Interpersonal Skills in Coaching: How to Cultivate Them

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Interpersonal Skills in Coaching: How to Cultivate Them

By Lucia Baldelli

The Essential Interpersonal Skills Coaches Should Develop

What is the weight of interpersonal skills in coaching? At the heart of coaching lies a deeply human encounter, a partnership between two people that serves as a catalyst for progress. This profound relationship requires us both, the coach and the client, to step into the arena as equal. The cornerstone of such a partnership? Interpersonal skills. They are often referred to as soft skills, social skills, or people skills. I like to call them human relationships skills and they are paramount in coaching. As coaches, it is essential to hone these skills to create a safe enough environment to work with our clients. The great news? These skills are not fixed but can be cultivated and nurtured. Whether it’s about fostering a coaching relationship or enhancing your work and personal interactions, these skills become indispensable. In this article I will delve into the world of interpersonal skills in coaching and how to cultivate them.

What Are Interpersonal Skills?

In the simplest of terms, interpersonal skills are the behaviours and techniques we employ daily to interact meaningfully with those around us. They encompass our ability to communicate, relate, and connect effectively with others. This involves active listening, acknowledging others’ perspectives, constructively expressing our emotions, thoughts, and needs, demonstrating the right attitude, and setting healthy boundaries in our relationships. These skills are useful in every facet of our lives, from personal interactions to professional environments.

For us coaches, they have a special value. Picture this: you’re meeting someone for the first time, and your task is to establish a profound connection, a space for deep work. Do you see how interpersonal skills are crucial here? By mastering these, we not only enrich our personal and professional lives, but also elevate our craft in the transformative journey of coaching.

8 Fundamental Interpersonal Skills in Coaching

Let’s delve into what I believe are the eight fundamental interpersonal skills pivotal for fostering an effective and productive coaching relationship. Each of these soft skills carries its unique impact, influencing how we, as coaches, connect with, and guide, our clients. Let’s take a closer look at each of these skills and explore how we, as coaches, can cultivate them to enhance our coaching practice.

Relationship Building

The first step on the journey of interpersonal skills coaching is relationship building. This entails genuinely connecting with the person in front of us, fostering a partnership while bringing our presence—and a small ego—into the room. In our coaching practice, the importance of this skill cannot be overstated. It lays the foundation for the coaching relationship and determines the extent of trust and openness between the coach and the client.

A lack of this soft skill might lead to a disconnect, making the coaching less effective because it is less human. Improving relationship-building skills involves embodying a coaching mindset and demonstrating the key elements of an effective coaching relationship, as explored in my previous articles. Remember, each human connection is unique, and it is our role as coaches to appreciate this uniqueness and build upon it to help our clients grow.

Trust

Trust, the next interpersonal skill on our list, forms the bedrock of any coaching relationship. It is the invisible link connecting coach and client, a mutual reassurance that makes the coaching relationship safe enough to allow vulnerability and openness in the room, and enable real transformation. It is not simply a nice-to-have; it is indispensable.

A lack of trust can lead to guarded conversations, hindering the effectiveness of our coaching. As coaches, cultivating trust requires us to consistently demonstrate authenticity, integrity, and confidentiality. We’ve delved deeper into the concept of trust in our previous article on building trust in a coaching relationship. It’s a journey that requires patience and authenticity, but the rewards are beyond measure.

Emotional Intelligence

Another essential facet of interpersonal coaching is Emotional Intelligence (EI), often thought of in two dimensions.

  • The first, an individual element, represents our ability to recognise, understand, and manage our own emotions—encompassing self-awareness and self-management.
  • The second, a social element, reflects our capacity to discern, comprehend, and influence the emotions of others.

As coaches, emotional intelligence is invaluable. It allows us to not only navigate our emotional triggers but also understand how they can impact our coaching.

Without EI, we run the risk of letting our emotions hinder our ability to effectively coach our clients. Improving emotional intelligence is a lifetime journey, involving a deep dive into our emotional landscape. Books like Emotional Agility and Permission to Feel can serve as helpful resources, providing tools to label and understand our emotions and channel their energy towards a constructive place. Once we achieve a high level of individual emotional intelligence, we can stay in balance and avoid being triggered by what our clients bring to the coaching room. We can then extend this understanding to our clients and what they are experiencing.

