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A safer way to talk

18 April 16

Coaching could help resolve stress-inducing work situations, according to Veronica Gallagher, who talked to the Journal about her own experience and how she is willing to take time to help others

by Peter Nicholson

Coaching is one possible avenue through which work issues including stress can be raised and addressed, and at any level of seniority, according to Veronica Gallagher, a construction and engineering consultant at Maclay Murray & Spens.

Gallagher, who has spent most of her career in an in-house construction role, discovered coaching some years ago when given additional responsibility during a restructuring. Surprised to find herself struggling with the role despite her level of seniority and experience, with stress-related issues arising, she was eventually given “fairly senior level coaching and mentoring”, which had the somewhat unexpected outcome of a mutual decision that it had been the wrong choice to add her new role, due to conflict with her other responsibilities.

What the experience taught her is that “Sometimes in business you just get told to do something. It happens at every level, without any thought going into is this the right person, are they the right fit, what support or additional skills do they need. And it isn’t always obvious whether the person is happy with the decision or how they will deal with it.” Junior lawyers in particular may be daunted, unsure where to start, may not realise that they have the right experience, or may worry about how they will be regarded as they tackle a task.

Such anxieties can affect anything from the way they communicate to their actual work performance. Gallagher recalls one junior solicitor from her in-house days who didn’t want to deal with feedback – they always handed in work late in the day and then left the office immediately. Having a confidential chat uncovered the reason why – in a previous role they had always been hauled in for a critical review of their efforts late in the day and this is what they expected would happen again. “Once they worked out why they did this and what was needed to undo those ideas, it was a different ball game: they became much more confident, more open to dialogue,” she relates. “Coaching is about getting them to recognise what they are doing, rather than telling them.”

If a young lawyer is feeling very stressed and that they are not coping, what are the most important things they should do? “Find someone to talk to, that you can make a connection with and can trust. Talk through not just the problem and how you are feeling, but what you want to happen, and then how are you going to make it happen. What are the actual issues – workload, type of work, working environment, all sorts of things. Include where you want to get to, how you feel, what you think you would have to do. Find out what resources are available. You shouldn’t feel alone or isolated.”

Of course, this involves employers creating an environment in which people are encouraged to come forward – whether or not in a coaching scenario. “There aren’t rules, but there are a lot of ethics around how you would coach somebody,” Gallagher continues. These cover making sure you only talk about what someone wants to talk about, not straying into very personal issues, clearly setting out what will be discussed and making sure the coach has experience and capacity in this particular field. “It protects both the coach and the coachee; it’s quite a structured setup if done properly.”

She adds: “People may say ‘My door is always open,’ but that only goes so far. Coaching is a bit of a cultural shift. It involves really focusing on the individual, not being distracted by anything else: as a coach you really have to clear your mind before you go in and have that discussion, and actively listen rather than be thinking about the next phone call or meeting.”

Sessions can be anything from 20 to 60 minutes, “not a huge investment of time, but a very safe and
highly confidential process if done properly”. Up to six sessions should be sufficient to address a specific skill or performance issue, and make people comfortable with what they have to do to achieve an outcome. “Getting their commitment is part of the process, and following up.”

Interested in developing her skills, she is willing to offer some pro bono coaching in her own time if there are those who would like to try talking things through. “So far I’m hugely enjoying the experience and am looking for opportunities to put it into practice and see what feedback I get. I can offer experience; not necessarily answers, but I can be someone to talk to, who understands the working environment, and the pressures and expectations. And the aspirations, and it’s in that context that I’d like to think I can be of assistance.”

Veronica Gallagher has obtained a Coaching Skills Certificate and is about to undertake the Practitioners Diploma in Coaching with the Academy of Coaching Excellence. She can be contacted for further information about pro bono coaching on 07796 610279 or at veronicagallagher92@gmail.com

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