August 3, 2015
“Are you clear about what your client wants?” I asked this of one of our new participants learning Meta-Coaching not too long ago. She did not hesitate, not for a second, “Yes!” “You are?!” I responded trying my best to sound incredulous as I could. I then commented, “I’m really confused, I don’t know anything about what your client is speaking about, I t’s all very vague to me.” I said this hoping to get a question from the coach-in-training. But no. Nothing. I looked at the benchmarker, but he did not have anything else to say. No. So she started up again and as predicted, for the next four or five minutes the session didn’t go anywhere.
At that point I asked the benchmarker if he wanted to interrupt. After all, that was my job. I was supervising the benchmarkers and sitting in with each of them to see how they were doing and to give them feedback about their supervising of the coaching sessions. “Yes? No?” He said “yes” and then said a few words to the coach, but he didn’t address the ongoing lack of clarity. So I interrupted again. We do this in Meta-Coaching because of our basic principle, we do not want people to coach wrong. They can do that anywhere so we don’t want them to do that here.
This time when I interrupted I said, “What’s preventing this from progressing? I think it is the lack of clarity, the theme of the session has not be grounded. Here are ten things about what your client wants which I would need to know if I were to coach the client…” And then I mentioned at least 10 items that were not clear to me about what the client was saying. Then to drive home the point of getting these details, I asked the client, “Do you know the answer to these things?” “No,” she did not. “Do you think you need to?” “Yes.”
At the end of the session we spent most of the 15 minutes for the benchmarker to provide feedback to the coach on his or her skills and to then debrief the structure of the session. Once that was complete, I asked the benchmarker what he had learned. He thought and thought and finally said something about the value of grounding the session. I commented that his answer was just about as vague as the coach had been. “So what will you do differently next time?” Again he was nearly speechless. Then he was saved by the bell so we had to quit.
Later the other Meta-Coach trainer and myself chose nine benchmarkers of the 18 to be those officially qualified to “sign off” Meta-Coaches when they sit for assessment. We thought those nine had sufficient skills to give feedback and benchmark the skills. But the previous benchmarker was one of the nine not chosen. He and another one didn’t like the fact that they were not chosen. But they didn’t say that to me directly. I heard about it from someone else who heard it. In fact, I later found out that they were pretty upset about it.
Among the other seven who were also not chosen, they asked learning-based questions, “Why do you think I’m not ready to sign people off?” “What do I need to do so that I can be ready?” The other two could have asked those kinds of questions. They could have said, “I want to be officially recognized as someone with the skill to give feedback and benchmark and sign someone off as having reached the competency level. What skill should I work on?” If they had, I would have given them specific details about their skills, examples, and what to do to reach that level. After all, the purpose of supervising them is to enable them to develop the required skills.
Now on the skill of Receiving Feedback we have at the 3.0 level the behavior of asking questions, exploring what to do, and then getting excited about knowing what to do that will make a difference. Yet these two actually demonstrated the opposite of that skill. Instead of treating the feedback as important information for their learning and development, they got upset. They talked about it, or rather complained, to others. And in doing this, they showed that they actually had not developed the skill of receiving feedback and using it for learning. They showed that they didn’t have the right attitude and that would have made them a very poor example of receiving of feedback effectively. For me that was further evidence that they were not ready to sign others off. If they can’t receive feedback, they are not ready to give it.
They probably need to repeat what we do on Day 2 of the ACMC training— create a personalized Matrix for receiving feedback effectively. In that way they could reframe the feedback as valuable information, as data for learning, as a way to sharpen their skills, as a tool for accelerating their learning, etc. For the majority of people who attend the training, this is essential. That’s because most people get “feedback” in school and early job experiences which is not “feedback” at all but judgment, criticism, rejection, and insult. No wonder the word “feedback” is so loaded semantically that it puts people off and even induces a state of fear and dread!
Yet ultimately real feedback (what people say and do) is just information. At best it is the persons experience of you through that person’s filters and background. Hopefully the person has learned how to present it in a clean and objective way. If so, then it comes as an excellent opportunity for accelerating your learning. If so, ask more about it. Explore it with the person. If not, then realizing that most people don’t know how to give it in a clean and clear way so that it is high quality feedback, you may have to work to get it formulated in that way. Do that, and you will really have the ability to accelerate your learning.
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.