Coaching and mentoring – understanding other people’s behaviour: part 1

understanding other people's behaviour

Coaching and mentoring – understanding other people’s behaviour: part 1 


In this article we focus upon two aspects to understanding other people’s behaviour – one is helping the mentee/coachee to understand third parties and the other is the especial challenge of empathizing in the coaching/mentoring relationship with those who are different from us.

In understanding other people’s behaviour this forms a key part of what our coachees/mentees want or need from our work with them.  We find that often this issue merges with the player understanding himself or herself.   Empathy as a quality of the coachee to develop is little discussed in the coaching literature.  Where it was mentioned it was seen as a problem, in that empathic projection could lead coaches to assume that their coachees’ feelings were the same as their own. Nonetheless, empathic understanding of others is an important topic.  The technique Focus for change illustrates the ambiguity between understanding self and understanding others. Using ‘heightened intuition’ is a technique from the wild side for developing this empathy.

Empathy for others

  • Focus for change

One of the big issues in coaching is to decide what it is that the coachee will focus upon and change. As coaches we can work with people at a number of levels:

  • Changing the environment
  • Changing the organization
  • Changing a team
  • Changing another individual
  • Changing oneself.

For each of these levels we can attend to the following:

  • Changing values and beliefs
  • Changing attitudes
  • Changing behaviours
  • Changing thoughts/opinions.

All these levels are legitimate foci of concern. However, in helping coachees to navigate among these options, it is well to remember two principles:

  1. There is a strong argument for starting with oneself (see Cecilia casestudy below).


  1. If someone changes behaviour and maintains the change for a month, then attitudes, and even values and beliefs are likely to follow; sometimes it is necessary to change thoughts in order to be able to change

behaviours (see Margot case study below).

Using ‘heightened intuition’ in understanding other people’s behaviour 

In his book, The Sense of Being Stared At, Rupert Sheldrake refers to the phenomenon experienced by many psychotherapists, wherein communication between professional and client appears to be telepathic.  Sheldrake’s analysis of this link attempts to integrate, rather than separate, the concept of extended mind link with the instinctive and unconscious clues that pass between people. The circumstances in which such scientifically inexplicable (within the context of any testable theory) communication occurs, seem to be most frequent among people who have established a strong emotional bond over time. For example, Sheldrake observes that mothers who breastfeed for longer are more likely to report intuitive and premonitive lactation.  He points out that Sigmund Freud documented and personally experienced inexplicable moments of apparent telepathy with clients/subjects.

In understanding other people’s behaviour coaches and mentors may also develop strong empathy. Allowing this empathy to develop into what we might call heightened intuition is potentially useful in developing insight and modifying questioning approaches to the learner. (To use the term telepathy might imply a rather more complete form of communication.)

The keys to letting heightened intuition occur appear to be the following:

Accept that a ‘meeting of minds’ is feasible and relatively commonplace.

  • Attempt to ‘listen’ to the learner’s concerns during the salient spaces;

imagine you are able to share their feelings and visualizations.

  • Use language that draws upon any impressions you receive and observe

whether they strike a chord.

  • Rather than offer a solution to a problem, visualize it strongly in your

own mind and try to ‘send’ the visualization to the learner.

  • If they appear to have caught the visualization, follow through with

questions that explore what they understood and what it means

for them.

  • Don’t expect to intuit what the other person is thinking – or have them

intuit what you have in your mind – more than occasionally. All you

are trying to do is use your natural empathetic and other senses to

increase your ‘hit’ rate.

  • Don’t get all mystical and try to explain the transfer of ideas. Just accept that it happened, that it could be coincidence, or entirely a matter of unconscious and subtle hints and that it has been helpful to the mentee.

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