Crash Test Dummies or Coaching the Un-coachable

I’m often asked whether I have ever found a person who is ‘uncoachable’ or ‘how do you manage those people who are just uncoachable?’

It’s a really good question and I have two strong thoughts on this.

Firstly, I don’t believe that people are uncoachable!  They may be unwilling to be coached and I think there is a difference.  This direct unwillingness has happened perhaps a total of three times in my career.

One example was a team that I was asked to coach because two people in particular had created a really toxic environment within the team.  One lady was so angry and bitter and blaming everyone for her troubles. She kept notes on the other staff members about numerous things and thought that the only solution to her problems was for her colleague to resign.

She wanted a workplace that was happy but actually told me she was not prepared to do anything to create that workplace.

She was making herself sick, was not sleeping at night and was in tears during our discussions.  She couldn’t see that she was part of the problem that she was creating.

She had been offered a lot of internal and external support by the Organisation and I was actually the first person that she was willing to talk to.  But she wasn’t willing to take the conversations further.  She chose instead to go out on long-term sick leave and put in a WorkCover claim for stress.

Now I’m not commenting or judging her actions. I’m not making any assumptions about her mental health or anything like that.  What I was sad about was that she was a talented person with so much to offer her Organisation and clients and she was unwilling to do anything to move herself forward to a better space.

I had another similar situation with a senior person in law enforcement, who after 38 years of service went out on long term sick leave – and planned to use up that sick leave for years because he felt that the Organisation ‘owed him’.  I was sad that this was the legacy that he had chosen to go out on.

So you might, in your coaching career find one or two people who are just unwilling to be coached – these are more extreme cases.

My second thought on coaching the uncoachable is that it’s more common to find some people who are a bit resistant and say things like ‘oh what mumbo jumbo are you trying on us now!’

These type of people might have been around for a long time, seen a lot of things come and go, they are pretty cranky and are not really inspired to bring their best to the workplace.

With these people I often wonder, what happened perhaps a long time ago to make them feel this way?  I doubt they were always like this.  They are often below the line, fairly negative and don’t contribute to team discussions. Any contribution is usually unproductive or unhelpful.

I see these people as crash test dummies – people that we can practice our coaching skills on!  We can chip away at them, focusing on their strengths, and continuously reframing.

‘That will never work!’ they say.

‘How can we make it work?’ you reply.  ‘What are your ideas?’

The thing with crash test dummies is that we have nothing to lose!  They are totally negative now, so gentle chipping away might just make a difference somewhere along the line.

I’ve had people tell me during the introductions to a one-day coaching program that they ‘don’t won’t to be here’ or they have to be here because ‘they were tapped on the shoulder’.  I simply say something along the lines of:

‘Ok, well thanks for coming along because let’s face it you could have pulled a sickie or not shown up.  And since you did decide to come along, what do you want to get out of today?’  These people often leave the course saying ‘it’s the best thing that they’ve ever had to attend’!

So rather than feeling frustrated and saying that they are un-coachable, I offer you to think of them as an opportunity!  These people are an opportunity to practice your skills and I can assure you that by taking this approach, your coaching skills will grow and you will surprise yourself!  And who knows one day they might just surprise you too!

Enjoy your coaching!