Implicit Explicit Formal Informal Coaching Model

The implicit explicit formal informal coaching model is one way of viewing when and how you coach. Once you understand this model you can start to see what great opportunities there are to help people, beyond the formal one to one coaching session.

Coaching can be categorized as either formal or informal, and at the same time explicit or implicit which gives you four combinations: explicit and formal, explicit and informal, implicit and formal and implicit and informal (hence this model being termed "implicit explicit formal informal coaching model").

It's a bit of a mouthful but it's easily broken down into bite sized chunks, below you can see examples of each of the four combinations.

Explicit and Formal

In this case there is an understanding between you and your coachee that coaching is taking place and since it has been formalized it is likely that a date and time has been set for it to take place. The coachee should have a degree of awareness of the coaching process and its purpose. Examples of this could be a one to one coaching session with a professional coach or a manager who sees their role as one of coach in the workplace. It could also include a formal team coaching session.

Explicit and Informal

Here again there is an understanding between you and the other person they are receiving coaching but may be an ‘on the spur of the moment’ session. Someone may be talking to you about an issue they have and you respond ‘so would it help if we have a short coaching session to help you sort a way forward?’

Implicit and Formal

There are a number of occasions in the workplace setting where you may have formal meetings, e.g. performance reviews/appraisals or a board meeting, where adopting a coaching style can really help to get the best from those involved, whilst the label of coaching is not put on it.

For example, in a performance review, whilst you may set the non-negotiables around what has to be achieved there may be scope for you to get commitment from and empowerment from others by allowing them to come up with the ‘how’ through asking some simple questions.

Implicit and Informal

You may help a friend, family member or colleague by using your listening and questioning skills without them knowing you are coaching.

Providing a positive affirmation, a reflective question or just listening without judgment are all powerful aspects of coaching that can help people without them realizing these are part and parcel of coaching.

That said, is it right that you should informally coach someone without that persons consent?

Should you carry out implicit and informal coaching?

There is often strong debate around this area and when I first trained, in a discussion around the ethics of coaching it was strongly argued that as a coach you should make someone aware if you are to start coaching them.

This argument was supported by examples of trainee coachees I knew who, in an effort to practice their skills, starting coaching unsuspecting friends, relatives and colleagues only to find that their coachees often responded with ‘you’re doing your coaching thing on me aren’t you?’ I know I have been the on the receiving end of such inexperienced interventions and whilst to some degree I know the coach is trying to help me I’m left thinking it is more for their benefit than mine. I think the important words here are ‘on me’ and perhaps if the coach really had their coachee’s agenda at heart those words might be replaced by ‘for me.’

One of the problems with implicit informal coaching and starting to use a coaching style with those people who wouldn’t normally expect it is that it represents a change in behaviour on your behalf and if you ask powerful questions can actually dramatically change the thinking of those you are coaching. So it is likely to be noticed. However does this mean you shouldn’t coach without permission?

Also if coaching skills do not come naturally to you a stilted stream of questions may sound more like an interrogation rather than a helpful dialogue.

Over the last few years as a coach my thinking has evolved in this area and particularly when I was introduced to the concept of formal/informal and explicit/implicit coaching.

If you have developed a set of skills and attributes which can help people you probably find that naturally you tend to listen more and ask more questions than dish out advice or tell. So like me you are probably faced with the decision, whether it is with friends, family or colleagues do you respond with an ill-thought out knee-jerk response which might just appease that person in the moment or do you give a more considered response which could actually help them move forward.

This could be giving a positive affirmation to help raise their self esteem, a solutions-focused question to help them think about what they want rather than what they don’t want or helping them to re-frame the situation so they see it from another perspective.

Coaching doesn’t have to take long and take the form of a formal session. Even a few well thought out questions can help bring someone to a better place than they were before. In many cases if you were to suddenly ask someone during a casual conversation whether they would like coaching this would only lead into an irrelevant conversation about what you mean by coaching and only serve to break rapport.

In the workplace brief coaching conversations can have an enormous impact yet may not take the form of a formal explicit coaching session.

For example when presented with a problem, instead of responding with a solution (which may or may not be appropriate), taking a implicit informal coaching approach may prompt you to ask questions to help them clarify the situation, establish what they want to achieve, what options they have and what action they think they would like to take thus helping them take ownership of the issue and empowering them to take action .

So in conclusion I believe it’s OK to use your coaching skills without necessarily shouting from the rooftops that you are about to coach however it is important that you bear the following points in mind:

  • Ask yourself ‘for whose benefit am I taking this approach?’ If you genuinely want to help someone then this will be evident in how you ask questions and will perceived as ‘coaching for’ than person rather than ‘coaching on’ them.
  • Is the person ‘coachable’ – will they appreciate being helped through finding their own solutions rather than you giving them advice?
  • Be sensitive to the person you are coaching, gauge their responses, listen for feedback and if you sense that coaching isn’t the right approach hold back.
  • Be aware of your own skills as a coach and when you have carried out an implicit informal coaching session review how out went. Did it feel like a natural conversation which genuinely helped the other person and decide what you need to do to improve your ability to help someone in a similar situation in the future.

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