Don’t project

30th July 2013

When you’re coaching someone, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “projecting”. This is when you project your feelings onto them, and assume they’re thinking the same as you would, if you were in their position.

So, for example, if you hate making presentations to senior audiences, you could mistakenly assume they felt the same, and coach them how to overcome something that they weren’t even worried about.

That’s not coaching.

Instead, coaching is helping people achieve what they want to. If you like, you “only” need to help them know:

  • Their objectives
  • How they can achieve them

And how do you establish these? By asking them. You may prompt them with your guidance and questions. But it must come from them.

You see good examples of this in all sorts of situations. For instance:

  • My lawyers always start by asking me “what’s your end game, Andy?” rather than “I think you should do X”
  • Relate – the marriage guidance charity – used to debrief by asking their counsellors whether counselling had helped their clients “carry on together or separate with less hostility”. In other words, it was never a case of “did you keep them together, then?” because that’s not always the optimum outcome
  • Good salespeople ask what you want to achieve, not presume that – because their last customer wanted X – so will you

Most coaches imagine they don’t project. So, help yourself discover whether you do, by applying the following to someone you coach:

  • Write down their top three priorities (a good guide: this is what they’d say if they were talking honestly to one of their best friends). Can you do it easily? Check you’re right by showing it to them
  • When you’re coaching them, do you often think they’re “wrong”, and try and talk them round to your way of thinking?
  • Ask them whether they feel you project your views onto them sometimes
  • If people observe you coaching others, ask them what they think

I am not assuming you do this (that would almost be a form of projecting!). But it’s worth checking that you’re not doing it.

You’ll either find you’re not (a good thing) or that you are (a good thing to know).

Action point

Use the four bullets to make sure that you are helping others achieve what they want, not what you think they want.

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