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Lessons from the Piano: The Hidden Secret to Successful Coaching

Nov 5, 2014

Posted by

Carla Cross

About Carla Cross, CRB, MA International speaker, trainer, and coach specializing in career development, business planning, brokerage management, leadership, and instructor development. What sets Read more

girl at pianoWhat's the hidden secret to successful coaching? Coaching is a ‘buzzword’ in the world of business today, and especially in the world of real estate. Why? We have more committed people coming into real estate to make it a real business, not just to sell a few houses. And, it costs much more money to enter and run a real estate sales career than it did years ago. So, committed agents are looking for methods to assure their successes. But, what does that have to do with you, the manager? A lot, if you want to attract the best agents to the business!

The Secret to Profitability

Years ago, I discovered that changing an office’s production for the better, and thus, increasing the bottom line, didn’t have anything to do with ‘managing an office’. Instead, it had everything to do with training small groups and coaching individuals to greater successes. However, I found I was one of the few managers that took that approach. Even though my office became number one in productivity per agent and profitability in the company, it didn’t seem that the other managers thought coaching individuals was ‘key’ to that accomplishment.

From what agents tell me today, I’m sorry to say that it still seems the case. I’m afraid many managers try to increase their salespeople’s performances with the ‘group’ approach. I know that doesn’t work very well. In my ‘other life’, I was a performing pianist and teacher. I taught piano classes and individual piano lessons. I found that students didn’t learn to play very well in a piano class. They needed individual attention, so they could build on their individual strengths, and learn the skills of perfect practice. I believe the same principles of increasing performance are true of sales. After all, sales success is measured by our performance of it, not our knowledge of it, isn’t it? Mastering the skills of sales and business management seems to me foundationed on the same principles as mastering any skill.

The Coaching Performance Feedback 'Contour'

Today, I’ll introduce you to the ‘coaching feedback contour’, so you can start coaching tomorrow with confidence.

What is the ‘coaching feedback contour’? It’s the framework for performance feedback in a coaching session. The ‘contour’ shows you how to coach performance so that you encourage good performance, and motivate your ‘client’ (the person you are coaching) to better performance. Here it is:

Coaching Performance Feedback

Step One                    Step Two                Step Three

Positives First                  Re-Direct/Questions        Positive   Reinforcement

What I (you) liked                        Next time, how could         I know you can...

What I (you) attempted                you........ (what                  Encouragement

What I (you) did ‘new’

Step One in the Contour: Give Positives First

You are coaching performanceactions, not just ideas. You don’t want the agent to merely talk about it; you want the agent to do it, to experience it. To get better performance, you must always praise the positive aspects of the performance first. Why? Because adults naturally criticize themselves hundreds of times daily, telling themselves all the mistakes they made, beating themselves up for what they didn’t do, talking themselves out of taking action. Because, with action comes risk and fear of criticism! At the same time, adults rarely mentally celebrate their ‘wins’! Where does this ‘mental whipping’ come from? A study shows that, up to age eighteen, we are told ‘no’ 148,000 times—on average! (Some adults tell me they were never encouraged to try anything as a child!). That teaches our brains to give us negative feedback constantly. So, we know what

 not to do, and we’re hugely afraid of trying something new because we’re afraid we’ll fail—or, at least, get criticized! So, your job as a coach is to encourage and recognize performance in a positive way, so that the adult will continue the performance and get better at it.

For instance, let’s say your coaching client (agent) was to call ten for-sale-by-owners last week. To help the agent stay focused, you and she have agreed on that goal for the prior week. You ask the client how she did. She tells you she called on ten for-sale-by-owners but didn’t get any listings from the calls. She starts to berate herself for her lack of sales skill. To stop the ‘negative feedback’, you quickly praise the number of calls, so that she will do those calls again. If you didn’t praise that behavior, the agent would quit those behaviors.  The principle is

Behavior that’s rewarded is repeated.

If any of you have raised children, you know that’s true. Children will get attention any way they can—positively or negatively. If they learn that they get attention only through bad behavior, that knowledge guides their lives. (You know adults who only know how to get attention by poor behavior, too, don’t you?)

Step Two: Next time, redirect, questions...........

In the example above, the agent didn’t get a listing immediately from calling on for-sale-by-owners. So, you’ll want to ask the agent about resources available to create better dialogue, better process and systems, to either get a listing, get an appointment, and/or start a system to keep in touch with the potential listing.  You’ll want to help the agent focus on skills and systems. However, rather than telling the agent the solutions, learn to ask great questions so that the solutions are the agent’s own. This is real coaching, not just telling.

Step Three: Positive Reinforcement

Behavior that’s rewarded is repeated. Now is the time, before the end of the coaching session, to recognize and reward the positive behaviors that your client took in the last week to reach her goals. Use words like “I know you can achieve this”. “I appreciate your effort.” Ask the agent to provide positive self-talk for her performance achievements consistently for the next week. Soon, you’ll see those positive behaviors gain in number and results. You will have helped your client achieve goals that they had doubted without your help, encouragement, and focus.


Want coaching tips and best practices built into a program? Check out Up and Running in Real Estate.