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How to manage resistance to coaching

Added - 04/10/2021

Unless you’ve personally benefited from coaching it can be difficult to fully understand its value and purpose. Its not unusual for people to think its “fluffy” or even to feel offended that it’s been offered to them.

It’s actually helpful when people at least vocalise their resistance as, sometimes, you just meet with passivity – putting off meetings with their coach or attending sessions but never actually changing their behaviour as result of coach input, so your investment is wasted.

When people are open about not wanting coaching they may give a number of reasons, from “its fluffy” to “I don’t think a coach could possibly have the right experience for me” and quite often “I don’t have time for coaching sessions” – usually from the very people who most would benefit from some time management coaching!

Whatever reason is given, it’s important to try and get under the skin of what is really causing the resistance. A few points to consider:

Think carefully about why you are offering coaching

Coaching is an excellent tool for helping to improve many situations but it isn’t a panacea. Coaching involves a two-way process of asking questions, exploring options, constructive challenge and reflection followed by periods of practising behaviour change. This is a dynamic and fluid process in which the coachee is helped to find their own solutions to issues and is open to learning and changing. If you actually need someone to perform a task or tackle an issue in a very specific or structured way, then you usually achieve better results by giving directions. Also if someone refuses to accept coaching, despite following some of the advice below, then don’t force it. If you are not open to coaching and refuse to consider any type of behaviour change then there is no point in making the investment. In extreme cases, if continued behaviour damages business or creates risk then a better outcome may be achieved by pursuing a disciplinary route.

Be open about why you are offering coaching

Often, resistance is caused by a feeling that coaching is being offered because the individual is somehow failing and it may be seen as a punishment. It may be that you think someone’s performance can be improved and that coaching will help, but how you frame this is important. Acknowledge the “what’s in it for me” of coaching i.e. I think you have a number of challenges coming up and I want to give you some support to help you meet your goals “.

The words you use are important too, being clear that this is confidential, using phrases like “personalised to your agenda and needs”, “a sounding board”, “experienced coach” etc help to take away the potential fear that the coach will be reporting back and confirming the “failings” or that the coachee will be exposed.

Build Trust

Coaching requires you to be open and perhaps make yourself vulnerable. There is often a perception that your behaviour or performance will be scrutinised, which most people find uncomfortable. When introducing coaching, it’s importance to acknowledge the persons successes and contributions. Solid performers who feel that they are on top of their roles may struggle to understand why you think they need coaching. Being very clear about what you value about their work, stating why you think they are worthy of an investment in coaching and what results you anticipate they will produce as a result, can be very helpful in establishing the trust necessary to overcome a barrier to coaching.

Breakdown perceived barriers

Another barrier to coaching may be a concern that the coach is not suitable for them. This can be overcome by agreeing mutual objectives from the coaching and creating a clear brief to the coach. Often people will say “I must have a coach who has been an engineer/worked in our sector/understands AI” etc. Whilst this can sometimes be helpful it is not necessary. Most coaching is about helping people to identify their barriers and explore options for solutions, not provide technical input. An experienced coach will have supported people from a wide range of backgrounds, in fact gaining varied perspectives is often a valuable part of the coaching experience.

Always allow the coachee to meet the intended coach for an initial chemistry session. Good chemistry and building trust is essential for coaching success. A skilled coach is usually able to build trust quickly in a first meeting and often this engages a reluctant coachee. It also enables the coachee to feel that they have some control over the process which often removes the perception that coaching is being forced on them. Also too, meeting a great coach can immediately remove the perception that coaching will be “fluffy” or not worth the time.

Ask questions

Seek to understand why they are resisting. Sometimes it’s just an immediate emotional reaction perhaps linked to feeling that you must think they are failing and so talking through with them can help to alleviate this fear. Make it clear too that you are committed to their success “I’d really like to understand what I can do to make you feel more comfortable about meeting with a coach” or “what can I do to make sure that you really benefit from a coaching programme?”. Focus your questions on something specific to enable them to identify possible benefits from coaching “if you could get some really valuable input that helps to resolve x issue how would you feel?” or “what’s the no 1 barrier you feel you are facing at the moment”

Help them to make an informed decision to choose coaching

Often resistance is simply due to a fear of the unknown. People who have never been coached can be very dismissive. Provide some background about what coaching is and how to best work with a coach that helps people to understand what the process is and what the benefits may be. This helps them to think differently about what’s being offered and start to identify what they could gain from coaching. 

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