Helping Coaching Clients Obtain the Data They Need
In God we trust. All others need to bring data. Years ago, in the heyday of the Quality Management movement, I had a colleague that adopted this as his mantra. He believed that data collection was the heart of successful change.
Collecting data is a key way that coaches help clients create awareness. Creating Awareness, in addition to being one of the 11 ICF Core Competencies, is one of the greatest gifts of coaching. It is also a gateway to two other ICF Core Competencies, Designing Actions and Planning and Goal Setting. As a coach, collecting data, input or feedback to help clients expand their self-awareness is essential.
Yet, if methods used to collect data aren’t suitable for the client or their goals, it can be useless or even detrimental. Your data collection method must provide useful information from which your client can learn, and it must meet them where they are. To that end, let’s examine several methodologies.
360-Degree Feedback Surveys
Often used in organizations, 360-degree feedback surveys help clients understand how they show up with others. Multiple evaluators answer questions about the client’s behaviors, using a Likert scale (such as 1-5). A computer-generated report presents the aggregated data.
Clients whose central coaching goals involve leadership or interpersonal relations benefit the most. Although the surveys can be time-consuming for organizations, they are relatively economical, and clients benefit from direct feedback from coworkers, bosses and direct reports (hence, the term “360”).
While the process can be eye-opening for clients that are genuinely curious about and dedicated to improvement, caution is needed with those that are vulnerable or likely to be negatively impacted by potentially harsh data. Clients can be baffled or disheartened by critical feedback to the point of being devastated. If in doubt as to whether a client will benefit or wither from the process, simply ask. After having the process, benefits and potential pitfalls explained, clients can decide if they are receptive.
360-Degree Feedback Interviews
As an alternative or addition to 360-degree survey tools, feedback interviews render rich fodder; coach interviewers adjust the questions on the spot to explore issues that emerge or to seek clarification. Evaluators are often more candid with a skilled third-party interviewer than they would be with the client.
The benefit of this more intuitive process is the coach’s ability to share not just data points or scores, but also the explanations behind them. Evaluators often seem more balanced and thoughtful than they might be when completing a survey. And, coaches can present the data in a way that is appropriate for the development of the client.
A potential downside of this highly personalized process is the relative time and cost. While a benefit of the process is the coach’s ability to personally interpret and present the data, coaches must take care to remain objective and include all relevant data.
Although many clients lack the desire or ability to conduct their own interviews, others find tremendous benefit in the process. Clients not comfortable with potentially negative feedback may unwittingly thwart the process, but those who are emotionally open to constructive feedback will encourage it, using techniques their coach can suggest.
For instance, a client seeking feedback can ask “negative questions” preceded by “positive questions” to open up their evaluators. Asking “When do you most want me on your team?” followed by “When might you rather not have me on the team?” decreases the reluctance of the evaluator to provide a constructive comment by giving them the opportunity to first say something positive.
Clients who successfully conduct their own feedback interviews report it to be a tremendously empowering experience.
Personality and Other Self-Assessments
So far, these methods all involve other people supplying data to our clients. But 360-feedback is often neither necessary nor helpful. Clients are not always emotionally ready to tackle 360-feedback. Sometimes, it is simply not relevant, such as when the coaching challenges are more internal to the client.
Often it is more useful, and frequently less threatening, to help clients use their own input to reflect. To this end, popular assessments such as the MBTI, DISC, and many other economical, well-designed assessments provide clients with a deeper look at their own personality, preferences, emotional intelligence, strengths and much more.
Many coaches are familiar with self-observation as a tool for self- discovery. We forget that self-observing is another method of collecting data. When we encourage clients to separate the doer from the observer in themselves and carefully watch their feelings, reactions and emotions, we help them collect some of the most valuable, actionable data possible.