People who give Advice are not Coaches!

Reflection & cartoon time. What is coaching about? If the coach has too much experience, (s)he might not be the right person because (s)he might tell you what to do. On the other hand, a coach without experience is not likely to ask the right questions. What’s your advice for people who are looking for a coach?
Thanks for your thoughts.

Johari reveals your blind Spots.

About the Unknown

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

Donald Rumsfeld, former US Secretary of Defence.

Donald Rumsfeld said this during a press conference. I believe it was about the war in Iraq. I don’t know if he was aware about it, but with this quote he played with a framework that I like:  The “Johari Window”.

 The Johari Window

The Johari window is a technique created in 1955 by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham. It helps people to better understand themselves and their relationship with others. It was Charles Handy who called this concept the Johari House (Johari: Jo + Hari, parts of names of the developers) with four rooms.

  • The Arena is the part of ourselves that we see and others see.
  • The Blind spot contains the aspects that others see but we are not aware of.
  • The unknown is the unconscious part of us and is seen by neither ourselves nor others.
  • The Façade is our private space, which we know but keep from others.

And if we translate these house and rooms into a window, it looks like this
Johari Window


I use it to confront people and help them to accept and understand the “blind spot”. This is an area of things you do without having a clue. And for others it’s very clear.
Or what to think about the “unkown” area. Here are the things that do exist in the relation between you and the others, without anyone consciously knowing about them. That’s pretty scary if you ask me.
The other parts are more conventional. Things that are clear for everybody in the “arena”.
Things you consciously choose not to show or share with others. So you are the only one to know the and you choose to keep them behind your “façade”.


What is the purpose of using this tool ? I sometimes use it during feedback exercises.
I start such a session with an “empty” Johari window. Ideally, during the conversation chemistry rises and there is trust. On those moments, my interlocutor and I may get inspired and we are willing to “open up” more than in usual circumstances.
That is generally the moment where the Johari window is really inviting to share with each other:

1. Feedback

Feedback about what is clear for you about the other, but what may not (yet) be clear for the other. This will certainly help the other to become more aware and develop on those blind spots.
“You really talk a lot… If there is one hour available, you talk 50 minutes in general”
“Really… Good lord… I was not aware about that, thank you…”

 2. The things you’ve always chosen to hide.

You should never feel obliged to share the things you’ve always chosen to hide and certainly when it’s about your private life. But a moment may arrive when it feels as the right thing to do. Then you’ll share things you’ve never shared before with that person. Not only as a token of strong trust,  but much more because it simply feels as the right thing to do, on those moments.
“Well, I have never shared this with anyone here before, but the reason I have difficulty in dealing with people having a lack of patience, is because my ex-husband was like that as well. And the divorce has been quite painful, and still is… So it’s certainly not an excuse, but you may understand my behavior better now… I am sorry”
“Oh no need to apologize, thank you for the trust. This must be difficult for you… And yes, this will make life easier, by at least understanding the cause…”

3. Anything else ?

Any other concerns, impressions, convictions, emotions or observations that come on the table. They may stimulate awareness on the things you and your interlocutor do not know consciously about. But that have impact on the relation or collaboration between the both of you.
“I am not exactly sure why, but it seems like every time we talk about the branding of the new product, we get distracted… we never make an action list, we never succeed to focus…”
“Yes, indeed, now that you mention it… That is true, indeed… And yes, why is a good question… I don’t know… Are we believing enough in this new product ourselves ? We all said yes in the meeting, but we had a lot of discussion before that… I thought we had that behind us, but perhaps, we haven’t yet… I am not sure”
“Oh, glad we you have the same impression… At least we can talk about it now more openly and perhaps find out the real issue sooner or later”


My suggestion is to actively invite each other to discuss these kind of topics. To make use of the Johari window. By filling it in together, and by repeating this exercise at regular moments, you will visualise and achieve a great evolution. Topics that were once all closed and unknown are now much more open. You are aware and invited to explore further.
This movie clearly explains once more.


Learning coaches are not life coaches


Learning Coaches ?

I am working for an organization that wants some of its employees grow into learning coaches. The ambition is to generate a pool of them. These learning coaches will help to develop

  • the learning processes of their colleagues and of some external partners;
  • a learning culture, simply by starting to coach learning processes.

Logical Levels

This week I explained the Logical Levels of Robert Dilts to them. I love to work with this framework. I think it:

  • represents in a comprehensive way, a complex environment of aspects such as identity, mission, values and behaviours.
  • clearly distinguishes single loop versus double loop coaching.

