Before a manager or supervisor can begin to plan coaching strategies for a particular person, they must accurately determine what that person needs. Although many people will share common problems and needs, it is a mistake to take a blanket approach to supervising, or to assume that all employees or colleagues need the same things. Therefore, your first task is to determine exactly what each person needs. This requires careful and active listening.

Language is as much about hiding information as it is about revealing information. For instance, when a new employee says, “I really like the work but it’s a bit pressured sometimes”, they might really be trying to communicate that they need help understanding exactly what is required, or what the correct procedure is. Therefore, a supervisor must be prepared to actively listen in order to better understand what the full message that is being communicated.


Active Listening

This involves listening on several levels: listening to the words the person says; listening to the tone of voice and language used; and observing the person’s body language. This holistic approach to listening will provide you with many clues to the person’s real attitude and feelings, which may not be expressed in words, and which may even be hidden by their words.

Some basic guidelines to active listening are:

1. Maintain eye contact to show that you are really interested in what the person has to say. This will also encourage the person to speak more freely. However, since some cultures discourage sustained eye contact, take your cue from the person. If they make eye contact, so can you; but if the person continually averts their eyes, you might be wiser to do the same.

2. Be quiet and listen. Do not confuse listening (which is one set of actions) with giving advice or suggestions (another set of actions). Your listening task is to encourage the person to speak.

3. Try to work out the main message. Ask yourself, "What is the person feeling?" and "What facts do I need to confirm that I have understood? You can find out by asking short, open questions, such as "How did you feel when that happened?" or "What is the main thing that you dislike about that?”

4. Check that you understand what the person is actually trying to communicate. You can do this by clarification and paraphrasing. Clarification means finding out exactly what the other person means. You can do this with an open question like, "Can you explain what you mean by feeling pressured so that I understand exactly what you're saying?" Paraphrasing means checking that you have understood something by re-stating it in your own words. For example, you might ask, "So what you are saying is that you sometimes feel uncertain about the correct procedure. Is that correct?" or "Can I just check that I have understood you? I think you are saying that you feel you need more training. Is that correct?"

5. Accept the person's feelings without judgement or opinion.

6. Remain calm, unemotional and empathetic. Your role as supervisor is to, to try to understand the person’s meaning and to address the stated or implied need, not to judge.

7. Summarise what you have understood, ensure that the person agrees with you that these are their main issues, and state clearly where you will go from there.

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