The Ultimate Supportive Coach: Balancing Challenging and Cheerleading
“I’m challenging you on that all-or-nothing thinking, Carolyn, what’s up with that?”
When this message came from a coach (I’ll refer to as Jess), my body tensed as I realized sharing that something “always” happens. Jess’ observation was on point, yet I felt she was off base in how she expressed it. Her nonverbal communication was supportive; however, her verbal message shut my communication down for a moment.
I later shared the experience with a coach colleague, whom I’ll call Shayna. She asked what Jess might have said or done differently. I shared wording I might have used: “Your commitment to move forward on this is clear—I noticed you just say it ‘always’ happens, which can be limiting, absolute thinking. How might shifting that viewpoint make a difference?”
Shayna then asked what my response would’ve been to that question. The flood gates opened. I had an aha moment and developed an action plan to address it within minutes! I thanked her for prompting my preferred wording. Shayna smiled, saying she was glad it worked and then shared that she personally preferred Jess’ wording, adding that she would have been a bit invigorated at being challenged on something she said.
I started pondering that coaching conversation more: a message that shut my communication down momentarily, would have invigorated Shayna! As a Certified Practitioner of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which is a tool to determine personality preferences, I immediately thought of some typical communication differences—based on personality type—which seemed to be at play.
All MBTI personality preferences and facets are equal, each having strengths as well as growth areas. Each of our personalities is comprised of all the preferences and facets, and it’s a matter of shifting to the opposite, as needed, for development and effectiveness in and outside of coaching. The pair group that most fits this situation is the Thinking (T) and Feeling (F) preferences, which have the following facets:
In my experience, communication issues can often arise between individuals with opposite preferences -and/or facet. Here is an example:
I worked with someone I’ll refer to as Caitlin who shared having an MBTI “Tough” preference; my MBTI results are in the “Tender” preference. I found Caitlin to be overly abrupt and harshly direct—and she felt I “sugar-coated” when communicating, needlessly buffering messages to deliver key information. Both of our styles were effective—and ineffective—depending on whether we were communicating with a client of the same personality preference as our own.
Does it make more sense that Jess’ comment didn’t land with me? Her challenge felt too direct and abrupt, and I didn’t feel supported despite her positive nonverbal communication. By owning my “Tender” preference more so since that experience, I’ve been able to manage tension when someone with a “Tough” preference is communicating (likely Jess and Shayna’s preference.)
In my experience, people with a “T” preference and/or related facet, such as “Tough,” tend to have increased comfort challenging clients, while people with an “F” preference and/or related facet, such as “Tender,” tend to be more comfortable with cheerleading clients (by encouraging, acknowledging, etc.)
There’s power in realizing these personality communication differences as a coach. We can shift and frame language to ensure what we communicate truly lands with clients, whether sharing a challenge or encouragement. You’ll know if your communication style isn’t landing by reading nonverbal communication and by listening to language—is it more to the point (Tough) or more diplomatic (Tender)?
Based on reading this article, if you self-identify as having more of a “Tough” preference when communicating with someone with more of a “Tender” preference, work at softening the message, making it less abrupt and more acknowledging. If you tend to have more of a “Tender” preference, practice being more direct and to the point in your communications with others you suspect might have a “Tough” preference.
Knowing, or having a sense of, whether you have a “T” or “F” preference and/or facet, and adjusting communication with clients based on their preference, can directly contribute to bringing the following elements of the ICF Core Competencies to coaching conversations: creating a supportive environment, employing a style that is open, and using language that has the greatest positive impact on the client. In my view, these are key components of being an Ultimate Supportive Coach!
© Carolyn Hamilton-Kuby 2019 All Rights Reserved