Tag Archives: empathy

10 pitfalls for coaching success

Bad coachingNot all will end well. Following are impediments for coaching I have experienced:

  1. There are no clear objectives for coaching.
  2. The coach has no mandate for coaching.
  3. There’s no designated time for coaching (coach + coachee).
  4. There’s too long time between event and coaching feedback.
  5. Coach nor coachee are measuring results (effectiveness).
  6. There’s no “walk the talk“: management is not coached themselves.
  7. There’s no support from line management.
  8. The coachee is not open for feedback.
  9. The coachee is not open for change.
  10. The coach has no empathy.
  11. The coach is using assumptions and slander instead of objective facts.


Please submit yours too!

Now let’s translate these pitfalls to positive ones and you have your checklist for coaching success!

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A Voice Of the Customer without meeting the customer

With the Voice Of the Customer (VOC) technique you try to capture the wants and needs from your customer(s). There are many ways to capture this: interviews, surveys, etc, and also many techniques to process it: the Kano model, Critical-To-Quality, etc

Sometimes it’s not possible to meet, interview and attune with your customer, but you still want to make sure his wishes are covered. In a seminar I attended, the two speakers, Sue and Nancy, described two techniques for this:

1. Create personas

Personas are fictional characters which you use to evaluate the content you create (independent of the medium used). You could for example create a retired citizen persona, a young child persona, a hipster persona, … During the process you can ask yourself: “How would … use this page?”.

Personas can also be used to test the end project. With the Agile technique for example, they can be used in user stories, that is possible scenarios about the application being used.

The BBC is known for testing their website with this method.

2. Create an empathy map

With an empathy map you can try to get inside the head of your customer: what will he see, hear, think, but also what is his pain and gain from your content?

In the picture below you can find an empathy map we created for the communication of a new corporate strategy project. You can find many tutorials and example cases for empathy maps online, but when we created it, I still had the feeling that we weren’t there.

Empathy map

Empathy map

So we added a second circle (area) to the map: what we as team want the customer be seeing, hearing, thinking, etc. The next step is to compare the actual with the desired behavior and you have a gap which you can close with actions. This way you can make your empathy map actionable.

Empathy map with gap

Empathy map with gap

So if you would ask me “Is a Voice Of the Customer is possible without meeting the customer?”, I would say yes.
What do you think?

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Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Teacher“Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood” is one of the 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey.

I was reminded by it by a story an elementary teacher told me. She had had a difficult day at school and was pouring her heart out to me. Since I’m a professional coach and I know she hates it when (she notices) I coach her, so I made the promise to her to only listen and ask a question now and then to understand.

She started her story.

*Ring ring*
The bell goes off and all children are guided to their class room. It was a cold day and all children hang their coats on the pegs in the hallway. Next, they all enter the class. Except for three.
Three kids were standing in the hallway, looking at the window.
Teacher: “Please come inside.”
The kids are not reacting and keep staring out of the window.
Teacher: “John, Jane, Smith, please come inside now. We’re starting with calculus.”
No reaction.
Teacher: “That’s it! All three of you, come along to the teachers room”.
In the teachers room the students get a penalty and are not allowed to participate the next hour in art class.

Me: “So, you were angry because of the students not following your directions?”
Teacher: “Yes, I was.”
Me: “Why is it that big of a deal?”
Teacher: “They have to come in the class. I want to keep order and don’t lose time for teaching.”
Me: “I understand that you feel this is important. Is it the first time that this happens?”
Teacher: “No, they do it all week and they know as the problem stokers in class. Let me tell you what happened later that week.”

*Ring ring*
Two days later the same story unravels.
Our three problem stokers are looking at the window again when the rest of the kids are entering their class room.
This time, Jane says: “He look at that: they moved the big world map to the other side of the hallway.”

