Everything You Wanted to Know About Communication Coaching and Were Afraid To Ask
Is communication coaching right for me?
It is hard to know if you need a coach when you aren’t sure what a communication coach can do. I’ll be breaking down coaching sessions and two typical client profiles so you can get a better idea of how you could benefit from improving your skills.
What is a communication coach?
A communication coach helps people become better communicators at work and in their personal lives by changing perspectives, breaking bad habits, and building new ones.
What kinds of issues can a communication coach help with?
We can break all communication down into three parts:
Input - This is any information you are getting outside of yourself, including listening, reading, and non-verbal cues like tone and body language.
Processing - The most underrated step of communication and where I focus much of my effort. Processing is your interpretation of the input, figuring out what you’d like to achieve, and the method by which to achieve it.
Output - The actions and words that you put out into the world.
Often when clients come to me, their focus is on the third and final phase, output, but without a solid foundation of the first two, it doesn’t matter what you are saying without a full understanding of the context in which you are saying it.
To answer the question directly, communication coaches can give you tools to better speak and write, but they also guide you to better understand people and how to work with them.
What do sessions look like?
My sessions are 45 minutes long weekly, which I have found to be the perfect time to get shit done without wasting time.
The goal of our first session is for me to gain a better understanding of the issue you want to solve, and for you to learn what I can do to help and how you can help yourself.
This means that after you break down your situation, I will ask you follow-up questions. For some of these questions, you’ll know the answer off the top of your head, and for the others, you’ll need some time to ask around or reflect upon.
Here is a sample line of questioning I may go down:
What are you trying to improve on?
What have you tried in the past?
Are there any particular situations where you have the most difficulty? I.e. in groups, in front of a certain person, in person vs online, when others are feeling a powerful emotion.
Why does that specific emotion trigger you? Have you had an unpleasant experience that started this response?
How do you react in the body and mind when it is happening?
How do you feel afterward?
Once you’ve given your assessment, I like to do one of my own.
If we can simulate the area of improvement in our sessions, i.e. a presentation, interview, or interpersonal conflict, we roleplay through the situation.
Otherwise, I rely on recordings or future post-analysis once I’ve given you points to look out for.
Why do we need to have an assessment?
It’s not that I don’t trust my clients. However, when we are in the thick of it, it's hard to see the entire forest. My job as the coach is to identify blind spots and make sure we are focusing on the areas that can make the biggest difference.
A common problem my clients feel they have is a lack of vocabulary. They feel if they improve their vocabulary, they will appear more professional and more persuasive.
In my assessments, I’ve seen that while there is room for growth in vocab, they also get very technical, explaining the project in chronological order, since that is how they experienced the project. They could better spend their efforts on understanding their audience, and prioritizing the information that addresses their concerns, and what they need to gain approval.
I can shed light on cultural barriers, expose them to different styles of communication and help them grow into the communicator that they want to be.
Once we have finished our assessment and agreed upon what we want to work on, we move forward to planning.
I will give you suggestions on how to improve on your own and what we can do within our sessions.
In our following sessions together, we usually do a mixture of the following three.
New information - I present information to give you a better understanding of the cause or ways forward, which we then question, dissect and discuss in depth. This helps us absorb the information and builds our critical thinking.
Practice - We apply the methods we have learned and I give you immediate feedback. This allows you to get practice in a safe space and make mistakes in a low-risk environment. When you go out and do it in the real world, you’ll already have experience and can integrate it into your life long term.
Consultation - Looking at past situations where you could have done better or future situations you need more preparation for, we discuss the input, processing, and output to gain understanding and perspective.
In my experience, as we progress in our goals and I get to know my clients better, priorities change and we may discover a different goal that is more pressing to improve their lives.
That’s fine, but how about tangible examples so you can better envision what we can do?
Here are two common examples of communication issues that I’ve tackled with clients and what our plan moving forward from the first session looked like.
1. The Newbie
The Newbie has just joined a company where visibility is very important for success. They don’t feel comfortable speaking up in group meetings because they feel their ideas don’t matter and will slow everyone else down.
After a meeting, they may follow up with the host in Slack if they have questions.
Found it difficult to jump in even when they had questions
Wasn’t sure where and how to interrupt politely
Had a thought to share BUT felt like the topic had passed by the time they were ready
Found this problem in their native tongue when in a group of friends as well
This is not a language barrier but a cultural one
Growing up in one culture then working in another can be jarring. In one speaking up is the sign of a proactive problem solver and in another, it is the sign of a troublemaker. I like to break down cultural differences in communication to understand how others perceive our actions differently. Breaking down cultural norms and expectations we live by to see differences helps build a new and hopefully more accurate perspective on our actions.
Uncertainty and the fear of looking silly holds back The Newbie, so templates and phrases to fall back on will take the guesswork out of the chaos. As they become more comfortable speaking out, they can adapt or completely abandon these frameworks.
Interrupting politely: phrases and methods of doing it effectively and constructively
Templates: Learning the order of presenting information that optimizes being concise and informative.
The only way to change 20+ years of habits is to break them. I challenge my clients to small, doable steps that can add up to big change.
Change Your View: observe how others react when someone interrupts
Are the comments welcomed and are others showing displeasure?
Test it out: ask a clarifying question in a group meeting
Share your thoughts: prepare 3 comments and share at least 1 in group meeting
2. The Efficiency Seeker
The Efficiency Seeker wants to reduce the time spent in meetings and writing emails so they can get to the actual work. They have tried setting up templates, agendas, and different workflows but recently had another project added to their workload.
Emails - lots of back and forth, across time zones, so efficiency is low.
Workload - There are additional responsibilities added on consistently. From double the average project load to interviewing, onboarding, mentoring newbies and being asked to take care of office conflicts, additional task forces, and helping others struggling.
While we can improve our communication efficiency, no amount of efficiency will give you over 24 hours in a day.
The Efficiency Seeker needs to understand that time management and efficient communication aren’t enough to solve the root of their problem. I had them estimate how many hours they would need to complete their workload in a week, including the meetings that they felt were essential.
The total was over 90 hours per week.
Once they saw that number, they understood something else had to change.
A quick fix and easy to implement, we improve email communication by writing with the audience in mind. Clearly state the request, provide relevant information to address their concerns, and provide a timeline to minimize back and forth.
We want to guide participants to more effective time usage. By sticking to an agenda, being selective in who needs to be present and allowing people to leave early when they are no longer needed for the meeting action, saves time and team morale.
Career Goals & Boundaries
The root of the problem is less in their emails and meetings but in the never-ending to do list that can drown you to burnout. It is important for the efficiency seeker to identify then discuss career goals with your manager. By setting boundaries and let your team/manager know where you can help and what the trade-offs will be if you take on other responsibilities, they can learn to turn down tasks that take you away from your goals and to make opportunities towards them.
So did you find your answer?
As you can see, communication coaching is hard work. Reflections and reexamination of the day-to-day habits that have become a part of you. I could challenge and maybe even change your reality, which will have to make you rethink how you want to live your life in the future.
Or you can learn a few nifty tips and tricks that will save you time and headaches.
Both are valid and can forge lasting changes in your life.
I am a Communication Coach.
I help my clients discover how they can break through the noise and deliver their messages confidently to make their impact on the world.
I am here to help you uncover ways to do just that!