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Photo by Shiro Hatori

Establishing Communication

Communication is probably the single most important skill I work on with clients.  No matter the type of coaching, establishing communication with clear meaning and intention is vital for success.


Developing key words and phrases that hold pre-established meaning adds great value in any coaching relationship. One example in ski coaching includes creating easily repeatable code words to be used while the skier is moving down the mountain. Using the word “fold” communicates to the skier to begin flexing at the ankles and knees.  Establishing the word “fold” and its meaning was done in the learning part of the coaching process; creating an efficient way to communicate while moving down the hill.


Executives also benefit from creating key words to use when entering situations with pressure or conflict. I worked with one executive who recited “listen” during staff meetings – he became regarded as a great listener.  When working with a very dynamic and fast paced executive needing lots of space to formulate clear thoughts, we established she would use the code word “processing” so I knew when to let long silences pass in support of her flow of thought.


Coaching Skills

The executive coach uses process skills instead of subject matter expertise to develop an executive’s soft skills.  The executive coach uses the process of questioning, listening, and reflecting what the executive already knows.  This process empowers the executive to unleash existing knowledge in a way that moves them toward their self-identified goals.


The sports coach most often has the ability to  physically demonstrate or play back a video of the athlete and compare unwanted  movement to wanted movement. This tool isn’t readily used in the executive world because the new skills being developed are often more introspective rather than extro-spective. Sports coaches, most often, have physically experienced what they are teaching and are able to use that experience to communicate verbally and/or physically with the athletes.  In contrast, the executive coach may or may not have the same job skills as the executive. The point being, soft skills are soft skills and are experienced by all.


Another important difference when coaching in the executive world is that the leader may not be the sole content expert and tends to be more of a generalist who not only needs to grasp what others are doing but needs to learn from them as well. This opens a new dimension of communication in the executive world that isn’t necessarily there in the sports coaching world.


Roles of the Coach

The role of each type of coach also presents a difference that effects communication:

The ski coach is teaching whereas the executive coach is partnering.

The ski coach is telling whereas the executive coach is listening.

The ski coach is more often developing new skills whereas the executive coach is more often fostering already present skills and creating an environment for self-awareness.

As a result of these differences, the communication is different. Ultimately, the sports coach assesses the student whereas the executive coach supports the executive to assess him or her self.


The similarity for both coaches is in creating awareness and action for improvement.


Whether with the executive or the athlete, a learning environment impacts communication. I identify as a doer more than a thinker and prefer a quicker communication style. Recently though, in a learning situation, I became more thoughtful and detail oriented. I needed more time to formulate my answers. The experience was a good reminder of the importance of adapting one’s communication style to the receiver – especially in the learning environment.


In Part 7, we will cover Learning Styles, Personality Styles, and Environment