There is a mass of evidence from positive psychology literature which clearly demonstrates that emphasising what is working well, and enabling the expression of strengths, is much more likely to generate insights and create positive shifts in individuals.
However, being more positive in your coaching isn’t a simple matter. It’s not just about being nice or simply doing “positive thinking”. Rather, it takes focus and discipline to work with the very real human predisposition to attribute negatively and focus in on what is going wrong. This appears to be true both when we think about managing ourselves, and in encouraging a positive approach for our coachees.
As coaches we can actively engage in behaviours and attitudes that contribute to a more positive environment for our coaching relationships.
We hope that you find the following tips useful, and of course would welcome your feedback about the impact of trying them out. Good luck!
1. Recognise that the mindset you hold as a coach is fundamentally important
Recognise and accept that the mindset that you bring to a coaching conversation really does influence the nature of that conversation. If you are able to focus on adopting a positive mindset, it is more likely that you will actively connect with a strengths-based and appreciatively focussed approach. It is very useful to spend time actively engaging with and connecting to the mindset you want to hold and express through your coaching before sessions begin, while sessions are in progress, and at the end of the session.
2. Begin conversations with a focus on what has been working since last time
When you begin your conversations with a positive orientation, it is likely that this will influence the rest of the conversation. Remember there is a tendency for most people to focus in on what isn’t working, and as a coach you can help your coachees to orientate towards what is working well. Adopting the discipline of asking about highlights, successes, insights and learnings at the beginning of your conversation; rather than simply asking “how have you been” or “what’s been happening”, will introduce a positive focus that may well assist the coachee to access the resources that come from a more positive state.
3. Celebrate progress
It is important to intentionally celebrate any win or progress, no matter how small or insignificant it may appear. People often need help and encouragement to see that they are moving in the direction that they intend to be moving in, especially when they are working through difficult situations or in challenging circumstances. Being vigilant for signs of success and evidence of progress, and feeding that back to your coachees thereby encouraging them to recognise and celebrate their progress can help create a more positive approach.
4. Encourage reflection on what is working
One of the basic tenets of an appreciative approach is that in any system something is working. It is useful to help coachees adopt this perspective when exploring a difficult issue or challenging situation, particularly in the “reality” stage of the coaching process. Asking questions that encourage reflection about what does work well or even to what is currently functioning as it needs to, is a useful way to orient the coaching conversation towards a more positive frame of reference. The potential effect is that coachees feel more positive about their situation and can connect with their own sense of resourcefulness.
5. Focus on the future and the positive things coming
You can bring a more positive approach to your coaching by remembering to focus on the future that your coachees are working towards. People come to coaching because they want to see an improvement in some area of their lives – and coaching supports people to set goals that are an expression of that preferred improvement. Effectively, this means that there is a more positive future that is preferential to the current reality. It’s useful to regularly refer to, reflect on and build a sense of that positive future during your coaching conversations. The benefits include a sense of positive expectation, connection with the “why” of the coaching, and more engagement with the coaching process.
6. Focus on positive emotions that will be experienced when a goal is achieved
Ask yourself why it is that people want to move towards a goal or outcome? No matter what the goals is, one common feature is that people believe that moving towards a desired outcome is going to make them feel better. It is well established that a good feeling state and the accompanying positive emotions give rise to a more positive outlook and better thinking. By focussing with coachees on how they are going to feel when a goal or outcome is achieved, you can assist them to access the resources that are elicited from those positive emotions.
7. Challenge coachees to reframe difficult situations to also include a positive view
A significant part of good coaching is to introduce challenge appropriately. And being more positive doesn’t mean we can’t be challenging. We can challenge beliefs, assumptions, fixed views of reality, language, behaviours, etc., and the purpose of this is to raise awareness and help a coachee to expand their viewpoint, thereby creating access to new insights and opportunities for alternative ways forward. When a coachee is stuck in their thinking about a difficult situation, you can challenge them to include a more positive orientation. For example, ask them about “any potentially positive outcomes?”, or “what will the situation be like in 5 years time?”, or “does everyone sees the situation in the same way?”
8. Use humour where appropriate
Introducing humour to a coaching session is allowed, and often very much appreciated! Of course it is important to use humour appropriately, but bringing a sense of lightness and enjoyment to a conversation has numerous benefits. For a start, it makes a conversation more enjoyable, and importantly can create distance and perspective particularly around difficult topics. Using humour also accesses positive emotions and assists people to feel more resourceful.
9. Maintain a positive view of yourself as coach
If you want to bring a more positive approach into your coaching, a good start is to see yourself more positively as a coach. While this might sound obvious, many coaches carry self-critical and limiting beliefs about their ability to coach. I have found that most of the time these less than positive views are related to perceptions about whether the coachee is gaining benefit from the session rather than the actual behaviour or ability of the coach. You can work with building a more positive identity by reflecting on your role as a coach and giving responsibility for deriving solutions back to the coachee. If you focus on your ability to do the basics like listening well, asking good questions that raise awareness, challenging appropriately and giving responsibility (which of course are the things that are in your control as coach), you can focus in on the value you bring. If you see yourself positively, and build a positive coaching identity, it is very likely that you will create a more positive environment for your coaching.
10. Believe in the resourcefulness of coachees
At the heart of creating a more positive approach in your coaching is seeing resourcefulness and potential in your coachees. While good in theory, at times this is not as easy as it sounds. It can take tremendous discipline to focus on potential when you don’t see much evidence of the coachee focussing on what is possible. I like to call this the coach’s ability to have “bi-focal vision”. That is, for the coach to acknowledge and respond to the coachee’s current behaviour, while also focussing on and believing in their potential to be more. Ask yourself the questions, “do I really believe in the potential of my coachee to achieve their goal?”; “do I really believe they are resourceful?”. What you believe about your coachee has an enormous impact, and sometimes your coachees need you to believe in what’s possible for them before they are able to believe it. When you “hold” their potential it creates a space for them to convince themselves, and through this process, they can access the inherent resourcefulness that they embody.