Learning, and the Logical Levels of Robert Dilts
Learning, and the Logical Levels of Robert Dilts

Let me briefly explain that. Single loop coaching requires coachees to profoundly reflect on the “what” and “how” of questioned areas. Double loop coaching requires reflection on the “why”, the purpose and drivers of the “what” and “how”. Sometimes double loop level is also called the meta level: the why of the what and how.
When I explained this topic, a participant asked a very interesting and prompt question:

“This is very fine, Karl, but are we as learning coaches even supposed to discuss these “heavy” topics with the coachee ? I do not feel comfortable to question someone’s mission on earth, you know… Shouldn’t we just keep it to learning.”

I could have thanked the Gods for that question. Let me try to share some parts of my answer.
When your coaching role is clearly devoted to the challenges your coachee has with learning, you should stick to that role.  Then you are a coach for the learning process of the coachee.
The way coachees learn, as for all other things in life, is not isolated. It is part of their entire life. It’s not only about the skills they (do not) develop, about the what and how of their learning. It’s also about why they learn something. What is their purpose of their learning ? How does it fit into their personal mission?


You are a learning coach. You have observed that your coachee seems to struggle with excel.  In spite of the fact (s)he has already done a few trainings and has practiced a lot, there is no progress.
Lately (s)he has come to you to share concerns about the own learning and lack of progress made in excel.
A question could be: What precisely is difficult for you in Excel ?
An answer could be: Well every time Nadia is trying to explain me to make macros, she gets nervous if I don’t understand or do it quickly enough. And it has come so far now that I do not dare to go and ask her anymore…
A new question could be: I hear two things now: excel and Nadia… How do you want to continue?
An answer could be: Well if Nadia would just have a little more patience, I could ask all I want to ask and make progress.
Question: I hear you say you need a bit more patience from Nadia. How do you deal with teachers lacking patience, more in general, when you try to learn something?
An answer: I hate people not having patience. It reminds me of a my ex. (S)he was even worse. I am sorry, I simply cannot stand that. Should I even be telling this?
Question: You may tell, if you like so, and I will listen. We will certainly try to understand the impact of that situation on your today’s learning. Because that’s the purpose here.


The coachee is not talking about excel anymore. (S)he will very soon start talking about very personal and perhaps painful aspects of the private life.  The coachee’s values will certainly be part of that. His/her mission may even come in.

Critical part for the coach

As a learning coach it is critical:

  • not to follow the coachee in the content of the “new” story.
  • however to listen extremely carefully to it.
  • to interpret it taking a learning perspective. What elements about the ex and about patience could be relevant for the coachee’s learning process ?
  • to share your interpretation with the coachee.
  • to ask the coachee if it’s correct and to confirm or correct if needed.
  • to go ahead then based on a validated summary of all you’ve heard. What impact does all this have on the way you learn today from people with a lack of patience ?

Connecting the why with the what/how

At this stage you’ve connected the deeper why of the excel problem (the why had no link with Excel) with the what and the how (failing to make progress in Excel). You’ve done that without going in detail on the content of that deeper why. You’ve only listened and summarized. Your next question did not go further on the why. It made the coachee turn back to the what and the how.
Learning coaches should only be interested in the learning process of the coachee.  That is how learning coaches can work with the logical levels on double loop level without going into the detail of certain topics. Doing so would lead the coachee very far away from the learning purpose.


The participant seemed to understand my answer. As matter of fact the entire group was very silent all of a sudden. I asked if they were ok. Yes they were, but it was clear that the introduction into double loop coaching and these levels, had opened a new perspective and awareness for them.
Some eyes started to shine as if they were saying: “Why haven’t I seen this earlier ?” It’s the power of coaching.
This video shows an excellent summary of the Logical Levels

Houston, we have some conflicts!

I have been coaching some people through conflicts recently. I saw them taking up various behaviors. Going from yelling to each other, to manipulating each other. To end up simply avoiding or even physically running away from conflicts. And there was me, trying to fix things.
No, of course not. Only the partners in a conflict can fix it. For themselves and for each other. My mission was to make existing conflicts “visible” and somehow “negotiable”. I do this by coaching team members; first individually, and then in group. I learned once more that conflicts art part of our work and life. One cannot live or work without facing conflicts now and then. Conflicts are very normal and human. They have always existed and they will continue to exist. Even better: they should always exist!
Conflicts can be of very high value! They can trigger breakthroughs one would never have without conflicts. (And sometimes they make you write blogs). It’s hard to imagine when you’re busy having fights, that the long-term conflicts cause changes, including positive ones. Many people will probably agree. But in a real conflict,  people are not very enthusiastic. We can see the benefits of conflicts, but we are usually not too fond of going through them. We don’t like conflicts in general.


