Acknowledging someone includes the following:
1. Confirming the validity of what a coachee thinks or feels – remembering that everyone has the right to think and feel the way they think and feel – even if you don’t agree!
2. Confirming the validity of the coachee’s experience – for example, “It is totally normal to feel the way you do…”
3. Highlighting positive behaviours, even if the results aren’t what the coachee wants – “I know you didn’t get the result you wanted but there are several really positive things we can build on…”
4. Using your own experience to highlight progression your coachee may not be aware of – for example, “I wasn’t even thinking about my career at this stage in life. You are way ahead of me in that area”
Receiving positive feedback generally happens so infrequently in life, (and even when it is given it isn’t always done well) that when it is done well, it can make a profound positive difference, in terms of confidence, engagement and results.
Whilst this is a valuable experience for most people, it is particularly important for supporting the development of younger members of the workforce who come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.
In our 12 years of working with ambitious young people from socially disadvantaged communities, we have found a lack of positive self-belief to be a huge barrier to their success and progression in the workplace. Young people do not tend to grow up understanding what value they bring or what great qualities they have. For this reason, it should be no surprise that they are unable to articulate what their strengths are or have the confidence to state what value they could bring to an organisation when asked in an interview situation – something that can often stop otherwise talented and able students being successful in job applications. The acknowledge part of our model doesn’t resolve all of this, but it does go a long way.
Great coaches make sure that they take every opportunity – and if they don’t happen, they make the opportunity – to authentically acknowledge their coachee. Below are some principles for effective acknowledgement that we have found work:
1. Be specific – Don’t say something like “You seem very decisive”. Instead, say “Before we move onto the next part of today’s conversation I just want to take a minute to talk about how you went about making the big decision you made. I am really impressed with how you approached it.”
2. Acknowledge behaviours that they can replicate/ do again vs top line summaries that don’t help them identify what they can repeat. For example, simply saying “you were really smart to do that” doesn’t help a person understand what they did well. However, “I am really impressed with the way you made that decision. You really thought it through, looked at it from all angles, considered the short, mid and long-term consequences, got advice and then considered what felt right to you” cements what worked and helps embed it for the future.
3. Connect it to their future – “How do you think approaching major decisions this way will help you going forward?” or “I have to make decisions all the time – this is (pretty much) the process I use.” Or “I’m not sure I could have done that at the same age…you are far ahead of me in this area”
4. Ask them if they were aware of what they were doing at the time and how they developed that process/ approach
5. Then ask how they feel about it now you are talking about it
6. Then summarise by saying “Well I think it’s a really important and impressive attribute and one that will be really helpful to you in achieving what you want.”
Even if your coachee has not followed through on what they said they would do or their approach is not perfect, you can always find something to acknowledge. And over time, as the relationship develops, the coach has a great opportunity to help the coachee see changes they may be unaware of, “Are you aware that you have made some big changes in ’x’ area?”. We are often so focused on where we want to get to that we don’t take time to think about how far we have come, which can negatively impact our confidence.
It can be tempting to follow an acknowledgement with a negative piece of news (the popular Sandwich method of giving feedback). However, true acknowledgement has to be done completely separately to any constructive criticism, otherwise all that the good disappears and people start to filter acknowledgement through the lens of ‘let’s see what is coming next’, they put up their guard or simply don’t believe/hear it.
When we first developed the CAUSE model the ACKNOWLEDGE part was not something we included. It wasn’t something that even crossed our minds. Instead, we were focussed on driving action and producing results in a fairly linear way (what’s the problem and how can it be fixed?). Subsequently, we realised that acknowledgement was an extraordinarily powerful way of creating rapport and trust as well as building the coachee’s confidence in themselves. This then made the coaching experience easier, more authentic and more fun!
We also noticed that as the coachee’s ability to develop their own solutions also increased dramatically. So, we decided to make it a foundational part of our coaching model.
The next part of the CAUSE coaching model is “U”: Understand. You can read about how understanding is crucial for coaching relationships here.
Would your company benefit from taking part in our inclusive coaching programme?
Arrival Education works with leading organisations to help unlock the power of difference. Our leading coaching programmes are just one of the ways in which we do this. If you would like more information about how your organisation could benefit from working with us, please get in touch using the form below.