As a mentor, one of the key skills you’ll need is being able to coach your mentee. Coaching is about offering hands-off guidance to help people learn new skills, solve problems, or achieve goals. The aim is for the person being coached (coachee) to develop self-efficacy, the ability to use their own judgment to execute effective solutions or courses of action.

You can approach coaching in different ways. The GROW model is popular for helping coachees navigate more complex situations or achieve longer-term goals. Although it’s divided into four stages, GROW conversations can often jump back and forth between stages depending on where the conversation leads.

GROW: Goal, Reality, Options, and What Next

Goal

The first stage of the GROW model is to identify the intended outcome at the end of the coaching sessions.

This could be finding a solution to a problem, making a decision, or achieving a development goal. Let’s say that you start the Goal stage by discussing your coachee’s values, strengths and interests. From that, your coachee determines that their medium-term goal is to make a career switch from one area to another within the company.

Reality

For the coachee to achieve their goal, they’ll need to be honest and open about the current reality.

  • Ask them to assess their strengths — how might these help them in their goal to transition careers? What weaknesses do they have that might hinder their chances?
  • Help them explore potential obstacles — this could be a lack of experience, or maybe the area they’re interested in aren’t hiring in the near future.
  • What options have they already explored? Maybe they’ve tried getting more exposure to their desired career area by asking to shadow one of their colleagues.

Depending on what comes out of this stage, your coachee might realise that they need to revise their initial goal. For example, maybe they first need to attain certain technical skills before they can be considered for any future positions in that area. The discussion should now be reframed around what realities the coachee might have to grapple with to be able to attain those skills.

Options

Next, help your coachee consider the possible routes to developing those technical skills. These might be:

  • Taking a course
  • Learning on their own outside of work
  • Volunteering to assist on projects where they could learn those skills

Together, evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of each option, as well as the likelihood of success. For example, a course might be expensive but more motivational than learning on their own. Assisting on projects might offer the highest likelihood of successfully learning hands-on skills. However, choosing this option might force the coachee to re-evaluate the reality of finding the right project and convincing their manager to allow them to devote time to it.

What next

The final stage is for the coachee to decide on a course of action. This might be one of the previously discussed options. Or it might be to take specific actions to explore further possibilities. For example, if the coachee determines that assisting on a project is the best option, the next step might be to identify an appropriate project.

Coaching is questioning

GROW is a framework for guiding your coachee, not for providing them with answers. At each of the stages, you should be asking open-ended questions to lead coachees toward their own conclusions.

Being a good coach comes down to asking the right questions and being an active listener. Particularly when there’s a specific problem to solve or decision to make, these are effective ways of helping a coachee decide on a course of action.

Asking open-ended questions

Effective open-ended questions are ones that:

  • Bring relevant facts to the coachee’s attention
  • Highlight how relationships might affect outcomes
  • Challenge assumptions or beliefs that might limit the coachee’s motivation or ability to think creatively

You might find it difficult to ask open-ended questions instead of making suggestions or advice outright. It’s a habit that comes with practice. Here are some potential questions to get you started:

  • Why do you think that happened?
  • What might have prompted them to say that?
  • What would the ideal outcome look like?
  • How close are you to reaching that goal?
  • What might prevent you from reaching that goal?
  • Why do you think that’s not possible?
  • What would happen if you did nothing?
  • How have you approached similar situations in the past?
  • Were there any lessons from that you could apply to this situation?
  • What is the most difficult aspect of this situation for you?
  • What options have you considered?
  • Who might be able to help you?
  • What do you think you need to do first?
  • What do you need from me (or others) to move forward?

See a list of coaching questions you can ask for at different stages in the GROW coaching model.

Actively listening

Active listening is a way of signalling that you’re engaged in the conversation. Asking questions, paraphrasing and summarising their words show that you have a genuine interest in understanding what is being said. These verbal techniques also help coachees reflect on their own perceptions from a different perspective.

Body language is also a sign of active listening. Take care to show your coachee that they have your full attention, for example by:

  • Leaning forward to hear them better
  • Turning your body towards their direction
  • Nodding to acknowledge what they’ve said
  • Not checking your phone during the conversation

Article: Tips for giving useful feedback
Article: Receiving and reflecting on feedback
Article: Coaching Questions for the GROW framework

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