What is in fact a “conflict”? My personal definition: Any situation in which your concerns, desires, needs, ideas, values, or objectives differ from those of another person. So it is possible that two persons are in conflict with each other without any visible demonstration of it. Conflicts are a natural part of life and no one’s “fault”. Their results however are not naturally predetermined. They may:

  • escalate and lead to unproductive results;
  • be resolved and lead to even better performance;
  • be avoided and continue to exist ‘underground’;
  • take many other forms, change of form, and go on for years…

Two basic reflexes

Once there is a conflict, what happens usually? We naturally respond to conflicts in one of these wo ways:

  • You want to “get away from the conflict”. You become aware the other person has e.g. another vision. You become aware that sooner or later this will cause frictions. For now you decide not to do anything and just wait and see. Or the other person clearly states his/her vision is “obviously” the only one correct. You seriously disagree and would like to react, but for now you decide not to…
  • You are ready to “take on anyone who comes your way”. Imagine the same person with a differing vision. You walk straight to him/her, telling clearly you disagree and that you expect him/her to follow your vision.

None of these two responses is good or bad. They are personal responses. They must never be judged. It’s very important however that we learn that we can choose. We can and should intentionally and deliberately choose our response to conflicts.

Conflict management

You can indeed manage conflicts by choosing how to deal with them.
Conflict management starts from the principles that:

  • Not all conflicts can or should necessarily be resolved;
  • A set of styles and modes allows to decrease unproductive escalation and increase productive outcome.

By choosing a conflict style and modes, we are more likely to solving the problem at hand.

Conflict styles and modes

Source: Introduction to Conflict Management, Thomas & Thomas
The two basic styles of all conflict-handling modes are “Assertiveness” and “Cooperativeness”. Assertiveness indicates your willingness to push through “your way”. Cooperativeness indicates your willingness to go for a “common way”.Within the framework of these two basic styles, there are five conflict-handling modesYour conflict mode is in general the result of your skills and the situation you’re in.
Thomas Kilmann Conflicts

  • Competing

    “My way or the highway”

    The competing mode is high on assertiveness and low on cooperation. This mode is appropriate when quick action needs to be taken. When unpopular decisions need to be made. When vital issues must be handled, or when one is protecting self-interests.

  • Avoiding 

    “I’ll think about it tomorrow”

    The avoiding mode is low on assertiveness and low on cooperation. This mode is great when you have issues of low importance. To reduce tensions and to buy some time Or when you know your limitations and allow others ownership.

  • Accommodating

    “It would be my pleasure”

    The accommodating mode is low on assertiveness and high on cooperation. It’s a good mood to show you’re reasonable. To develop performance and to create good will. It also helps to retreat and maintain perspective, or to keep peace. Some people use the accommodating mode when the issue or outcome is of low importance to them.

  • Compromising

    “Let’s make a deal”

    The compromising mode is moderate on assertiveness and moderate on cooperation. This mood is ideal when issues of moderate importance need to be resolved. When resolution needs to be reached with equal power and strong commitment. When temporary solutions are acceptable or necessary. When there are time constraints and competing/collaborating have not worked…

  • Collaborating

    “Two heads are better than one”

    The collaborating mode is high on assertiveness and high on cooperation. Recommended when solutions need to be integrated. When learning needs to happen and when perspectives needs to be merged. Or when commitment needs to be gained or relationships need to be improved.

Nothing new ?

I am quite sure this framework is not  a “revolution” for most people. They have learned through life and experience to deal with conflicts in certain ways.Less sure for me is if they’re happy all the time with their way of dealing with conflicts. And if they are aware it’s all about choosing an appropriate mode. It’s not about always reacting in the same way, because they’re used to that.
Are you most of the time consciously choosing one of the possible modes ? Or are you adapting to how others make choices ?
Do you have a preferred mode you use more than the other modes ? Are you happy with that mode ?
All these modes are “ok” on condition that you make conscious choices, each time you use them. If you don’t feel happy about this, it probably means you should choose differently or vary a bit more in the use of the modes.
Choosing and being able to adopt other styles, requires of course some skills. I will write about these skills in one of my next blogs.
So in the meantime, Houston, we have some conflicts. And that’s OK.
Read also on hrchitects:
Conflict equals Opportunity 

Are you a 70-20-10 Development Leader ?

boatA new development model?

70:20:10 is a framework for development, developed in 2002 by Charles Jennings. He is a global and creative expert on development solutions. The basis of this model is research that covers 5 decades.  It’s a strategic model for learning and development. The basis of the model is that to develop, people need to be (1) aware of a current or future need and (2) feel motivated to do something about that need. Awareness comes from experience. It can come from feedback, mistakes, watching other people’s reactions, failing, feeling not being up to a task. Experience is the single most important source for development.
According to the model, development comes

  • 70% from experience: on-the-job,  tasks and problem, tough challenges.
  • 20% from feedback and coaching: social, informal learning, feedback from people (often the manager).
  • 10% from formal learning: courses, reading.


