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Three-dimensional reading: how to figure out what your coachee really means

Not every great coach is a great online coach. Using emails and chat apps, but also specific online coaching tools like Pluform, requires certain skills. Being able to read analytically and write strategically are great skills to have when you are coaching people online, where the communicative power of the written word plays an important role.

Three separate dimensions

Every professional coach possesses a set of basic skills, techniques and experiences which come in handy when using written (online) messages as the framework for the coaching process. However, if you are committed to getting the most out of an online coaching trajectory, it may be a good idea to learn how to read three-dimensionally. This allows you to quickly figure out exactly what your coachee/client/student tries to communicate in the message they have written. 

Consider your coachee’s message in terms of three separate dimensions by asking the following three questions:

1: What is the literal meaning of what they have expressed in this message?
2: What can you find out about their needs?
3: As their coach, what does this information tell you?  

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By identifying the so-called speech acts that were used in the message, you can find the answers to those three questions. Whether or not your coachee is fully aware of their own, possibly implicitly conveyed needs, their speech acts carry important information on the underlying message that your coachee is trying to get across.

Speech acts in eCoaching

The eCoachPro method is partly based on these speech acts, which were categorised by Searle (1976), an American linguist and philosopher. The following five speech acts can be identified in messages:

Assertives: the coachee offers information about their situation;
Directives: the coachee attempts to influence your behavior;
Expressives: the coachee communicates their inner feelings;
Commissives: the coachee agrees to or promises something;
Declaratives: the coachee makes a statement which actively changes something about the current situation.

By determining which language acts your coachee has used in their message, you can very accurately identify their underlying needs.

Directives, assertives & expressives

A message containing a number of directives will often indicate that the coachee is trying to influence you because they need something from you. Here are a few examples of directives used in a sentence:

  • “I am at my wits’ end. I do not know what to do. Could you offer me a solution?”
  • “Next time, I would like to receive more information about how to offer feedback.”
  • “As you may have already noticed, I am quite sensitive. I would appreciate it if you could take that into account.”

Here, your coachee is clearly asking a question, asking for more information on a certain topic or asking you to do or actually refrain from something. When using assertives, the coachee mainly tries to convey what their reality looks like. This is usually done by expressing certain beliefs, assertions and conclusions. Consider the following example of a sentence containing an assertive:

 “The situation has not really changed, but I have made my peace with it because I have realized that it will never change.”

When your coachee communicates an assertive based on an assumption or belief, make sure to address their assumption or belief and offer feedback. Does their assumption align with reality? What is the origin of their assumption or belief? Most of the time, you will notice that the message you are reading indicates a certain feeling or emotion. To determine whether that emotion is actually acknowledged by the coachee and not just part of your own interpretation, look for combinations of assertives and expressives. Consider the following example in which these speech acts are combined:

“I immediately arranged it the next day, and then notified him of it. It went pretty well, and I felt a lot calmer around him. I looked at him differently.” (assertive and expressive).

In some instances, the message you are reading may cause you to feel the need to help or support your coachee by offering an explanation, advice or a solution. In such cases, it is likely that the message contains a number of directives and expressives.

Would you like to learn more about three-dimensional reading and e-Coaching? Find our more in our book about E-coaching or follow one of our Masterclasses

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