After the Webinar: Cultivating a Coaching Mindset. Q&A with Thom Dworak

Webinar presenter Thom Dworak answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Cultivating a Coaching Mindset: Strategies for Criminal Justice Professionals. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: What is a coaching conversation? Can you define that for us? 

Thomas Dworak: I don’t want to say it’s dependent on the issue, but it really is designed to deal with a deficiency, a problem, could be decision making where I want to… I’ll sit with whether it’s the employee or if it’s a client. And just tell me what you do, tell me how you do it, and it’s more question based. Again, rapport has to be developed between you and that person. Then, by the responses that they give, what do you think you need to be better at? What skills are you lacking? Go through those and then ask further questions to develop it. What resources do you think you need to develop yourself better professionally? What training do you think you would need? And really, what I want to do is avoid telling them how to do anything. It’s extremely important for solution-finding and believing in it that it’s coming from the person who’s being coached because there’s buy-in that way. I can tell you how to make yourself better, but whether you act on it or believe it or not is totally up to you, or you may not agree with me. And it’s hard to disagree with yourself when you’re the ones giving the answers and coming up with the solutions to that. Sometimes it also can be where we’ll look for pluses and negatives, or pluses and minuses. I’ve seen this, I’ve done it myself, or I’ve been through a coaching session, and I start throwing out all these negatives, and they’re like, “Really? You can’t come up with any more positives?” Challenging you, so, we’re almost, put into this negative mindset of trying to convince myself I can’t do it, right? And so, then the job of the coach then becomes no, you really need to. You know, it’s you’ve laid all these negatives, you gave me 2 or 3 positives, there got to be more than 2 or 3 positives here, right? I don’t like the weighted scale thing just because it gets too easy to go negative. But it’s getting the employee and the team members to really get inside themselves. And again, they have to be vulnerable with themselves, and admit what they don’t know, and sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do. But it’s being supportive of it but then keeping from giving advice because that’s really the hardest thing to do, and just letting them come up with these solutions and figuring it out.

Host: What you’re talking about almost sounds like being a parent of an adult child. You can’t always tell them what to do. You’ve got to ask the adult child questions and prod them a little bit and,ask “Did you think about…” In some ways what you are suggesting is starting to feel a little bit like parenting is it? Or is that just me being in my life stage?

Thomas Dworak: No, it is. When I got when I got when I was promoted, I was given the baby shift of our department, meaning that the newest folks who came out of field training landed on my shift, I had them for 2 or 3 years, and they were as old as my kids were, who are adults, and a lot of times I felt like I had just multiplied my sons, and I had them sitting in front of me. And because they had various life experiences, some of them were still living with their parents, and it wasn’t only teaching them the job, some of it also involved teaching them how to be adults.

Host: You guys are making me feel a little bit better here. I’m seeing from a couple of the audience members Loretta and Melanie, and such, kind of chiming is like, “Yeah, this is, this is kind of feel a little bit like the conversations and the approach that many of us take with our with our adult children.” So, I’m glad you’re confirming my suspicion. But thank you.

Thomas Dworak: I even do it with my granddaughter, and she’s 16 going to be 17 next month. So.

Host: And hopefully, she will be a better employee and better leader for all of the coaching that you provide her. This is fantastic. Thank you.


Audience Question: How do you recommend coaching that one employee who always answers a question with a question?

Thomas Dworak: Oh, that’s difficult. Just from the standpoint of… if they’re doing it to be a pain, I call them out on it. Just from the standpoint of you know, why are you doing this?  And I’ll just give them the question back, like, you know, “I’ve asked you this question. Now you’re…” And a lot of times are reframing it back to you, and it’s like, “No, I either truly want to know or you know what the answer is. Why are we playing this game? We’re here, I want to help you be a better employee. I want to help you further develop in here.” And I really don’t want to play that game with them. It’s aggravating. But they’re doing it to try and aggravate you and many times, depending on the relationship that I have with them, if it’s somebody that I’m actively working with. It may,

I try not to show disdain from a body language standpoint, but sometimes my poker face is not as good as it is at other times. Or if I want to play the game, and it’s like, “Okay, I’ll answer your question. But I’m going to go back to my original one.” But if we get into this back-and-forth of question versus question. Kind of thing. I’m going to put a stop to it. I want to deal with people factually. I want to deal with them fairly, obviously. But they have to own what issues and what problems are and can’t force it off on other people or absolve themselves of responsibility. In our law enforcement community, responsibility is a big piece of what we do. So, many of us operate in a solo status. Generally, the only time we’re with somebody else is when something bad when bad situations occur, and that group of us are all together. So, we rely a lot on autonomy and a lot, and a lot of independent decision-making. And if all they’re doing is constantly asking me questions or challenging me through questions, it’s like enough already, you know how to do this job. Let’s stop it with this, and let’s work towards getting better.


Audience Question: Deborah said, “I am a supervisor in Federal probation. I love the idea of listening to understand and asking clarifying questions for a clearer picture, but in this fast-paced working environment. I struggle with having time at that moment to really talk it through. The variables on my end can be just impatience or living under tight deadlines.” Is it possible to go back and talk it through with the person later, or is the moment lost? Does it have to be in that moment immediately?

Thomas Dworak: No, we had this, for folks at home, I’m actually doing this as part of an FTO class that I’m doing this week. We actually had this conversation about feedback and when to give it earlier today. Feedback is most appropriate, or these conversations are most appropriate close in time when it happens. But life gets in the way sometimes, and different events, and things happen. Or if there is a heavy emotional or adrenaline response that occurred at the event that contributes from a stress-based standpoint, at some point as well, I may want to delay that until the event burns off till we can get to a more emotionally neutral category. So, our trainee, in this case with the FTO class, or our employees are in a more neutral emotional environment in terms of how they are. But yeah, we can. Again, it’s when we look at how feedback performance reviews, this kind of stuff is done., it’s not unusual sometimes that we will talk to somebody in January of next year about something that they’re doing right now. And if it was really that screwed up because that’s what always really bugged me about annual evaluations or feedback sessions or stuff. And you’re telling me I did something wrong in January that happened in October? How long could it have been, how important could it have been that if it were wrong, you just didn’t tell me now? But if schedules get in the way, or if events get in the way. We can delay it right, but it’s making sure just to make time to come back to it. And come back to it from this question-based standpoint of getting out of them, what they did well, what needs to improve, what they could do better next time, kind of as a starting point, and letting them drive the conversation, and seeing if they can come up with their own ability to self-assess and give their own correction for the next time we face it.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Cultivating a Coaching Mindset: Strategies for Criminal Justice Professionals. 

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