Much about conversation depends on the rapport between the two parties. As Clutterback explains in his title; “Creating a Coaching Culture,” the quality of a relationship is determined by the rapport between the two parties in it. A good rapport implies a healthy relationship and therefore a learning conversation. Observations of people in conversation can reveal a great deal about the rapport between them and therefore an insight into the relationship they share. The tell-tell signs will be the body language of the parties in conversation as well as the brief moments of silence they share as part of their conversation.
After all 55% of communication is done via our body language and facial expression (Albert Mehrabian – Best Practice in Performance Coaching). Though this task required the observation of the conversation of just a group, I must admit that I had to observer a number of groups in a number of settings before focusing on one. As I carried out these observations, the variations coupled with the literature on the subject brought out very many insights into the power of conversation and the enormity of the focus necessary, as a coach, to execute successfully, a learning dialogue.
Staying in control is the ultimate goal and even when going down a slippery slope it is you who would have to determine how far down the slide goes. The Setting In my observations, I discovered that social environment in which the conversation takes place can have a great deal to do with the nature of the conversation. Cafes make for very fast light hearted conversations without much pause or reflection from either parties whilst parks and restaurants allowed for a slower pace of conversation with lots of moments of silence presumably accompanied by deep thought and reflection.
The setting also shows disposition to certain types of body language expressed by the parties in conversation. Perhaps it is to do with the pace of the conversation or perhaps the social attributes of the environment. People I observe in parks and restaurants tend to demonstrate more closeness and rapport through their body language than those in cafes would. There were longer moments of eye contact, heavier body contact and more varied facial expressions.
This is by no means a scientific conclusion on the impact of the conversational setting on the conversation we have as people but however a cue to pay greater attention to the setting of a coaching session with a coachee. I would imagine, the first step in taking control of the conversation is allowing the setting to be conducive to the objective of the coaching session. As I have noticed in the brief observations I have had, the right setting will allow for the right expressions from both parties and therefore facilitate the depth of the conversation.
The danger however is to ignore the casual attributions which may then arise from the cultural dispositions of me as a coach and from the coachee as an individual towards their actions in relation to the environment. Casual Attributions in Conversation The reason why I would like to discuss this at this point is because it plays a lot in our reading, perception and judgement of conversation and particularly body language. The casual attribution theory discusses the reason for the judgement we make on why a person behaves or behaved the way they did.
Psychological research on attribution has primarily studied the cause of another person’s behaviour. Attributions are ubiquitous in everyday life and as such are easily overlooked in our everyday conversations. As a coach, I believe it is very important to be acutely aware of the attributions we may place on a coachee’s behaviour or reactions and endeavour to keep an open and non-judgemental mind. This will allow our conversations to be much more forthcoming. Heider (1958) purports that perceivers (a role we would occupy as coaches) seek to attribute fleeting behaviour to stable dispositions.
They tend to trace action to dispositions of the actor. In other words, a coach might be caught up in making judgements on the actions of the coachee based on the knowledge the coach has gained on the coachee as a person. This tendency was designated by Ross and Nisbett (1991) the fundamental attribution error. When I reflected on my preference to attribution, I noticed that I have a tendency to gravitate towards individualistic attribution tendencies. As a result to be a better coach it necessitates me to actively seek to balance this.
Conversation is a two way process and therefore, awareness of the attributions that the coachee might be predisposed to will be vital. Sometimes the coachee’s action might be a reaction to your action(s) as a coach. It will be important to understand the coachee’s attribution tendencies thereby enabling you not only to manage your expressions (body language) but also to fully understand any actions by your coachee. Miller’s research in 1984 provided evidence that understanding of cultures is imperative in understanding the underlying reactions in conversation.
Cultural psychology separates the cultures into individualistic and collectivist with both groups showing different tendencies of attribution. I therefore feel understanding your coachee’s background will be an important step towards achieving a learning conversation. Body Language and Rapport Alebert Merhabian’s theory suggests that when people have a rapport between them, they tend to have mirrored body language (Best Practice in Perfomance Coaching; Carol Wilson p129). This was explicit in my observations. I could tell when both parties exhibit mirrored body language such as leaning towards each other and laughing in tandem.
This was a clear sign of the rapport between the parties, a significant indication of the intensity of the conversation. It is my belief that a good rapport between two parties in a conversation will make for easy listening enabling the listener to move up the levels of listening (Carol Wilson p21). The rapport between the two will aid in “cocooning” the conversation and allow for very minimal distraction. As a coach the objective will be to aim for intuitive listening thus developing a good rapport with the coachee is a step in the right direction.
As Carol Wilson explains in her book – Best Practice in Performance Coaching – coaching only truly happens when we listen at higher levels i. e. intuitive listening. On the other hand, contrasting body language in a conversation can be indicative of a negative rapport between the parties in conversation. This might lead to a strained and unproductive conversation. Sometimes, it is necessary to stop and look at the underlying factors for the lack of rapport as opposed to “forcing” the situation by actively trying to mirror your coachee’s body language.
This can at times go right down to the setting or environment or possibly the casual attributions tendencies of both individuals. Summary & Conclusion Much has been written about communication and conversation. It remains a powerful tool in coaching and therefore the greater the understanding we have as coaches, the better we will be able to use the conversation tool in executing our duties. In this report, I have looked at the impact on communication and conversation of three different aspects and seen how I can better prepare myself as a coach.
My observations were a great cue towards helping me understanding communication. To attain my ultimate goal of always remaining in control, there are a good number of things to take into consideration. A lot in this report has focussed on the non-verbal aspects of the communication process. During the observation, I remained a good distance from the target group and therefore could not match the verbal communication to the non-verbal patterns that I observed. I am intrigued to know what the relation between the two will be. Are words a reflection of feelings?
Are we more likely to control our physical expressions to avoid “causing a scene” in a public place? Are we mostly acutely aware of our surroundings? These are questions to which we might have no answers but can be used as important guides in analysing and controlling conversation. I have learned a great deal from these observations to make me a better coach. It is very important to understand and interpret non verbal cues in conversation paying particular attention to our own personal attributions as coaches that we might bring into the relationship.