‘Look for progress, not perfection’: 6 steps to coaching

Communication tips for coaching different personality types


In a field where members rely on each other to work on critical cases in tandem, to survey the scene to keep each other safe, and to lend a listening ear after a traumatic call, maintaining the integrity of the department and trust between members is essential. This EMS1 special coverage series identifies the top disciplinary issues facing EMS leaders and what they can do to prevent and mitigate bad behavior while preserving trust among the community and members.

What if there are not different types of personalities? What if all there is, is a human being over there, doing what they are doing, and we are projecting our opinions, judgments, assessments and interpretations onto them; giving them labels like stubborn, lazy, motivated, needy, passive-aggressive, etc. and drawing conclusions about who they are?

If you didn’t have to concern yourself with the type of personality the other person has and you could drop all the labels you have about yourself, what would be left is two human beings connecting and it would be the start of a beautiful relationship. This is how young children are before being contaminated by labels, categories and concepts. They are open to connecting, collaborating and creating together (i.e., playing).

We have a misunderstanding about personality types. We think they are permanent, except maybe they are not. For instance, think about someone you do not agree with or do not like for some reason. Now, think of three to five words you would use to describe them. Now imagine the three to five words their mother might use to describe them. What about their best friend or their significant other? What this exercise demonstrates is that the same person is experienced differently based on the perspective of the describer. We tend to discount these other perspectives and think we are right, however, when you slow down and examine your thinking, you will see you are projecting your own opinion onto the person.

If you didn’t have to concern yourself with the type of personality the other person has and you could drop all the labels you have about yourself, what would be left is two human beings connecting and it would be the start of a beautiful relationship.
If you didn’t have to concern yourself with the type of personality the other person has and you could drop all the labels you have about yourself, what would be left is two human beings connecting and it would be the start of a beautiful relationship. (Photo/Getty Images)

Once you form an opinion, your brain (thanks to the reticular activators) starts looking for evidence to confirm your opinion and essentially ignores or deems insignificant any evidence that would contradict your opinion. Basically, we tend to see what we are looking for. It’s known as observer bias and it is why double-blind studies are conducted so that neither the observer nor the subject know what’s being researched in order to avoid bias.

Despite the fact that this phenomenon has been extensively researched and proven time and time again, most people do not take this into account when communicating or relating to others. For the most part, people continue to believe their opinions, judgments, assessments and interpretations about others are true. This failure to recognize that our opinions are like goggles distorting our view of reality is by far the biggest barrier to effective communication that there is.

If you really want to enhance your ability to communicate and effectively coach people in your organization, then here is what you need to do:

  1. Drop your labels of yourself and others. Instead of drawing conclusions, get curious. How something occurs to you is not necessarily the way it is. Look beyond your descriptions; commit to truly seeing the other person and connecting with them.
  2. Get present and stay there. In order to listen, arguably the most important aspect of communication, you must be present. That means you focus solely on what the other person is saying, not on what you are thinking or what you want to say.
  3. Ask, “Is there anything else?” before you speak. People are not used to being listened to and having the space to express themselves, so they often hold back. Make sure you get the whole story before commenting.
  4. Ask permission before giving your ideas or suggestions. It is as simple as, “I have some thoughts/ideas I’d like to offer; would that be OK with you?” If you don’t ask permission, it’s not coaching. No one likes being told what to do, so ask.
  5. Get clarity. Outline objectives from their perspective and your perspective. Whatever the subject matter, it is essential to know you are both on the same wavelength about the ideal outcome and level of importance.
  6. Adopt a learner’s mindset. Coaching is an art not a science. There will be a lot of trial and error. When you authentically care and want to help, you can’t do it wrong. If you don’t get the outcome you were hoping for, resist the urge to place blame. Instead, get curious and discuss with the person what was missing. Look for progress, not perfection.

Coaching is an extraordinary opportunity to connect with another human being and make a difference in their future. It requires a radically different way of thinking than the traditional top-down, “my way or the highway” approach that runs rampant in many organizations. Taking on the recommendations in this article will support you in achieving the change you really want and becoming the leader you want to be.


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