker's office and tell this person that the work he/ she produces is the lowest quality I have ever received;' the developer would say, "Why would you want to do that?" After listening to the response, the developer can help the learner explore his or her anger and realize that there are alternative ways to communicate with the coworker about the issue.

Transformative Challenges: Paradoxes

Paradoxes, or apparent contradictions, pose frustrating yet motivating dilemmas for learners. The learner's paradox is this: The learner truly wants something and believes that his or her behavior is designed to achieve that result. However, more often than not, the learner's own behavior is the primary impediment to the achievement of the desired goal. After developers issue a paradoxical challenge, they need to remain silent so that learners feel compelled to resolve the paradox themselves. Developers who are learning the paradoxical challenge technique can use the following structure: "Although you say you want X, your behavior actually creates Y."

The following example illustrates how to use the paradox technique to stimulate learners to change.

Jake desperately wanted recognition and influence in his firm. However, he was regularly late for staff meetings, and he often had not read the pre-meeting materials that had been assigned as preparation. As a result, he often asked questions during the meetings on topics that had already been covered in the pre-meeting materials or discussed at the meeting prior to his arrival.

Jake deeply desires recognition and influence; however, his lateness and lack of preparation create the impression that he does not take the work seriously, thus undermining both the recognition he receives and the amount of influence he wields in the firm


"Jake, let's examine your behavior both before and during staff meetings, and then let's analyze how this behavior may actually be affecting your degree of influence and the extent to which you get recognition."

The paradoxical challenges are deep-level paradoxes that should be used only with moderate or high self-mastery learners. Low self-mastery learners are not in a psychological state to handle the complexity and ambiguity inherent in the resolution of this level of paradox, and deep-level or complex paradoxes can increase their anxiety. While less powerful paradoxes can be used with these learners, developers should do so with caution.

Mentoring New PMs (Part 8 of 8)
Mentoring New PMs (Part 6 of 8)


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Tuesday, 25 September 2018
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