Me: “Wait. What does the world map has to do with this?”
Teacher: “They were watching at the map all the time, instead of entering the class room in time.”
Me: “But why are they so interested in this world map?”
Teacher: “I don’t know and I don’t care: I just want to start calculus.”
Me: “I understand that starting calculus in time is important to you. On the other hand, it looks to me that they were genuinely interested in the world map. Could it be an opportunity to give a demo in class?”
Teacher: “I never thought of that. It could be interesting for the rest too”.
Me: “It could be added value for the rest of the class, but also for the relationship you have with our three little problem stokers. As you show interest in their interests”.
Teacher: “Great idea, I will give it a try next week.”


When I heard the first version of the story, it was easier to me to give advice.

Have you tried this?
Why don’t you try this?
What are other options?
Is punishment necessary?

But in this way I would have started coaching without understanding the problem completely. We would have dived into finding solutions, instead of getting the problem right at first.

When I explicitly promised to step out of my role of coach in this case, I was not focused on asking the right questions, I was not focused in thinking along with the coachee and I was not focused to find solutions for her case (and guide her to it).

My only focus was to listen and try to understand. This made it possible to really empathize with here and make a connection.

Double lesson

I’m not sure if you noticed, but there was a lesson here for the teacher too. The same fifth principles of Steven Covey, Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood, is valid for the teacher too as she could have responded in another, more successful way to the situation.

Empathic listening

The theory (see Additional Reading) describes are four levels to true empathic listening:

  1. Repeat what the other person is saying.
  2. Rephrase the content.
  3. Reflect the feelings and emotions.
  4. Rephrase the content and reflect the feelings.

With using these steps you can build report with your coachee and establish a connection.

In the story above I didn’t use the four levels in a strict way, but I tried to rephrase and confirm emotions when appropriate.

Additional reading

The Fifth Habit in 20 slides –


The Fith Habit by Steven Covey – https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits-habit5.php

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Everybody is right

Opinion“Everybody is right,” a colleague of me says.
And he’s right. It’s all about perception.

When we get feedback, we often try to defend ourselves or our case.

“Yes, but…”
“It’s true, but…”
“Are you sure, because I heard…”

No matter how hard you’ll try to convince the other, they have made up their mind and formed an opinion based on facts and things they perceive. Their perception.

You know you are right, because you know the facts. Don’t you?
But the other person is right too. He has facts and viewpoints too.

So, what can you do?

Defending is not a solution, because it will probably not convince the other to switch viewpoints and change his opinion.

Show some empathy and try to understand. Try to face the problem (read: opportunity) head on: why are they saying that? What does it mean? How do they view it? … Why am I thinking otherwise?

In case of negative feedback (eg. evaluation talk, customer review, …) the principles above are certainly valid: you won’t be able to convince the other that you are right, but you will get some respect if you try to understand, take their feedback along and do something with it.

In any case, you will learn from it, because since they’re convinced they’re right, there must be some truth in it. Maybe others have the same perception?


Everybody is right.
There’s no gain in “getting your right”.
There’s more to gain from understanding why they think they’re right and what you can learn from and do with it.

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If you combine observation with evaluation, people hear criticism

CriticismIf you’re in a coaching job or role, your task is to help your coachee discover himself and grow. There are many ways to do this, but giving feedback is the basis for all.

For giving feedback I can advise the feedback framework which is available in blog entry “A continuous flow of feedback“. The emphasis in this article was more on giving positive and/or constructive feedback, but this blog entry will focus more on how to collect and handover your feedback.

Let’s say you follow the coachee in different meetings ranging from meetings with the customer to staff meetings. If you take the role of passive observer, you will write down your observations of the meeting and your coachees behaviour. As passive observer it is also possible to focus beyond the content: body language of participants, group interaction, presentation styles, etc. If your coachee is the chairman of the meeting, he will also appreciate this feedback.

Observations with interpretations

Now, even as a coach you’re not completely neutral: during the years you have read books, gained experience and insights and grew as an employee and coach. So when you are writing down your observations, write down only the observations and avoid making interpretations. Don’t add remarks like the reason why you think it needs to be good, don’t add “good” or “bad” next to it, and so forth…

An example:

Observation: “The coachee gives orders during the meeting when topic XYZ was discussed.”
Interpretation: “Giving orders is not good (involving in the “how” of the assignment).”
Evaluation: “He should not give orders, but let people gain insights themself and coach them.”

