Coaching Case Study By Manzur Mohammed
(Wellness Coach, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO)
In my early days of primary level learning, my teacher shared in class the proverb – “Speech is silver, silence is golden”. According to Wikipedia, the origins of the proverb most likely came from the Arabic culture where it was used as early as the 9th century and it sought to emphasize the value of silence over the spoken word. As an introspective person, being silent comes naturally for me and I appreciate its value. While being silent allows one to hear what is going on around you, it is not the only element required to enable real listening. The approach of questioning and restatement is required to deepen understanding of what is being shared by the speaker. The mnemonic LQR – Listen, Question, Restatecan used to remember the activities required to improve one’s ability to listen.
Several years ago, when attending a Leadership Excellence Programme, the concept of ‘radical listening’ was introduced. It was identified that many leaders lacked the ability to genuinely listen to those around them and the ability to listen was considered a key success factor for leadership. The reading materials included an article on radical listening written by Lainie Heneghan, Managing Director, JMW WorldwideUK Ltd, and published in the European CEO. Within it, she reported that the notion of listening is often misunderstood, and it is not the “flip side of talking”. She goes on to state that radical listening is not complicated but does require discipline where there is purposeful focus on what is being said as well as the intent of the speaker. “It is the act of allowing the other person to express themselves completely, without interruption and any preconceived notions on your part – with the intent to fully absorb and process what they are saying.” The article recommended three areas on which to focus when practicing radical listening:
- Be aware of your own inner dialogue and listen beyond it
- Listen for what you cannot hear and for what people will not normally tell you
- Listen for possibility and commitment
The Coaching Process clearly specifies the need for Powerful Listening and detailed guidance on how to do so is contained in ICF’s Competency #6 – Listens Actively. Being silent is an element of listening, to the extent where it facilitates the intense focus on what the client is sharing. While the coach is not talking, distracting personal thoughts, emotions, and feelings of judgment mustn’t get in the way of listening. The ‘active part in listening requires the coach to ask appropriate questions and make observations, to ensure there is a shared understanding of the client and situation at hand, as well as supports them moving forward in achieving their goals or stated objectives.
This case study explores how powerful listening was used by a manager in the workplace to enable change management in one of the business processes. NOTE: Specific details regarding the business process and individuals are limited due to its confidential nature.
The Manager, having worked in the company for a little under five years, managed a Team of twenty persons. Within that Team, there is a small sub-unit of three persons plus one supervisor. The Supervisor is a long-standing employee of the company working in the unit for well over fifteen years and held the position of Supervisor for more than five years. The team is supervised had a much shorter tenure of fewer than two years. Historically, persons in the unit tended to stay for a period of three to five years, with the Supervisor being an exception. The functions of the unit are routine yet critical to the entire organization. Discipline and attention to detail are key aspects of the job as processing errors affect several other areas which depend on their output.
One year ago, there was a change in the process to adopt a new procedure that was intended to improve efficiency. Several meetings were held with the various departments and persons involved. After many months, the sub-unit had successfully introduced the new process and the efficiency was achieved. Unfortunately, one year later, the environment changed, and Management decided the updated process was no longer acceptable as it did not adequately address new risks which were identified. A change was required, and it meant reverting to the previous way of doing things.
When this was shared with the sub-unit in a meeting with their supervisor, there were some concerns expressed, however, the Manager did not consider them significant to warrant much thought. After two weeks, it was brought to the Manager’s attention that the members of the sub-unit were not 100% on board with the new procedure and the Supervisor suggested that the Manager meets with them individually to hear their concerns.
The Manager decided to follow through with the Supervisor’s suggestion and meet with the three persons individually, in no particular order. Before scheduling the meetings, a review of the elements of active listening was done, to support the conversations to be held. In addition to truly listening to Team and what they had to share about the change, the key question to be asked in each of the discussions would be centered around what needed to be addressed to implement the change.
The first person met had several questions for clarity about the new process to be implemented. The Manager did not realize that the person had limited experience with what was being done before and more information around the change needed to be shared. Some personal risk considerations had to be addressed to ensure there was transparency and accountability between the employee and the Company.
The second meeting had a different dynamic where the person was the most experienced in the Team and had a strong personality as well as an almost aggressive manner in talking. The conversation was conducted in a manner where the pace and tone were always in check to support a calm and open dialogue. After some time, it was discovered that there was no issue with implementing the change however the person had some concerns around their remuneration and some additional duties which were being performed. Although there was no direct correlation to the process change required, the feeling of being “under-valued” appeared to have created a barrier for full adoption and implementation of the change.
An interesting conversation was held with the third person, who joined the Team less than three months earlier and had no experience with the original process to which the change was being reverted. There were no issues in understanding the changes required and was in full support. The concerns surrounded the impression to be given to the teammates if one member going ahead with the change and the others appeared to have issues. Being the newest member of the Team, there was an eagerness for acceptance as well as avoidance in doing anything which could potentially jeopardize it.
Following the meetings, feedback was provided to the Supervisor and a plan was developed to address each of the issues identified. Thereafter, a collective meeting was held with the entire Team to express gratitude for their support in introducing the process changes and to confirm the implementation of actions taken to address the identified issues.
This case study highlighted the benefits of powerful listening for facilitating process changes in an organization. When obstacles arise, it is important to have open conversations with relevant stakeholders and the benefits of powerful listening will support the identification of the path forward. It is interesting to note that the setting or location for conversations also plays an important part in how the communication occurs and can support or hinder the listening process. Additionally, controlling one’s judgment and allowing persons to speak where they feel heard and understood is critical for getting to the root cause of issues and engagement in supporting changes.