Give a man a fish… Mindful coaching to improve your Safety Culture


“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him for life”. A famous saying that suggests that we help people to find their own way rather than provide them with all the answers. One way of doing this is through coaching, of which there are numerous models to choose from. All involve asking questions to help the person move from where they are to where they want/ need to be. One you might not have tried is mindful coaching.

What is mindfulness anyway?

It is focusing our attention on the present moment. Easier said than done though. Imagine you’re coaching a member of your team. What can get in the way of you being mindful? A whole range of factors actually, including:

  • External factors: distractions such as background noise
  • Response rehearsal: thinking about what we are going to say in response
  • Being judgmental: rather than remaining open to what is happening/ being said now
  • Problem solving: trying to come up with solutions to solve their problem for them
  • Imposing our personal view: rather than purely accepting what is being said.

Well then, how do you become more mindful when coaching?

Plan and prepare
The best way is to start by thinking about your intention. How will we establish what a successful outcome looks like? Mindfulness is about enhancing the lives of others by unconditionally accepting their views/ perspectives. So rather than starting by concentrating on them, we should start with ourselves. Here are 4 steps that can help us to prepare for the coaching session:

  1. Become more self-aware: What is happening for you right now?
  2. Recognise your mental filters: What destructive thought patterns do you have? About the situation, the person, yourself?
  3. Consider your intentions: Are they positive?
  4. Direct your attention: To what it is you really, really want!

Next we want to plan the session. Where will we have it, for how long etc? We also want to plan for how we will gain their trust, we can do this by ensuring that we are:

  • Mature in character, by being authentic
  • Decisive, which involves taking action, committing as opposed to being indecisive
  • Consistent, over time, our actions match our words
  • Strong, showing strength of character through being decisive and consistent.

The session
Obviously, you’ll want to start with the goal of the session (once you’ve welcomed them and made sure they are comfortable). Most problems or issues stem from not knowing:

  • Where you’ve come from
  • Where you are now
  • Where you’re going
  • How you will get there (or a combination of these)

When they outline the problem/ goal the above can help us to know where they are and therefore what direction to go in.

If it’s a problem/ goal that they aren’t sure about, or have trouble committing to, you can use the head, heart, gut approach. First you ask them what they think about it (head). Once they’ve had a chance to think about this and have articulated an answer, ask them how they feel about it (heart). Again, once they’ve considered this and answered, then ask “what is your gut telling you about it?”

Why use this approach? Because it can help someone to think the goal through more fully and decide whether it’s something they truly want to commit to. Let’s take a non-work example.

Coach – “What is the goal you’d like us to discuss today?”
Client – “I’m not sure, I just don’t think I spend as much time with my friends as I used to.”
Coach – “What does your head say about this, what do you think about it?”
Client – “That it’s something I should be doing.”
Coach – “What is your heart telling you about what you’re thinking, how do you feel about it?”
Client – “It makes me sad, I used to see them a lot and had a lot of good times, I miss those times.”
Coach – “What is your gut telling you about what you’re thinking and feeling?”
Client – “That it’s something I really want to do, I’m going to do it!”

Some things to consider though. They have to want/ be ready to change. They must take ownership of the issue, it is theirs to solve. We can facilitate and support, but not solve it for them. In order to do this there are some steps that can help:

  1. Show empathy: Try to see it from all sides. You’ll obviously be viewing from your own perspective, but try to see it from theirs too, as the saying goes “never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins”. But also try to see it from the 3rd perceptual position, that of an interested observer, someone looking in from the outside. How would they see it? Would they see it differently from the two of you?
  2. Empower them: Empowerment comes from taking responsibility. Ask “what are you going to do about this?”
  3. Exploration: “What have you already tried/ what have you done so far?” If they haven’t done anything, then 
  4. Education: “Would it be OK, if I made a suggestion?”
  5. Empower them: “What will you do next?”

We hope you found this article helpful, just a closing thought… If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime, but what if you taught him how to teach other men to fish?

By Quentin Emery

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