When you’re taking this path, you will arrive at subjective evaluations. You’ve coupled an objective observation with your interpretation. When you deliver this message to the coachee, he will consider it as criticism and go into resistance. When in resistance the coachee will not listen to your observations, defend himself and the risk of emotional shutdown exists.

Tips for observations without evaluation

First of all: confirm your mandate to give feedback to the coachee and repeat why we are doing the feedback talk again (see “What to ask the person in the mirror” from Robert S. Kaplan).

  • During the meeting, write down your observations. Only observations.
  • Make your obseration SMART (Specific – Measurable – Acceptable – Realistic – Time-bound): don’t use generalizations like “always”, “never”, “often”, “sometimes”, etc. Write down what’s said or observed.
  • Discuss the observations with your coachee. Since the observations are neutral and objective, they are not open for discussion.
  • Tell your coachee how the observation made you feel: your feelings are also not open for discussion. Did he see that others felt the same? See if he can relate.
  • Focus on the result of the behaviour has on the group or meeting outcome and verify if that result was wanted.
  • Give the coachee time to process the feedback and put it in its context.
  • Look together for a possible improvement opportunity for the next meeting. Pick actions for it.

Additional reading

“Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” from Dr. Marshall Rosenberg

What to ask the person in the mirror” from Robert S. Kaplan

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Op bezoek bij de tandarts

Dentist visitIedereen moet wel eens naar de tandarts. Meestal lopen deze bezoeken goed af, maar toch ga je telkens met een wee gevoel in de maag op consultatie.
Vanavond tussen het gedril en geboor door begon zich een idee te vormen: wat als deze angst niet causaal is, maar een gegronde reden heeft?

Sommige eigenschappen zijn typisch aan alle mensen: we hebben allemaal vrees voor het onbekende, de één al wat meer dan de ander.
Liefst hebben we graag ook controle over de situatie waar we ons in bevinden.

Nu hier loopt het net mis bij de tandarts: in tegenstelling tot andere (pijnlijke) ingrepen ben je bij je bewustzijn.
Normaal moet een chirug je niets uitleggen over de procedure, je slaapt immers.
Bij een tandarts ben je wakker en vast gepind op je stoel. Het enige wat je kan zien is… het plafond en, als je geluk hebt, de rooster van de dubbele TL lamp die de kamer verlicht.

De tandarts brengt je niet op de hoogte wat er gaat gebeuren: het is allemaal routine voor hem en als het pijn doet, zal hij het wel horen zeker?
Het standaardgereedschap laat ook niet veel aan de verbeelding over.

Laten we de situatie eens vergelijken met een andere, een voor iedereen wel bekende situatie.
Stel dat je PC niet meer werkt en je hebt de hulp ingeroepen van je kleine neefje die zich recentelijk ontpopt heeft tot interim computertechnicus.
Je mag echter niet met hem praten (er zit een speekselafzuiger in je mond) terwijl hij je dierbaarste bezit aan het opereren is.
Je kan niet zien wat hij aan het doen is (je bent gericht naar het plafond) en je hebt geen idee hoe lang het nog gaat duren.

Zou je neefje aan je Favorieten denken? Dat weet hij toch? Die Favorieten heb je morgen nog nodig.
Ook die folder wat op je C-drive staat.
Daar zitten nog bestanden van werk op en die wil je zeker niet kwijt.

Na een lange tijd van stilte (je hebt enkel “ja” en “nee” kunnen mompelen op gerichte vragen) besluit je neefje dat het genoeg is en toont hij je het resultaat.
Heeft hij nu het Start menu veranderd? Stond er daarstraks geen snelkoppeling rechtsonderaan en wat is er toch met de kleur van de taakbalk gebeurd?!

Zo zie je maar dat de geïnformeerde “patiënt” het iets makkelijker zou hebben wanneer zijn angst voor het onbekende weggenomen wordt en hem terug een beetje controle overhandigd wordt.

Laat je niet doen de volgende keer als je naar de tandarts moet en verander de instellingen van zijn werkcomputer.
Dan weet hij ook eens hoe het voelt…

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