Psychology of Coaching: Understanding Science of Change

In October 2016 I received a call, "Hey dude, I don’t know nothing about Agile, but I need to become an Agile coach a-s-a-p – my company just got a new contract." I laughed for a second, explained that it takes a bit longer than a week to learn to coach, and wished him luck. I also knew that, shortly, he would be walking into his customer's office in this new role.

Agile Coach is the new black! But how can you, a good coach, stand out from the crowd of less competent peers? Let me offer you this workshop to explore the science of coaching and the ways in which it works. We start with concepts of neuroplasticity and the brain processes of creating new neuron pathways. Then we move to motivation and learn which type is the best. Finally, we finish with the discussion on brain activation states which we practice in a few short exercises. By understanding the new field of coaching psychology, you will become a better practitioner.

I am an affiliate member of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, the Harvard Medical School affiliate. I studied coaching psychology at Harvard Extension School.

 
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Outline/structure of the Session

Below is how I envision the outline of the workshop:

00:00 Introduction.
After a short “hello,” I grab a flipchart and interview the audience about coaching techniques and different methods they use in their coaching practice.

00:05 Neuroplasticity.
Then we define coaching as a practice which helps people to achieve high levels of their wellbeing and performance. Coaching always involves a change in a person’s behavior, and the goal is to make this new behavior self-sustained. In this part, we understand the concept of neuroplasticity, which is our brain’s ability to rewire itself. Basically: old habits –> dzzzz –> new habits.

00:15 Motivation.
But unfortunately (or fortunately) rewiring neural networks takes a loooong time. The brain is not a McDonald's drive-through, it takes anywhere from months to years for the process. Our coachees need to have enough motivation to persevere with the change. In this section, we review three types of motivation: external regulation, external ideal, and the one we strive for – autonomous motivation [1].

00:25 Autonomous motivation exercise.
Gosh! It has been twenty minutes of me talking. Time for a quick exercise. Here we will split into groups of three: coach, coachee, and an observer. The coachee picks a coaching topic, and the coach helps find a coachee's autonomous motivator. I will also provide examples of a few powerful questions, so we practice open-ended inquiry as well.

00:35 Brain activation states.
According to neuroplasticity, I need to make my coachee’s brain dzzz in a new way. Dr. Carson suggests seven brain activation states to achieve the above [2]. In this section, I will mention all of them but talk about the most interesting ones: mindfulness, open-ended inquiry, and reflections.

00:45 Activation state: mindfulness.
After a few words about the state of open awareness, narrow awareness, and meta-awareness, we will practice using a short exercise. First, I will ask everyone in the room to close their eyes and focus on their heart beat for 15 breaths (narrow focus state), then I will ask everyone to remove the focus and open themselves up to all senses without letting any particular thought to enter their mind for 15 breaths (open monitoring state). We will reflect on the difference between open awareness and mind wondering. You know, how to make the brain dzzz dzzz.

00:50 Activation state: open-ended inquiry.
AKA powerful questions. Those are old friends, but we need to refresh everyone on them.

00:60 Activation state: reflections.
When we ask questions, we activate the left prefrontal cortex. But we also want a bit of emotion from the limbic region. An experienced coach knows how to make the limbic region working with some reflections: simple perceptive reflections, amplified reflections, double-sided reflections, shifted-focus reflections.

00:70 Reflections exercise.
Let’s get back into groups and practice a bit. The delegates can pick any reflection type to work with. The coach in each group will only use a specific reflection (simple perceptive reflections, amplified reflections, double-sided reflections, shifted-focus reflections), and after the practice, the group will reflect how the selected category of reflections might affect a coaching conversation (i.e. shifted-focus reflections can help you get out of trouble and correct the direction of your conversation).

00:85 Conclusion.
Our time is up. We have a few minutes to link the techniques the delegates listed at the beginning of the session to the concepts we covered: neuroplasticity, autonomous motivation, or activation states.

References:
[1] Deci, E. D., & Ryan, R. M. (2002). Handbook of self-determination research. New York: University of Rochester Press.
[2] Carson, S. (2010). Your creative brain: seven steps to maximize imagination, productivity, and innovation in your life. Boston: Harvard Health Publications.
[3] Miller, W., & Rollnick, S. (2012). Motivational interviewing: Helping people change. New York: Guilford Press.

Learning Outcome

  • Understand that neuroplasticity is the reason why people take long to learn new behaviors
  • Learn that the autonomous motivation is the most persistent type of motivation and that an Agile coach must strive for it
  • Learn about seven activation steps and the ways to stimulate brain’s creativity
  • Practice multiple reflection techniques during a coaching conversation
  • Learn practical behaviors: open monitoring (sensing), asking the right questions, providing rich reflections, engaging in relational flow, and being comfortable with generative moments

Target Audience

Agile coaches, consultants, Scrum Masters, IT managers

Prerequisite

At least a year of agile coaching or consulting experience

schedule Submitted 4 weeks ago

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