A foundational attribute of an Agile Coach is the ability to be neutral. Whether you are observing, thinking about what’s happening, or talking to another person, make sure you are thinking in terms of the coachee’s own values, goals, and vision. Make sure you are not filtering what you see, what you think, and what you say through your own preferences, biases, desires, and values.
Neutrality includes using descriptive language instead of judgmental language, using non-judgmental body language and tone, putting all decision making in the hands of those you are coaching, and holding back your own opinion unless it is specifically requested or given after an appropriate request for permission. It means that even when you have a strong opinion on a topic, you find a way to let it go rather than communicating through your tone and body language that you think things should be going in a different direction. Genuine neutrality is a tall order and takes time to master.
Think of it as a mirror. The coach is able to observe what is happening and then play back their observations in a way that the receivers see what the coach has observed instead of “seeing the coach.” Coachees can “see the coach” when they see the coach’s observations as tinged with the coach’s biases and not reflecting reality.
This is not a call to be an emotionless monotone non-human machine. Embodying neutrality while remaining human and personable makes it an even more difficult skill to master. Being aware of the need for neutrality and the value of neutrality is the first step towards mastering neutrality.
Here are some guidelines for being neutral that you can apply when observing, thinking, or talking with others. These examples assume that the information to support the neutral statements is available in order to make the neutral statements:
- Specific, measurable
- Instead of “the customer intent is more clear” try “the who and why in these stories is very clear”
- Instead of “the standup was way too long” try “the standup ran to an hour instead of the expected 15 minutes”
- Neutral, non-judgemental
- Instead of “I didn’t like their style” try “they spoke too fast for me and seemed upset”
- Instead of “I liked their approach” try “their specific examples helped me”
- Instead of thinking “that person hogged the floor” try “the group ran out of time”
- Avoid words and phrases such as “good,” “bad,” “wrong,” “off the mark”
- Avoid speculating on intentions
- Instead of “I know she doesn’t want to be here” try “I notice she showed up late”