Three Ways Coaching Culture Can Benefit Academic Culture

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One of the things I reflect on in my work with academics is how the language and strategies of coaching can benefit an entire organization. Coaching has a set of foundational assumptions and practices that are easy for anyone to employ. Think of these three simple ideas and how you can implement them in your academic workplace.

  1. Don’t ask “why?”. Asking someone the “why” of their actions or reasoning invites defensiveness and justification. Conversations based on defensiveness tend to go in circles and not lead anywhere meaningful. To make meaningful progress on an issue or agenda, try asking “what” questions, instead. (“How” and “where” are ok, too, but “what” is pretty powerful.) Compare “Why did you tell your students to use that resource?” with “What was the lesson connected with using that resource?” Both may get you an answer you can use, but the second one assumes the professionalism and good intentions of your interlocutor and will get you farther toward an interesting and real conversation.
  2. Perspective matters. Especially in the humanities and social sciences, academics are keen to point out where social positionality impacts interpretation. We know that race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. matter in how individuals perceive the world. In coaching, we play with perspective quite a bit and invite coachees to recognize the lens through which they view the world. Once you are aware of your perspective on a situation (I expect the worst here because the process is being lead by so-and-so), you claim the power to shift that lens and approach your work differently (I expect good things out of this process because my two colleagues also want to see the issue resolved and they’re good collaborators.) Finding the perspective that works for you when it is time to approach your writing, your committee work, or your lesson planning can play a critical role in your success.
  3. Say “yes” first. Working in universities and colleges can feel a lot like living with a toddler; you hear NO so often it grates on your nerves. And “no” is necessary; there are policies that can’t be violated, money that can’t be conjured up, and opportunities for which there is no time or place. But “no” also shuts down conversation and reinforces the idea that the person asking is a supplicant, rather than a valuable colleague or student. Improvisational stage practices have given us the gift of “yes, and. . . ” as a replacement for “no, but . . .” Try it at home for a day or three and see what possibilities open up when you begin your responses with an acknowledgment of the person by saying “Yes, and . . . “

I am excited to let you know that I’ve started working with Graydin, a company that brings coach training and techniques into educational organizations and other non-profits. Based in London & New York, they are increasing their reach in Canada and I attended a training session they held for a Toronto community organization over this past weekend. I’ll be coaching some of the organizations leaders in the months to come and can’t wait. Regardless of industry, working with people who feel connected to their work and are keenly aware of its importance offers me as a coach such RICH experiences.

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