As a coach, you are most effective when you are completely tuned in to and focused on what is going on with others while self-managing your own emotions and behavior. Two important aspects of being fully tuned in are presence and active observation.
When your attention is focused on the here and now, you are “present.” When your attention wanders away, you are distracted. When you are distracted, you will miss valuable information.
You don’t need to be present all the time. It is perfectly fine to daydream or let your mind wander. But when you are facilitating a meeting, teaching a workshop, or coaching someone, it is vitally important that you be 100% present.
Here are some things you can do to become more present:
- Breath in normally, then exhale slowly
- Sit calmly for a moment doing nothing. Notice what is going through your mind
- If something is distracting you, take action to remove the distraction. For example, make a note, set a reminder, or do whatever you need to do to get any internal distractions “out of your system.”
- Look around you and think about where you are
- Think about why you are doing whatever you are doing. In the case of reading this, why are you reading it?
- Focus on the here and now and let everything else fade away
Active observation is the act of observing everything in the environment in a neutral and intentional way. Rather than observing events, making judgements, and then remembering and replaying those judgements, active observation focuses on observing what happened as literally as possible and without judgement.
Active observation includes a full spectrum of inputs: what is being said, the emotional overtones, body language, movement, and interaction with others and the environment. Active observation also includes layering in the context of what’s happening, such as the influence of recent events on people’s current behavior. The hard part is tuning in across all parts of this spectrum of inputs at the same time.
One day, while attending the standup meeting of a new team, I was feeling frustrated. I was thinking about how terrible their standup was and could only think about how they must not have paid attention in training. I was wondering why they couldn’t do this basic ceremony when other teams that had been in the same training were doing just fine. Then somebody asked me a question and I realized I had no idea what the question was. I had lost my presence. I apologized and muddled my way through the rest of the standup.
When I was distracted and judging their behavior I was unable to see the two issues that were really going on. In order to really absorb as much information as possible and to understand what is happening around you it is important to develop the skills of Active Observation, Emotional Intelligence, and being present.
Active observation draws on and reinforces many other skills. Active observation makes it easier to understand another’s emotional state in order to better practice social awareness and self-management. And by practicing self-management, one is more likely to maintain a good rapport with the coachee(s) and to be more present. When we are truly in the moment the skills of Emotional Intelligence, Presence, and Active Observation build on each other holistically and become indistinguishable as separate skills.
The next day, I made a conscious effort to focus on what was actually being said and what was actually happening. I realized that everyone was doing a “readout” to me personally and most people seemed distracted when they weren’t reporting their status to me. Having them treat their coach as a project manager was a familiar problem and I knew how to handle that, but I wasn’t sure why folks were so distracted.
At the end of the meeting I gently mentioned that folks seemed distracted and I asked if there was something going on in general that I might not be aware of. I learned that there were actually two “teams” in this “team” and so half of the people were disinterested half of the time. That was another familiar problem that I knew how to solve. At least half of the job of being an Agile Coach is understanding what is going on. Active observation is a powerful tool for helping you get to the root of the problem.