The 70:20:10 Learning Pyramid

It’s not about the exact numbers.  The numbers can vary depending on the company or the industry. It’s about the idea. This model of development goes beyond the classroom and formal training. It promotes the workplace as a place of development. That is extremely important.

Why now ?

The idea behind 70:20:10 are not new. So why is the model relevant today? Organizations understand that formal training alone won’t make the difference. To understand the limitations of the 10%’ is one thing. Implementing a development strategy with the 70% and 20% is another. This model offers a truly integrated and holistic approach for development. And as organisations are facing new challenges, they need to leave old paradigms behind and adopt new ones. This requires new ways of development. This requires faster learning. This evolution requires radical changes in the development landscape. And that’s why the 70:20:10 offers an attractive framework for development
Just a few examples of how learning is evolving.
Learning Paradigms

The development leader

70:20:10 provides a framework to both HR and leaders. A leader might already use the 70:20:10. But there is always room for improvement. The framework can help leaders to adopt various development roles.

  1. Development through stretching assignments (70%)

    Experience is the true teacher. A leader can shape experience. 
People learn the job on the job.
    Increased business speed makes learning on the job vital. To stay ahead people need to learn faster, better and smarter. People learn to do a tough job by doing it. A Stretching assignment stimulates development. It pulls people out of their comfort zone. Small mistakes and errors must be tolerated, encouraged and celebrated !

    The only thing worse than learning from experience, is not learning from it.

    It’s all about matching the right experience to the employee’s development stage.
 If managers know the work environment and the employee they can match the (stretching) experience to the employee. Learning on the job is no longer exclusively individual. The best way to solve complex problems is to collaborate.
    Managers should stimulate peer-learning. Everyone faces the future together. Partnership and pro-active collaboration are key. to learn and to reach common goals faster.

  2. Development through Community Learning (20%)

    Learning is social. People learn with and through others. Effective leaders urge their people to “buddy up” on projects. They can motivate to shadow others and to learn from peers. They can foster collaboration beyond silos. They can stimulate learning through common goals. And last they can invite people to take part in professional networks inside or outside the organization.
    People tend to learn well in an environment that encourages conversation.
    Leaders play an important role in launching and nurturing professional communities. They can ask an engaged employee to even start a community. Learning communities are self steering. Members share professional interest and have similar responsibilities. Sharing best practices and ideas is crucial for development.

  3. Development through coaching (20%)

    Managers do not need to be the best teachers. They need to be great coaches.
    Coaching aims at providing many things like:

    • Individual attention and personal support
    • Improved communication among team members
    • Discovery and development of potential
    • Acceleration and maintenance of positive changes
    • Peek performance from people and teams

    Coaching is not always one-on-one. Managers can also coach teams. Team coaching is right when dealing with real organizational challenges; or when there are complex work issues . The leader should ask reflective questions and listen. He or she encourages the team to take action and to solve the problem.

  4. Development through overall Learning Improvement

    Formal learning (10%)  still has its merits. Leaders boost the impact of formal learning by doing one single thing: Setting clear expectations before the training takes place. This increases  the impact of training immensely. It also makes it much more sustainable. 
Clear expectations will make learning more meaningful for the employee. People are naturally motivated to do things they find meaningful. They will walk the “extra mile”. They will take pride in demonstrating what they’ve learned at work.


Leaders are responsible for developing their people. They spend time on this. They gain time through developing more delegation opportunities. Leaders prepare employees for the daily challenges. They make them more resilient for change. They give them the right opportunities to leave their comfort zone. This is priceless.
70:20:10 is a very interesting model. It brings development into the business and into the workplace. The line manager becomes the driver of people development. Development is no longer the domain of HR alone.
By working together, you can apply the 70. Or you can judge that the 20 is the right approach. Or you can apply both of them together. If you become aware of this, you can become even more pro-active in people development.
You could e.g. simply put the 70:20:10 pyramid on a wall in a meeting room. You can have regular conversations with your people about how to make it come “alive”. You could then coach your people. You can check if they need further 70% or 20% and how to organize this.
That would be truly sustainable. Much more than simply sending them to a training. So are you a 70:20:10 development leader?

