Article: Coach: Emotional Dustbin or Inquisition in Progress?


Coach: Emotional Dustbin or Inquisition in Progress?

The golden 'nays' to make a coaching relationship effective: don't look for a validation,don't use the coach as your emotional dustbin,and don't let the coach take the decision
Coach: Emotional Dustbin or Inquisition in Progress?

Identify the objective of your coaching exercise


A coach is not a therapist.A coach is a guide, who couples as a confidant.


The golden ‘nays’ to make a coaching relationship effective: don’t look for a validation, don’t use the coach as your emotional dustbin, and don’t let the coach take the decision


“Why do you want to write a book?”
“Is that the right use of your time?”
“Hmmm... how does this fit into your long term career?”

I could barely contain my irritation, but I patiently answered the questions. Patiently, because I had asked for the meeting and carefully because a blithe answer would get another question! And to add to it, he was taking notes!

What was I doing on a Saturday? Talking to my father?

No, my coach! Milind Chalisgaonkar - my boss many years ago, now a friend and my adopted coach (for free).

I have done this every time, whether it was moving jobs or buying a car. I don’t always listen to him but I hear him. Answering his questions helps me think through and make the right decisions. In particular, that conversation helped me clarify what I wanted to do and why I was doing it. Milind just asked those questions, played my answers back, poked holes and allowed me to make my own decision.

I realized over the years, along with Milind, there are other so called ‘coaches’ that I have nurtured, who have helped me take better decisions. They have helped me think through by asking the right questions, challenging me and pushing me and not being afraid of upsetting me.

A coach is not a therapist. A coach is a guide, who couples as a confidant. I believe that each of us should nurture such relationships to help us in our professional and personal lives. Here are some ideas:

1. Build a pool of coaches – I say coaches but they can be friends, ex-bosses, ex-colleagues, classmates; anybody who can listen and ask the tough questions. Importantly, somebody you think is a good listener and you respect.
2. Keep the pool diverse – Our tendency is to pick people who are like us. Don’t fall into that trap. Get people who think differently. A quick scan of my coaches and I realize that their only commonality is their difference!
3. Avoid the emotional dustbin trap – A coach is not your shrink or your emotional dustbin. They are your sounding board and be clear about that. Don’t use a coach to air your emotions; use a coaching discussion with an objective in mind.
4. Don’t become dependant – Don’t look for validation from the coach or allow them to take your decisions. Allow them to help you think through. Look at different perspectives, but the decision has to be yours. I have a golden rule – I never ask my coach what they would do if they were in my position. I don’t want to know. I want them to ask me the right questions, and not tell me what to do.

I know that is a good set of to do! But let me not fall into the same trap that I am advocating you NOT to, and tell you what to do. Instead, let me throw some questions that will help you decide the following:

Do I need a coach?

Answer these questions:

Do you frequently wish you could sound that decision off with somebody?

Do you think the advice you are getting is biased, like from a spouse, boss or a friend? Remember you want to hear from somebody who will neither benefit nor be affected?

You are not sure if you are taking the right path?

If you have answered yes to most of the above, you definitely need a coach.

Who can I pick up as a coach?
Answer these questions:
1. Do I know someone who is able to break a problem dispassionately into small parts?
2. Do I know someone who does not have a stake in the decision?
3. Do I know someone whom I respect and who will listen to me?
4. Do I know someone who will not be nice but will call a spade a spade? (Particularly if you are in a senior position)

What do I want from the coaching session?

Write it on a piece of paper. Use the clichéd SMART – Specific, Measurable, Realistic and Time bound.
Don’t say ‘I want to be happy’. Here is a potential SMART statement:
At the end of the coaching conversation, I want to be clear of whether to take the assignment, why I am taking the assignment and what are the tradeoffs?
Remember the golden nays from the first part of the column –
• Don’t look for validation
• Don’t use them as your emotional dustbin
• Don’t let the coach take the decision.

Good luck, I have immensely benefited from my coaching conversations, as a coachee and as a coach. I believe many of my decisions have been shaped by these coaches.
And if you have benefited, pay it forward by being somebody’s coach.

Elango R, is the Chief Human Resources Officer at MphasiS and author of forthcoming book “You Don’t Need a Godfather”. You can read his blog on and follow him on twitter@agastyasays

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Topics: Leadership, Watercooler, Learning & Development

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