How Can I Get Better At Coaching Difficult People

//How Can I Get Better At Coaching Difficult People

How Can I Get Better At Coaching Difficult People

Many years ago, (I won’t count how many if you don’t mind!,) I was introduced to a couple of different coaching principles that I was encouraged to use as I built my coaching expertise. 


Here they are-> 

The meaning of communication is the response you get’ and ‘People are doing the best they can with the resources they have’.

I don’t mind admitting that it took me a while to completely get my head around both these statements. You see, the first one is implying that how someone responds to me is entirely down to meI know makes your head hurt a bit, doesn’t it.

Then I am expected to believe that a team member who is making life difficult for their colleagues, clients, themselves and yes me…is doing the best that they can…really? 

Fast forward in time and having learnt, in some cases the hard waythese two principles have stood me in good stead; especially in terms of getting better at coaching difficult people. 

In this post, I am going to share why these principles made such a difference to the way I coach and handling those challenging individuals.  

Let me start by exploring the two principles.   

‘The Meaning Of Communication Is The Response You Get’

When I am working with a team of managers, I will often hear phrases such as; 

‘They just don’t understand what I am asking them to do’ 

‘It’s gone over their heads’ 

I don’t get it; they did what I asked them not to do’ 

It’s simple if your team or an individual does not understand you; it’s rarely about their lack of intellect. 99% of the time it’s about how you communicated what you did, the language you used, your style of communication, maybe the detail you did or didn’t use. Put in another way; it’s about what you said, the way you said it or what you didn’t ‘t say. Either way, it’s about YOU, not your team or team member. 

As soon as I understood this, it opened up enormous opportunities for me to do things differently when communicating and coaching, especially difficult people. I will explain more later.


People Are Doing The Best They Can With The Resources They Have’. 

Now this may seem a hard concept to follow as you may find yourself thinking, ‘there is no way my difficult person is doing the best that they can!’

Let’s take a closer look at resources – there is time, money, energy, creativity, experience…  When we look at it from this perspective, we often notice where the gap is.  When I’m tired my energy is lower, my decision making or ability to focus, or listen may not be the same quality.  Consequently the outcome won’t be the same as when that resource is high.  Now it’s not like a get out of jail free card.  I still have to learn from this and take responsibility for myself.  However it is right at that moment I really am doing the best I can with the resources I have.   

What we tend to do is judge, sometimes took quickly.  Let’s think of another situation; years ago you learned to walk.  Hopefully, your parents were kind to you when you fell over.  They praised you, offered words of encouragement, highlighting progress if not directly to you then when they were talking with other parents.  Some people learned to crawl before they walked, others went straight to walking, each took their own route and length of time.  And at the end we can walk, run, maybe even dance; no one said about being in time to the music on that last one.  Again selfimposed judgement.  Notice how quickly we do it.   

Unfortunately we can be less compassionate with adults than we are with children. We judge them and expect more based on what we believe they ‘should’ be able to do. Without checking to see if that was possible at that moment.  A habit which can quickly erode someones confidence. 

How Do These Principles Relate To Getting Better At Coaching Difficult People? 

Before you start thinking about improving your coaching skills further, think about how you can change the mindset and beliefs you hold when you coach. 

How can you start?   

1. Take responsibility for how you are communicating with your problem team member.

Ask yourself, how has your style of communication, and what you said contributed to creating the problem? Be honest with yourself, because you have added to the situation in some way.

Knowing this what will you now do differently? 

2. Coming from a place where you now believe that your team member is doing the best they can with the resources they have, answer the following for yourself;

a) What is the problem I now see related to this team member?
b) What can I do differently as a manager to resolve the problem as I now see it?
c) What precisely can I now coach my team member on so that they contribute to resolving 
   the problem…if indeed they have contributed to it!

Here’s an example that many of you will relate to; 

You have a team member who hasn’t been performing at their usual level for a few months.  Their motivation is low, and they have been doing just enough to get by, yet this isn’t what they usually do. 
Their mood, lack of interest, lower productivity and engagement with the rest of the team is now creating problems.

The manager tells the employee in no uncertain terms to get their performance back on track, or there will be consequences. The employee responds by saying the manager is threatening them and to back off or they will submit a complaint. Ouch…..! 

The meaning of communication is the response you get!

So, when the manager said what they said, the employee created a meaning around the word consequencesFor example this could have been that their job was at risk. The manager, on the other hand, may have meant that it would trigger a performance improvement plan being instigated, which is clearly different than thinking you are going to lose your job. 

Also, the belief about the person not doing their best and a potential fear of having to deal with personal motivational issues are preventing the manager from exploring motivation in a coaching conversation. 

If they did, the manager would have discovered more, for example

The employees mood and motivation was low because their partner was going through some serious 
life-changing health issues and they were stressed out and hadn’t felt able or didn’t think it appropriate to share what was happening with anyone at work. 

Had the manager known this, they would have realised their team member was probably doing a  good job all things considered. 


The lessons then are:  

1. Stop judging and hold the belief that people are doing the best that they can.  

2. Seek first to understand, before being understood 

3. If someone doesn’t understand what you are asking of them, it’s down to you to change how you are communicating so that your message is received and understood it to be.  

4. Change your mindset when coaching and see how your coaching and outcomes improve.

Which of the two principles can make the most significant difference to your coaching? Test them out and let me know.  

Until next time. 





About blue pea POD 

At blue pea POD, we are in the business of enabling leaders and organisations understand who they are, their identity and purpose, creating the profitable future they desire now.   

Blue Pea POD works internationally with a client base that includes the FMCG, Retail, and Pharmaceuticals sectors. You can subscribe to our podcast here and then if you would like to find out more about how we can help you get in contact here. Or call +44(0) 845 123 1280 

2019-12-10T11:53:20+00:00By |Coaching|
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