Check out

Coaching Presence: managing with an empty Head.

coaching presence

Brains, convictions and intuition

Managers use their brains to think. And to offer solutions for sometimes complicated problems. That’s what they’re managers for. So they better have a head filled with brains.
Managers regularly use their convictions to come to conclusions. They’ve seen A happening in situation B for so many times. This time they would want to prevent A from happening again and so they take proactive decisions when they see situation B emerging again.
Managers also regularly use their intuition to take steps. Intuition is not necessarily some kind of “magical” extra sense. In my view it’s nothing more than experience that has been built up and that makes you “unconsciously” aware. This is information about some things you should or should not do in a given situation you’ve encountered before, perhaps in another form. I am not a psychologist, but by experience I would call intuition a kind of “unconscious conviction”, where convictions are clearly very conscious.

People questions

Managers also use all these beautiful tools of the mind, to deal with their people. These are examples of questions they answer:

  • How do you know what you can delegate to whom ?
  • How do you setup a development plan and how do you guide the development meeting ?
  • How do you prepare for a performance review ? And how do you hold one ?
  • How and whom do you recruit ?
  • How and whom do you fire ?
  • How do you coach ?
  • Etc.

Our brains, convictions and intuition arevery powerful instruments when answering them.
But, one also needs to be aware of the pitfalls they bring. Especially convictions and intuition. There are two questions that can help.

Am I sure ?

“Am I sure ? And if I am, what makes me so sure ?”
These are two meta-questions that I ask myself when I deal with one of the people questions above.
If the answer on the first question is clearly positive and confirmed by many factual arguments on the second question, I will use everything my head has to offer in order to proceed and come to good solutions. My head will even pass the steering wheel to my heart, when there is more need for humanity and empathy, than for processes  and solutions.
In all other cases, I try to do exactly the opposite: I empty my head. And that is a challenge.

An empty head

It means that a lot of great approaches, convictions, skills, habits and reflexes all of a sudden become burdens rather than qualities. Emptying your head means that you can allow yourself not to know and not to provide solutions. Then you can  ask questions and double check if the answers you are getting, match with what you’ve always thought or not.
This requires you to ask apparently evident questions and to get evident answers.
Sometimes you will wonder if you’re not wasting time asking and listening, as your initial assumptions are valid after all. Still, as you were not 100% sure, you cannot have wasted your time. On the contrary, you’ve won time by being sure now and not having to doubt again.
The empty head is a metaphor that is sometime used to describe a very important coaching competency: coaching presence.

Coaching Presence

According to the definition of the ICF, coaching presence is the ability to be fully conscious and create spontaneous relationship with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible and confident. Someone who establishes coaching presence is open to not knowing and takes risks.
As much as I like the link to coaching, coaching presence is also a rather dangerous concept. It gets even more tricky  when the notion of “the line manager as a coach” comes knocking at the door.

The line manager as a coach.

When we talk about “the line manager as coach” there is a lot of confusion. First, thousands of line managers have gone through a training with that very title. Second, it’s also an ideal of how a good manager should behave. And third,  it has become an indicator of being a good manager.
The ‘line manager as a coach’ suggests that coaching is something that has to be done on top of the normal things. There has indeed been a huge rise of counseling, mentoring and coaching skills programs that came above the usual Introductions to Leaderhip. I cannot count the managers any more who have asked me: “So we must also be coaches now? When will we find the time for this ?”.
If a line manager is indeed to become a coach, he should develop the necessary  competencies. The International Coach Federation prescribes 11 competencies to develop of which coaching presence is only one. A developmental program to become a certified  coach can take up to 3 years. It is therefore not realistic to expect all line managers to go through such a program and develop all the necessary competencies.
So let’s not complicate life with a container concept like coaching and keep it simple.

Core Competencies

I suggest that there are 2 competencies that any line manager should or could develop.

  • Listen with empathy and without prejudice: Ability to focus completely on what the collaborator is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the collaborator’s desires, and to support collaborator’s self-expression.
  • Be fully present and conscious: Ability to be fully conscious and create spontaneous relationship with the collaborator, employing a style that is open, flexible and confident. This is what we refer to as coaching presence.

The purpose is not to develop a manager into a a coach. The purpose is to enable him/her not to take convictions and intuition for reality, in case of doubt. It’s not about only practicing when once the coaching hat is on, but to apply these simple competencies when appropriate. It’s important for a manager to integrate these competencies in the personal leadership style, and not to see them just as something that comes on top of the rest. The ultimate goal is to become indeed a good manager who can lead with an empty head when needed. And just being present when dealing with people might be the strongest competency to become a good leader. Coaching presence is a good place to start.

