Just because they’re quiet doesn’t mean they’re listening

Recently, I had the opportunity to observe a coaching fail. When students asked questions, the coach…there’s no other word for it…blathered. She talked more than was necessary, gave irrelevant and confusing examples, and repeated herself. But the students listened with rapt attention the whole time! Or at least it looked that way.

Then I observed another coach who chimed in with succinct, relatable answers. All of a sudden, heads were nodding in agreement. People were laughing, and they approached her afterwards to ask additional questions. I realized that silence, or eyes on you, isn’t a good measuring stick for engagement. For all you know, your audience is mentally rummaging through the fridge and building their next grocery list.

So what did the second coach do right? How did she become the most-trusted person in the room, and how can you do the same? Here are three strategies that we use at Rêve Academy which I swear by:

1. Edit yourself

Reflect on what’s most important to get across (usually no more than 3 – 5 points), then during the crucial conversation, stick to those points. Blathering happens when we’re caught off guard. To avoid that, you’ll need time for study, reflection, and old-fashioned brainstorming when you’re not in front of your audience.

2. Nothing beats personal attention

When you take someone aside for personal feedback, you just grabbed their attention in a big way. What are you going to do with it? I recommend tapping into their motivation and existing skills. “[Name], I’ve noticed that you’re really good at [blank]. You do X, Y, and Z, which sets you up nicely for [goal]. I think you could level up by adding [best practice]. What do you think?”

3. You don’t have to lead with positivity, but you better end with it

This week, I had tough feedback to deliver to some of my favorite people: the young interns at Rêve Academy’s Student-Run Businesses. Sugarcoating wasn’t going to help, so I took a deep breath and got to the point: “I’m disappointed because I asked for [deliverables 1 and 2], but they’re not done. However, I think this project can still be successful. Here’s how…” Then I introduced my main points (yep, I had spent time editing them before our meeting!). It ended on a positive note because I shared clear steps to move forward, interns were able to ask questions and explain what they needed, and we all agreed on what success would look like.

I hope these lessons are useful to you. Huge thanks to my Rêve Academy teammates for constantly and generously sharing their strategies with me. If you’ve got a favorite coaching tip, I’d love to hear it!

Rêve Academy

Rêve Academy helps students dream with direction by providing pathways to digital careers. We create marketable talent by combining immersive coursework with real-world experience.