Empathy

Empathy is another cornerstone in the architecture of interpersonal skills coaching. In the eloquent words of Brené Brown, “empathy is feeling with.” It goes beyond simply understanding. It’s about experiencing the world from the client’s perspective, embracing their distress without letting it become our own. This balance allows us to communicate, “I am here, I understand what you are going through, and I am prepared to help you navigate it in a way that serves you.”

The absence of empathy could lead to a sense of isolation for our clients and a lack of human connection, making our coaching less impactful. To cultivate empathy, we need to consciously practise stepping into our clients’ shoes, developing a deep understanding of their emotional world in a curious and non judgemental way.

Active Listening

Active Listening is another crucial interpersonal skills coaching. This isn’t about merely hearing words; it’s about understanding, reflecting, and responding. The importance of this skill cannot be overstated.

Absence of active listening can make our clients feel unheard, minimised, undervalued, or misunderstood, undermining our coaching relationship. To heighten your active listening skills, focus on listening to the human, not just the problem. This approach fosters a deeper level of connection and is the catalyst for transformational work. To delve into this skill further, I would recommend revisiting our  article on how to unlock higher levels of listening in coaching. It provides invaluable insight into mastering this skill, guiding you towards becoming an even more effective coach.

Communication with Clarity

Communication with clarity is an integral part of interpersonal skills in coaching. It’s about delivering your message or question concisely, with unambiguous intent, ensuring your client’s thought process flows seamlessly.

The absence of clarity can lead to misunderstandings, disrupting the coaching progress. To improve this, remember, simplicity is key! At times, one or two well-chosen words can be more impactful than a lengthy speech. Additionally, echoing your client’s words in your responses can be highly effective. When we mirror their language, they intuitively feel understood, strengthening the trust and connection within the coaching relationship. Remember, clarity is not about diluting the message, but making it more accessible and impactful for your client.

Assertiveness

Assertiveness involves being direct and concise in communicating your thoughts or suggestions, ensuring your message gets across unambiguously. Assertiveness helps to maintain a clear, focused, and efficient coaching process.

The lack of assertiveness, on the other hand, may result in ambiguity and may obscure the purpose of the coaching relationship. If assertiveness is something you need to work on, a great starting point is honing your direct communication skills. As we explored in our article on direct communication in coaching, being straightforward without being abrasive is a delicate but essential balancing act. Developing this skill promotes an honest, open, and effective coaching environment.

Transparency

Transparency in coaching involves an honest and open exchange of what we perceive as coaches—be it what we see, hear, or senses. This kind of genuine transparency can trigger new self-awareness for the other person.

In coaching, this means being transparent about resonance and dissonance. Resonance refers to recurring patterns of thought or behaviour that might be hindering the client’s growth. Dissonance, on the other hand, signifies changes in energy, mood, tone, pace, or movement. By mirroring these observations back to the client, we help them see things from a perspective they might not have considered, opening doors to new understanding and growth.

Neglecting to be transparent may hinder the client’s progress by concealing potentially transformative insights. Improving transparency as a soft skill in coaching involves continuous awareness and conscious sharing of our sensory observations, which might otherwise go unnoticed.

How Can Coaches Help Clients With Interpersonal Skills?

As part of their growth, leaders often engage coaches to improve their interpersonal skills.

In order to support leaders through this journey, they need to recognise what needs attention and be willing to work on it. Embarking on this journey of interpersonal skill enhancement, the leaders must first acknowledge what needs improvement and demonstrate readiness to refine these areas. Understanding their own perspectives on the matter and listening to their challenges are crucial first steps.

A starting point could be to evaluate the leader’s current skills and pinpoint areas of improvement. Various self-assessments can be leveraged, such as 360 Degree Assessments, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI), and Leadership Agility assessments. Additionally, coaches may directly observe interactions to provide practical feedback.

They should envision what it would look like if these skills were fully developed and present in their interactions. Together with the coach, they can then create a tailored plan for skill development. This plan may involve providing suitable resources or exercises that can support the leader’s personal growth and improvement of the interpersonal skills that need to be developed. This way, leaders can enhance their ability to relate to, influence, and effectively coach others within their sphere of influence.

If you want to develop your interpersonal skills as a coach or a leader, this is the primary focus of our introductory coaching course Unlocking Conversations. Feel free to contact us if you need additional information.

  • Start Date: 25/09
  • End Date: 18/12

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