How to Increase Engagement With Coaching Clients: Adaptive Communication Part 1
Recently I attended a coach training course with another member of our team. The two facilitators of this course, both experienced coaches, were extremely gifted at establishing rapport. They were able to create a safe place for the 25 plus participants to open up and explore difficult issues. And, they had something more. Both of them had an uncanny knack for adjusting the way they communicated depending on the personality of the person with whom they were interacting. I noticed one situation where one facilitator gave a participant high-five and exchanged joking banter. With another person, she sat down next to her and exchange warm, nurturing conversation.
This pattern continued through out the three days as they “read” the audience and individualized their communication and motivation for each person in the room. Furthermore, these two professionals demonstrated keen self-awareness and self-management around their own needs, preferences, and distress. Somehow they managed to be themselves by letting their personality shine through, while still adjusting to others.
Adaptive Communication and Coaching
I imagine what I experienced from these gifted coaches was an extension of the adaptive communication skills they use in their one-on-one coaching relationships.
Adaptive communication is the ability to recognize individual differences in personality and communication and adapt our approach accordingly.
Some people are naturally good at it. Some develop it through experience. The rest of us can either wing it and take our chances, or learn how to do it. Ideally, coaches could fast-track their skills in this area since it is fundamental to developing rapport and nurturing an effective coaching alliance.
Adaptive communication does not depend on a formal profile on the other person, although these can be incredibly helpful to the coaching process.
Adaptive communication requires the ability to assess and decode verbal and nonverbal communication and discern patterns correlating with someone’s personality structure.
From here, a coach can adapt how he/she connects, motivates, and proactively deals with distress behavior. This skill goes far beyond rapport, and helps coaches create a strong, trusting, working relationship that greatly improves the chances of helping clients achieve their goals. As it was with my coach trainers, it also helps coaches with their own self-care and self-management, a critical component of healthy, ethical coaching.
PCM: A Framework for Adaptive Communication Skills in Coaching
Using principles from the Process Communication Model (PCM®), a behavior-based model of personality and communication, coaches can predict with high-levels of accuracy how to individualize their approach in order to quickly build rapport, enhance communication, properly motivate clients, and anticipate and respond proactively to sabotage behavior.
There are six different personality types that a coach might encounter. We all have all six in us, but one or two is primary and forms the foundation of how people prefer to communicate and are motivated. For each, I’ll outline how to quickly establish rapport, how to motivate them towards positive behavior change, what types of sabotage behavior is most likely, and how to respond positively. I will also include comments on self-care if this happens to be the coach’s personality preference. I’ll introduce two of the six types in this article, the other four will be covered in the follow-up article.
CAVEAT: Before reading further, I want to caution that none of the six types explained below exist in isolation. We all have all six within us, arranged in a preferred, set order. And, we all have types that are more developed, more primary, and a stronger driver of our behavior. As a coach, you will likely experience one predominant type, and one or two other secondary types displayed in coaching. The predominant type will come into the foreground especially when personal/professional motivation is in focus and during distress.
Every coach has a sweet spot and a blind spot. Sweet spots are where a coach can leverage their own strengths, but can also unconsciously assume that others see and experience with world that same way. Blind spots are where a coach can’t relate to a personality type that’s less developed in themselves, so they unconsciously have negative bias.
PCM represents personality like a six-floor condominium, with a preferred base floor, and five other floors arranged in a preferred, set order. Each floor has corresponding communication, motivation, and distress patterns. These are evident by decoding language structure and nonverbal communication. Connecting with, and leveraging a person’s communication profile can greatly enhance rapport, motivation, and success in coaching.
Logical, responsible, and organized, Thinkers want data and facts so that they can form logical conclusions. Logic is their communication currency. Small-talk, sharing feelings, and playful exchanges are aversive because they want a structured, linear flow that connects the dots. In distress they will disrupt by over controlling, dominating conversation with excessive over-explaining, and criticizing the logic of the coach’s and others’ ideas. Motivate them towards positive behavior by acknowledging their hard work and respect the value of their time. If you are a Thinker coach, be careful of imposing your need for structure on other personality types. Take time every day to make note of your accomplishments. Respect your own time and don’t over-commit.
Compassionate, sensitive, and warm, Harmonizers seek harmony. They embrace relationships and anything that will help people get along better. Compassion is their communication currency. They love intimate environments where they feel safe to speak up. In distress they can interfere with the coaching process by losing assertiveness, not asking for what they want, and avoiding conflict. Motivate them towards positive behavior by affirming them as a person, attending to creature comforts, and showing you care about them unconditionally. If this is you, give yourself permission to take elegant care of you and hold firm to boundaries. Be careful not to take things too personally, and practice leaving your clients’ problems at the door.