A good coach uses communication skills that activate the trust, confidence, and positivity mechanisms of their clients’ brains. Here are seven techniques you can try to help your clients experience “aha” moments, grow, and achieve success.
Written by Joan Swart
Brain-based coaching is a relatively new perspective of coaching principles that draws from the rapidly advancing progress in neuroscience research and applications over the past decade. From gene editing techniques like CRISPR that recently awarded the female leading scientists, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, the coveted Nobel prize, and new maps between genetic mechanisms and human behavior, to high-resolution functional imaging of the brain, cutting edge developments reveal more of our brains every day. The brain is an integral part of a complex whole-body system where no part functions in isolation and is incapable of change.
Trapped on the hedonic treadmill
The brain structure, body chemistry, physiology, and psychology work together from birth in a dynamic network, often with the primary purpose of shielding us from harm and helping us survive. Although balance in the network and harmony with the environment instinctively appear to be the most stable states, subconscious notions of threats and dissatisfaction often keep the system unstable. In other words, we are unhappy, anxious, and lack a sense of meaning and belonging as we navigate, (as Michael Eysenck (2003) called hedonic adaptation) the hedonic treadmill – always chasing rainbows but never arriving!
Humans are social creatures. We crave acceptance and belonging more than anything else. We need trust and closeness to other people. In ancient times, we started to develop ways of communication – signs, symbols, pictures, and languages – to grow and get stronger together. As an old proverb says, “If you want to go further, go together.”
So, how do we harness modern communication to elevate ourselves and others? To develop and share a common purpose? To build trust and create new awareness in our families and communities? To create a ripple effect that will eventually touch billions of lives and save humanity from a downward slide?
Learn to communicate with purpose and power
We do this by changing the wiring of our brains and carrying the new way of thinking over from generation to generation. As such, by applying brain-based conversation skills:
- We facilitate positive change.
- We create new and deeper experiences for others.
- We unlock the potential they often do not realize they have.
- We have conversations with greater impact.
- We build trust, the foundation of togetherness.
- We manage priorities better.
- We share and lighten the load.
- We rewire our brains to feel the power of empathy.
- We find more common ground and reduce conflict.
- We create harmony and cultivate joy!
In other words, when we use our entire brain to converse with a friend, family member, partner, colleague, or client, we infuse theirs with the same qualities of closeness and shared values that build trust.
Trust is contagious
Deep down, we want to trust others; have them believe in us. Trust is linked to the natural brain chemical oxytocin that makes a person feel warm, fuzzy, and relaxed. Trust and purpose together create a powerful drive for engagement and service, which is why coaches should create an environment that incubates both qualities that lead to purposeful performance, behavior, joy, and fulfillment.
By creating a safe space for our clients and exploring and reinforcing their WHY, or their deeper purpose, coaches unlock their oxytocin pathways, making it easier to trust, relax, and open up. These are the major determinants of personal growth and positive coaching outcomes.
So, how do we stimulate the oxytocin network in the brain?
Using conversation to trigger oxytocin release
We trigger oxytocin release by learning and engaging in brain-based conversation techniques. The following methods are useful communication skills that will transform the way you build trust with clients (and others).
#1 Slowing the pace
When you match the pace, energy, tone, and body language of a person you are interacting with, trust is stimulated. The person subconsciously perceives common ground between you and is more likely to recognize shared values. A slower pace allows for more opportunity to regulate emotions and reactions. There is more opportunity to listen and reflect. The next time you’re in front of a client, slow your breathing and allow the client and yourself room to be authentic and open your minds.
#2 Being mindful
American professor and mindfulness guru, Joan Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness as, “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” In simple terms, this means to open and focus your mind with a childlike curiosity to connect with your surroundings using all your senses. When interacting with someone, be acutely aware of what they are saying, how and why they are saying it, and notice their body language. Direct 100 percent of your energy and attention to the other person. Avoid being biased, judging, criticizing, or making assumptions. Accept the person unconditionally. This does not mean that you always agree with them; just that you understand where they are coming from.
#3 Speaking with intent
Always remember that a coaching conversation is different from a friendly chat. As a coach, you are trusted by your client to hold a mirror up for him or her to see deeper into themselves, where they perhaps have not been able to go to before on their own. Speak minimally, focus on asking open-ended questions, and have an intent and purpose for everything you say. Think of your words as extremely valuable, which they are, if you’re an effective coach. Be clear, concise, and direct. Follow the topic and outcome that the client set at the beginning with your words.
#4 Harnessing emotions
Our emotions are the windows to our soul, the true self that we often try to hide from the world. As a coach, if your questions are powerful enough and you offer a safe space, you are more likely to evoke emotions from your clients that are often unexpected and instinctive. Emotions give an instantaneous snapshot of what is important to the client, whether they wanted you to know or not. Be observant. Give the client space to process intense emotions. When ready, don’t hesitate to ask questions to explore the meaning and underlying roots of the emotion that came up. Emotions are intricately linked to subconscious beliefs that are triggered by events and memories. They are important to help determine priorities, blocks, and limiting beliefs.
#5 Pursuing insight
A primary objective of questioning is to help the client generate an insight or “aha” moment when he or she suddenly realizes something significant that has escaped them before. They may look at life or a situation in a completely different way. The insight resonates with something that was hitherto buried, suppressed, or somehow unseen by the client. Helping the client look inward with a positive attitude encourages “aha” moments and triggers the release of the brain’s “happy” chemicals, namely dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins, that are associated with trust, feeling relaxed, and satisfaction.
#6 Creating new thinking
Often, when a person feels stuck and lacks drive and meaning, they are a prisoner of their negative beliefs and outdated perceptions. People have the tendency to expect history to repeat itself. If they have been hurt in the past, rejected, and so forth, they expect more of the same today, despite the fact that they and their environment are not the same as before. Use questions to explore new frontiers. What if…? Imagine yourself… If you could… Helping them release the shackles of the past and open their minds to different possibilities and potential increase their creativity and confidence, stimulates the “value areas” of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex and striatum and also release the “happy” hormone dopamine.
#7 Reinforcing with feedback & actions
As a coach, restrict your feedback to positive and constructive suggestions that clearly encourage specific action. Being specific and nonjudgmental acknowledges the client’s effort while guiding him or her along a productive path. Helpful feedback followed by coherent action steps that adhere to the SMART criteria of being specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound, reinforce the desired positive outcome. Any good coach will tell you that success boosts trust and confidence! In this way, achievement is sustained and magnified.
These are seven ways that a good coach uses conversation skills to activate the trust, confidence, and positivity mechanisms of their clients’ brains. Try it out for yourself the next time you’re in front of a client or interacting with anyone else. You may be amazed by the results!