Coachability and feedback

Let’s say that you hire a coach; perhaps you want to be healthier and you find a suitable health coach. How coachable are you going to be?

That may seem like a silly question; after all, if you hire a plumber you are going to stand aside, maybe ask a few questions, the answers to which you may or may not understand, and then let him get on with his work. If you take your car to a garage to be serviced, you will probably just let them do what they say is necessary unless it is outrageously expensive (and probably even then, unless you happen to be a mechanic). So why is it that many people pay a coach good money but don’t really listen to what the coach is saying or spend most of their time trying to think up clever ways to show the coach that she doesn’t really understand them, and even if the coach did, they don’t really have anything much to offer that will be useful or relevant to their situation, which they believe to be unique.

Here’s where the concept of coachability comes in. Psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic believes that there are ‘four critical barriers to change’ that a coaching client needs to overcome if they are to get good value from their investment in coaching. These are:

  • Responsive to feedback
  • The will to change
  • Going against your nature
  • Long-term persistence

Of these four, I have found responsiveness to feedback to be primary. The human capacity to avoid receiving feedback in the first place, and to dismiss it in the second place, is seemingly unlimited. Most people know, at least with their rational mind, that feedback either received directly from a neutral coach, is likely to be highly relevant useful to the success of the coaching programme, which after all has as its aim the improvement or development or change of the client in one way or another.

And yet, the emotions of the client all too often outright reject the feedback as inaccurate, unfair, biased, unbalanced, or simply irrelevant. This is not to say that a coach can never be biased. Of course not, coaches are as human and fallible as everyone else. However, an intelligent and resourceful client will not find it too difficult to come up with spurious reasons to reject feedback. One of the more devious ways to do this is to agree that it is all accurate and helpful and so very useful. Flat rejection and an over-eagerness to take it on board are simply two sides of the same coin: tried and tested tactics to not receiving and thus having to process the feedback.

Of course, no one likes to hear unpleasant truths. That is understandable. However, we are not talking here about a social gathering, but a purposeful conversation between two adults with the express goal of bringing about sustainable change in one of them. Without some goal or purpose, and an understanding of the current state of affairs, how can anyone possibly know what might need to be done to get from here to there?

Here’s a challenge for you. Instead of waiting for feedback and standing braced to reject it one way or another, how about actively seeking it out? It might not be that painful after all. Living in a feedback-free zone is habit-forming. It may feel safe and secure but only in the way that an ostrich with its head in the sand feels secure. Be brave, and go out there are ask for it. How to do so? One way recommended by executive coach Tom Henschel is to:

  • Ask often
  • Ask for behaviour
  • Respond short

Ask often because the giver of feedback knows that ‘to tell truth to power’ is risky.

Ask for behaviour because no one can change their personality. However, everyone can change how they behave, and may choose to do so if they come to understand how aggravating it can be for those with whom they mix, or how damaging to their health and well-being.

Respond short because no giver of feedback wants to have to overcome resistance; who needs it? Just say “thanks” or, if necessary, ask for clarification or examples. Don’t argue with the giver or justify your behaviour if you ever want honest feedback from them (or those they talk to) again.

What about you? How open are you to receiving feedback? Do you feel free to give feedback to others? Let us know in the comments below.


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