Meaningful Conversations as Key to Engagement and Retention


Once, I worked as an HR manager for a financial services firm. We introduced the idea of meaningful conversations. The aim was not to suggest that most of the conversations were meaningless, but to stress the importance of good, high quality conversations to high engagement.
We did not invent this concept on our “HR-cloud”. The idea was based on the analysis of many exit interviews. This analysis revealed very clearly that issues in the relations, conversations, coaching, chemistry and trust between boss and employee were the first reason why people become disengaged and leave.
Point taken, but how do you create or fix those things ?
You don’t.
Obviously you cannot create or fix a relationship of trust between people. They have to do that themselves. But you can create a context and culture that enables and stimulates all this.

Cultural Changes

There is another challenge: it takes time. Creating a (new) culture takes at least 5 years in my experience. It requires some tough changes in terms of leadership, behaviours, paradigms etc. As an HR professional you cannot just sit and wait for cultural changes. You need to take initiatives.
An excuse often heard is “Why bother introducing new tools and programs if our culture is not ready?” This may be a valid argument. However, it is also true that the creation of a new culture is never a linear process that needs to be completed first before anything else can be done. It is more a continuous learning and experimental process. This process can be stimulated by “adding” now and then something. Even when one may not yet be 100% ready yet. No guts, no glory…
That’s why we at that time decided to start building a “coaching culture”. The first concrete step in that direction was the launch of the meaningful conversation. We were fully aware that some line managers would probably react a bit confused or even resistant as if it were “again something new from HR”.

Meaningful conversations

After having read into the work of John Whitmore and having inquired with the internal stakeholders, we defined it like this:

Coaching is a meaningful conversation based on an attitude and a set of skills that help engaging with others, and help people develop the necessary competencies and confidence to improve their performance and achieve their potential.

We also made it part of a larger framework of possible situations where meaningful conversations are highly valuable.

Meaningful Conversations
Meaningful Conversations

At a first presentation, the management team showed appreciation for:

  • the bridge towards engagement and performance in the definition of coaching. Some managers perceived coaching to be very “soft” and not very performance related.
  • the suggestion, mentioned in the framework, that meaningful conversations are not only to be used towards employees and colleagues, but also towards clients and candidates ! One and the same concept for so many interlocutors !

Of course, it is not because this was positively welcomed, that a coaching culture emerges. Nor will one be overwhelmed by a sudden surge of meaningful conversations all over the place.


It is critical that organisational feedback flows from the CEO all the way to the employees on the field and back. Not only does this promote transparency and trust. It also fosters dialogue and conversation at the local level about how individuals and teams can improve employee engagement.
If the engagement and trust levels are low, I suggest getting outside help for holding these conversations. The most important outcome from these conversations is that the employees learn and dare to talk openly about whatever is on their mind. If the employees do not feel safe, then there is no point in having the conversations.
Average trust levels usually are the result of the fact that certain areas have less trust than others or that certain managers have earned less trust than others.

The key element of a meaningful conversation: Listening

I will not bore you with lists. Experience has learned me that a very important skill towards creating a safe environment and enabling meaningfulness is “listening”. Good, active listening. Nothing less and certainly nothing more, as an excellent, non judgmental start of a meaningful conversation.
How do you start with listening ?
Based on our own, already earlier used internal manuals, we created this overview. The first level is “attending” (listening for starters). The highest level is “Listening with intuition” (listening for the experienced).

Listening Skills
Listening Skills

Last but not least, we created workshops with very easy, accessible exercises. This helps to make all this come alive.
Did we create miracles ? Certainly not.
Did we create a new culture ? Not entirely.
Did we offer some first steps towards new, more appropriate behaviour ? We certainly did.
And this was also confirmed by an exit ratio slightly going down and by some managers actively daring to share their positive experiences with listening and with meaningful conversations!

Related Blog Posts

Core Qualities. You cannot be serious ?!

“You cannot be serious ?! You exaggerate !”

John McEnroe
John McEnroe

These world-famous words are from John McEnroe. He shouted them every time he disagreed with the judge on the tennis court.
These are also my words to my best friend when he’s way too impulsive again every time he reduces the upfront planning to garbage again.
How is it possible that we can be so truly convinced that the other one is completely ‘loosing it’? Why do we think that we urgently need to make that clear to him, without questioning ourselves on those moments? Every human being has unique behaviour, styles and preferences. That goes for John McEnroe with his typical style, but also for each one of us. That includes my best friend and myself. Many unique features together cover a gigantic variety, a gigantic collection of differences.
What if we would look at all these differences from a quality – perspective? What would happen if I would not get irritated and shout at my best friend, but instead say:

I admire your ability to make use of the energy of the moment and to open doors already in this stage (even though the planning suggested to wait still for 6 days)” ?

