The ABCs of Coaching & Wellbeing Conversations

An easy way to have wellbeing and coaching conversations with your team members is to remember your ABCs of Coaching. Let’s go through them.


One question that I get a lot from organisations I work with is about upskilling their managers to be able to have coaching conversations, particularly when it comes to people’s wellbeing.

I am finding that more and more managers are now able to have conversations about people’s skills and objectives but, at times, very little support is provided to enable managers feel more comfortable to have wellbeing conversations with their staff. This, particularly nowadays, is a key skill for leaders.

Of course, developing emotional intelligence and empathy is great. However, an easy way to have wellbeing and coaching conversations with your team members is to remember your ABCs of Coaching. Let’s go through them.

A – Active Listening. Aim: To fully understanding what someone means, without inferring our subjective judgement

The first part of the process is to listen – to really, really listen, or perhaps even sensing instead of listening. Now I’m sure you’ve heard about this and heard all about active listening. So let’s keep it simple. When you are listening to someone, in this type of context, there are four key things you should be paying attention to:

1. What the person is actually saying – the words that they are using. So for example if you ask someone how they’re feeling about working from home and they say that they’re ‘frustrated’. Listen in to the choice of words that somebody uses.

2. Listen to what someone isn’t saying – this can be hard to do but typically focus on whether someone isn’t saying something because they don’t want to or rather because they don’t realise they aren’t telling you (I know – you might have to read that twice!)

Now, if someone simply didn’t realise they haven’t told you something then the next step is to ask a question (check B below). So, sticking to the previous example, if your colleague says they’re feeling ‘frustrated’ they actually have not told you what that is or how it truly feels for them. A follow up question could be ‘How does that frustration feel?’

On the other hand though the person might not be telling you something because they do not want to tell you. In that case asking more questions isn’t advisable as they’ll put the other person on the defense. Typically here empathetic statements help support the person open up a bit more, e.g. ‘I can understand what that could be like’.

3. Listen to the non-verbal behaviour – and here you are listening not just with your ears but also your eyes and all of your senses. In remote conversations note the tone of voice, speed, background noises. You can also listen for the tone in an email. Try and get more context to understand.

4. Listen to what they truly mean – this is in a way an amalgamation of all the previous three tips. Listen to the words they say (frustrated), what they’re not telling you (how they see frustration), and the non-verbal behaviour. Match them together and focus to understand what they are truly trying to tell you – what they genuinely mean.

B – Be Curious. Aim: Ask great questions to help someone give you more detail

In coaching you are not just listening but also asking great questions. In order to be able to ask great questions you need to be intuitively curious about them, their life and what they’re experiencing.

Many of us have been taught to use open questions but here’s a few tips to go beyond that:

  • Don’t ask Why. Never. Literally drop it off your vocabulary when it comes to these coaching and wellbeing conversations. There’s many reasons for this but mainly because the Why question puts somebody on the defense and you’re trying to achieve the opposite of that.
  • Don’t ask Open Questions one after the other. It makes the conversation sound and feel like an interrogation.
  • Ask TED Questions. Tell me, Explain, Describe. Use these as a prefer to your open questions and it provides a gentle invitation for someone to open more to you. Example: tell me a bit more about that. Describe that frustration to me.

C – Call to Action. Aim: To support the other person move on to the next step in a way that they choose

Now this is not just about a concrete, SMART goal. Forget about those in these type of conversations. Of course the person might have a very clear step and sense of direction. However, it is very common for someone to say ‘I don’t know what to do next’ and that’s okay.

When you are supporting somebody come up with a call to action, that call to action can look a number of different ways.

Firstly it would be that concrete step – the next thing they might want to do. It can also be an internal action that the person decides. For example, ‘I need to think about it’

If someone cannot come up with a call to action a good way is to get them to reflect on the conversation. Questions such as ‘Have you learnt anything about this situation since we started talking?’ ‘Has anything surprised you in our conversation?’

Important: Trust that the person can and will come up to a call to action that suits them at that particular time.

So, what do you think of the ABCs of having wellbeing conversations? Do you find them helpful? They’re my first port of call when I am having a quick coaching style conversation with a colleague. We cover coaching conversations for managers in one of our training programmes. Find more about our Coaching Skills for Managers here.

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