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Coaching your people – reducing threat at a difficult time

The coronavirus pandemic is causing many to work from home, forcing teams to be disparate and leaving managers to try to lead both remotely and under immense pressure.

Employee engagement is vital at this time – workers need to be motivated, productive and fulfilled at a time of uncertainty. How can this be achieved?

Let me tell you more about how understanding specific neuroscience approaches can help you to coach your people through this difficult time.

The conscious vs unconscious self

Timothy Gallwey, regarded by many as the father of coaching, shared the theory that we consist of two parts, Self 1 and Self 2.

Self 1 is conscious, rational and thinking. Self 2 is our unconscious, intuitive self that largely works on autopilot. Interestingly, since the publication of his thinking in 1974, many of his findings have been backed up by neuroscience.  Self 1 can be equated to the logical brain (the pre-frontal cortex), and Self 2 to the emotional brain (the limbic system).

The pre-frontal cortex is the newest part of our brain, representing just 4% of its total mass. It gives us our rational abilities, but is limited in processing capability; is very energy hungry; and shuts down under stress.

Neuroscientists use the analogy that if our logical brain represents our pocket-change, the limbic system represents the global economy!  In short, our limbic system stores our total life experience.

Gallwey states that what gets in the way of top performance is our (logical) Self 1’s critical and judgemental chatter.

Using a tennis analogy, if we hit a bad shot, we reprimand ourselves, instructing ourselves what we should have done differently.  Often, others are also very keen to give us corrective advice.

In this state of mind, for the next shot, you now no longer see a ball, but a threat flying through the air – a threat of failure and a threat of further embarrassment.

Avoid threatening questions

As a leader, rather than corrective advice, it is far better to ask non-judgemental, descriptive questions. For instance, when teaching tennis, Gallwey suggests asking questions, such as, ‘which direction is the ball spinning as it approaches you?  Is it rising or falling on contact with the racket?’

Such questions create an awareness of the ball and its movement.  As the student becomes absorbed in noticing the flight of the ball, Self 1 is distracted from trying to control the shot, and Self 2 is left to learn how to play the shot, free from interference. Invariably, learning happens much faster and more naturally when threat and judgement are removed.

Gallwey summarises this in the formula: Performance = Potential – Interference (threat and judgement).

Unfortunately, the default way to manage others is by giving instructions and corrective advice. When we are over-instructed, rather than allowed to learn for ourselves, it inhibits the circuitry of our logical brain, which slows the whole process down, making it jerky, unnatural and hard work.

Hopefully, it will now be apparent that using a coaching technique, asking non-judgemental questions, is a better way to achieve long-term change and improved performance in both yourself and those you manage.

Currently, many employees are having to work from home. They are facing unprecedented challenges and difficult conditions. By not only allowing, but encouraging your people to work out their own solutions, it will not only create enduring change, but also a more engaged, learning culture at a time when motivation and productivity may reduce.

Ask open questions. Ask discovery questions. Ask how your people are feeling.

…but are your people telling you how they really feel?

You may have tried a threat-reducing and encouraging form of leading. You coach instead of micro-manage. You ask questions rather than throw out instructions. However, if your people are disparate and working from home, how do you know what their levels of engagement truly are and if they are feeling motivated? It is difficult.

Based on my passion for coaching and supporting leaders, I have created a new Remote Worker Engagement training scheme, for those managing teams who are all working from home.

Using a unique assessment system, which not only measures performance and fulfilment but also answer reliability, you can have truthful and open one-to-ones. At a time, when you need to be at your best, let us help you to get the best from your people and show them you truly care.

Learn more here:

Remote Worker Engagement