Core Qualities

Management Coach and Consultant Daniel Ofman worked intensively with these kind of questions. He developed an extremely interesting model called the “Ofman Quadrants” or “Core qualities model”. You can find a lot of information about these quadrants and the core qualities on the internet. My purpose here is to share some personal learning and to link them to the model.
You can use this model to find out:

  • what your core qualities are. These are things you do well.
  • which of your behaviors you should avoid (pitfalls).
  • what types of things you should make an effort to do, even though they don’t come naturally to you (challenges).
  • why certain behaviours or characteristics in other people trigger a negative reaction (allergies).

Core Qualities
The model is dynamic :

  • Making too much use of your core qualities leads to a pitfall.
  • Once you’ve identified the pitfalls you can find your challenges. These are potential core qualities that need development. They are the positive opposite of your pitfalls.
  • When you exaggerate your challenge you will find your allergies. Allergies triggers a negative reaction in you. They are the positive opposite of your core qualities.

I like planning things a lot. I am also competent in planning things. But now and then I exaggerate. On those moments on the people around me. Planning gets a kind of ‘holy’ position and becomes the only measure for decisions and actions. When somebody wants to do something or asks for a ‘what’, a ‘how’ or a ‘why’, there’s only one answer for me: look at the planning !
This is clearly a pitfall. Life and reality are of course much more flexible, open, unpredictable and complicated than any planning could cover.
The positive opposite of this pitfall is my challenge. What makes me so sure that the planning is the one and only way forward? Has my friend meant to disrespect the planning on purpose? What was his purpose anyway? What can I learn from his approach? Shouldn’t I become a bit more ‘flexible’ and less a ‘planning addict’ ?
Becoming aware of this challenge is a great though confronting experience. It may lead to an even newer awareness: the one of the allergy. If too many people, and certainly those I care about most, seem to disregard the planning, disrespect all the work done upfront, and finally, do not seem to appreciate my efforts to ‘follow and trust them’ without planning, then I will ‘turn myself off’. I will turn myself completely into a “whatever” – mood. Of course after having shouted “You cannot be serious ?! You exaggerate !”
That basically means that I stop caring about the progress. I am even capable then to throw away ‘my’ planning myself and switch myself off until somebody clearly convinces me of a new approach.
Sounds familiar? I don’t know. What I do know is that going through these quadrants, being fully aware of them at regular moments, has been a very interesting process.


I have learned to be grateful to have pitfalls. There are no core qualities without them !
Your manager appreciates your flexibility which might be due to your lack of structure.
Your ability to resolve problems and make decisions is based on your ‘pushy’ side which is not always appreciated.
I have learned to be aware that criticism I receive may tell me more about my core qualities.
Criticism tells me that I might have gone too far rather than there is a lack of qualities. When you are confronted with a “You cannot be serious ! Don’t be so…”
• Don’t feel obligated to justify and defend yourself immediately.
• Press the “pause” button.
• Concentrate on this question: “Which of my core qualities am I exaggerating?”
Be grateful for people bothering you.
They are the ones showing you what you need most! Perhaps they do it in an extreme way, but they do.
To prove this, let’s turn our friend Ofman the other way around, starting with the allergy. An allergy is the exaggeration of a challenge. If we follow the logic of the quadrants, this challenge is nothing more than a potential core quality to be developed when we are in a pitfall, such as: I am working too much (pitfall), I should take a rest (challenge).
Applied to interpersonal relationships, we see that the people we feel “allergic” to have the attributes we need most. An empathic team leader reporting to a dictatorial division manager may admire the manager’s ability to express his opinion without hesitation, though he may dislike his excessive authority. A dynamic manager with a black-or-white attitude might also learn a lesson in tolerance.
By becoming aware of the true meaning and power of allergies, as triggers for growth and development, we may succeed in  literally ‘skipping’ them from our personal ‘Ofman parcours’. We may succeed in no longer passing through negative emotions that normally enter our system when we are trapped in our allergies.
In my case the pause button is really helping. Whenever I feel emotionally and physically allergic towards someone or something, I really try to pause. This gives room to for consciously focusing on what this person or situation has to offer. What should I develop ?
In this way I discover my challenges. They are in fact a very useful “supplement” to my core qualities. This idea of supplement comes from a blog by Vincent van Vliet.  I liked that notion very much because I indeed feel as if my core qualities together with my challenges make a great team !

Team Building – Team Coaching – Team Something

Peter is a recently hired manager in the consulting industry, facing a challenge: his team – if that’s the appropriate name – consists of 7 people, spread over 4 countries. And due to recent restructuring and changes in the organization, it is not really sure they all know each other already, so probably a team kick off or building or something was necessary. They must get to know each other and work together on projects, according to John, Peter’s boss.
Peter realizes that that part of the expectations towards him could have been clarified more in detail during the hiring process. Anyway, it’s a bit late now to mention that. So crafting a team would be one of his main challenges.

Team Building

What could he do?

    • Call each one of them for a one on one first?
    • Organize a meeting to see who shows up?
    • Explain them ‘his vision’ (provided he has one)?
    • First listen to them and their expectations?
    • Hope they become a team, or take initiatives towards that goal?
    • And what initiatives precisely could he undertake?

Quite worried, he has started reading some articles on team building and team coaching and that made him decide not to take any impulsive initiatives, but to contact his HR manager to ask for some comments, advice and support. That HR Manager was me. I had the honour and pleasure to converse with Peter about his concerns. These are some of the topics we talked about.

Team building

Team building literally means the “building” process of a group of people into a team. The attention mainly goes to the roles being held within the team. Very often a trainers choses outdoor-activities that provide challenges the team needs to deal with. The team members will spontaneously take up certain team roles during the process of accomplishing these challenges.
E.g. if you put a group of people on a sailboat, you will quickly be observing who is starting doing what and how: who is taking the lead, who is making sure there’s a good atmosphere, who is coming with solutions, etc.
As of the moment the team has an insight in the available team roles, people will start to really see each other as being different and to experience complementarity in a way that you would probably never do in “normal” working circumstances.
A day of team building typically has an informal character and combines fun with serious activities. It clarifies relations and consolidates involvement among the team members.

Team spirit

Team building also improves the team spirit and challenges team members to see each other in one’s uniqueness and essence. Team spirit grows when the team members become truly convinced that they are more productive working together as a team, than if each one of them would work on their own. You recognize team spirit when you see team members who:

  • like being part of the team;
  • look forward to collaborate (again and again) with each other ;
  • produce humor;
  • return to a relaxed state, after more difficult moments.

Team coaching

Team coaching goes beyond team building. Team coaching is not about getting to know each other and each others differences and complementarity. It is about creating awareness about the (invisible, hidden) interaction, communication, relations, possible blocking factors and conflicts among the team members. This can only be effective after the process of team building. This means that there is already team maturity with e.g. the need to integrate new members. Becoming aware of these hidden things is one purpose; breaking through certain ineffective patterns and turning them into effective ones, a second.
Another way to say it:

  • Team building clarifies visible, observable roles and their effect. With a metaphor: it stays above the water surface.
  • Team coaching clarifies what’s happening under the water surface. It clarifies the invisible, hidden causes of certain ineffective behaviours, interactions or old habits the team members seem to turn around into. How and why precisely do they unconsciously trigger each other to a certain ineffective behaviour ? And how can these patterns be broken through and turned into effective ones ?

What about Peter ?

Through our conversation Peter realized that in a first phase he would have to organize one on one encounters with every team member. And his team members would have to get to know each other during an informal kick off allowing them to (1) physically meet, greet, listen and talk to each other; (2) playfully work together on nice, challenging team building missions; and (3) experience the chemistry of team work through all these activities.
Near the end of the first team meeting, he found a moment to listen to them about their ideas about purpose, goals, projects etc., to share (not impose) his ideas, after having carefully listened.
He suggested continuing physical meetings at regular timings, even though the international character of his team and budgetary realities would not always make that easy. But it was not an option to simply hope that after a first encounter, the group would automatically become a team and stay a team, without any further effort.
He asked me if I could support him as a coach with those eventual further challenges. Of course I accepted.
Peter was quite worried when he started this journey. I had helped him to discover the next steps and gave him a feeling that he was not standing alone in this challenge.

The essence of coaching: It's not about the nail.

First you need to watch this video.

We always try to fix things. It’s in our nature. When you’re coaching you are listening to people and sometimes you wonder why people do not see things as clear as you do. The solution seems to be right in front of them and they seem not to get it. As a coach you could decide to take matters into your own hands, tell the coachee what the problem really is and propose the only obvious solution. When you do so, you are not coaching.
Coaching is about creating awareness, fostering a sense of responsibility and enabling action. But it’s the coachee that has to be aware, take responsibility and make decisions. Any intervention from the coach that reduces any of these outcomes, reduces the impact of coaching. Telling a coachee what to do, is reducing his or her responsibility.
So even when you know that it’s about the nail, it’s the coachee that should decide if it really is about the nail. And even if you think pulling out the nail is the only solution, it’s the coachee that will decide that this is the action to be taken.
This is hard. As a coach you might feel as if you are powerless. It does not seem to be very efficient. However, your role as coach is not about the content. It’s about the process. You are fully responsible to do whatever it takes to enable awaress, responsibility and action. And your tools are listening, asking questions and confronting. Nothing more, nothing less.
It’s not about the nail. It’s about the coachee.