Part 4: ‘Principles of Effective Coaching’ According to the World Health Organisation


‘Principles of Effective Coaching’ According to the World Health Organisation (section until end of module from (WHO, n.d.))


Anyone can be a coach.

They can come from a variety of professional backgrounds, and from any rank.

No matter what the coach’s background, they must have the characteristics of a good coach.


A good coach is someone who is:

  • Coachable
  • Respected
  • Humble
  • Patient

Effective coaches are those who are coachable themselves – they are motivated by the goal of improving their practices, they are willing to be observed while working and they will openly answer questions about their own performance.

People who respond well to being coached usually have the insight, sensitivity and understanding needed to coach people themselves.

A good coach should be trusted and respected by their peers.

However, pretending to have all the answers can destroy the trust that is so vital to a successful coaching relationship.

A good coach acknowledges what he or she doesn’t always know.

Coaches who are humble and honest are able to build successful relationships with their colleagues.

Effective coaches treat others as though they are doing their best to provide safe care.

With this humble attitude, coaches are much more likely to get trainees to listen to and respond to feedback.

Good coaches recognise trainees for the positive actions they take and acknowledge that they are trying to learn and do their best.

When offering observations of other people’s practices, coaches do not judge what or how they did.

Coaches also have the patience and flexibility to allow others to learn by reaching their own conclusions.

Effective coaches convince trainees to reflect on what has happened and guide them to identify for themselves the challenges and potential solutions for improving their performance.

In doing so, coaches create opportunities for others to solve their own unique difficulties themselves, rather than presenting ready-made solutions to generic problems.

Not only does the coach better address the trainee’s concerns, but the trainees are also more likely to make use of the solutions they themselves have created.


Effective coaching consists of the utilisation of the following skills:

  • Building relationships based on trust
  • Demonstrating genuine curiosity
  • Using effective observation and communication skills

In order to help others, improve their practices, coaches must convince them that their practices can be changed for the better. An effective coach will take the time to build a rapport with others and understand their perspective, in order to gain trust and a commitment to improve. Express empathy when appropriate is important and lays the foundation for a strong coaching relationship. Trainees will offer a commitment to improving their practices only to coaches who have earned their trust. Demonstrating genuine curiosity or sincere interest while observing and asking questions will enable greater trust and success. Coaches can do this by using a nonjudgmental tone and open-ended questions that prompt conversation and reflection. Others should want to talk to and seek support from the coach.

Additionally, coaches who keenly observe and ask the right questions can accurately diagnose root causes of problems. While assuming the best of individuals and teams, coaches who understand root causes can better facilitate solutions that are appropriate and achievable. When coaches can help others identify for themselves the barriers that stand in the way of improvement, it is a much more powerful motivator for change.

In order to facilitate change, a coach must understand what keeps others from improving their practices. A coach is likely to witness three factors that make it difficult for others to perform the items on the Checklist:

  • OPPORTUNITY – Environmental or contextual factors beyond an individual’s control (for example: leadership support challenges, human resource, time or supply constraints)
  • MOTIVATION – Interest or internal belief
  • ABILITY – Skill, knowledge, or technical confidence


In discussing practices, giving feedback, and helping trainees to identify problems and solutions, a coach must use good communication skills.

Using open-ended questions:

A good coach knows when and how to listen well, how to speak to others with respect and kindness, and how to communicate ideas clearly and simply.

Open-ended questions are questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes, no, or other one-word answer.

Such questions typically begin with Why or How.

By using open-ended questions, a coach creates an opportunity for trainees to discuss and reflect on their practices rather than simply agreeing (or disagreeing) with the coach.

Seeking commitment:

By encouraging trainees to clearly state specific, concrete goals with definite timelines, a coach helps others to commit to changing their practices.

While a coach should not judge or shame a birth attendant for not reaching a goal, they can help by motivating a birth attendant to reach their own objectives and by discussing ways in which, together, they can make reaching those goals easier.

Actively listening:

Actively listening requires a coach to participate in the conversation, even when they are not speaking, by paying close attention to the speaker and by confirming what they hear.

A coach may use verbal and non-verbal cues to show the listener that they are interested.

For example, they may nod to show they are interested, and they agree with the speaker’s statement, or they may use statements like “What I’m hearing you say is …” to be certain that they have heard the right message.

Giving respectful and constructive feedback:

A coach offers their observations about a birth attendant’s practices in order to help that

birth attendant understand why and how to change their practices for the better.

Feedback should never discourage but instead should build others’ confidence and motivation to improve.

Therefore, feedback must be given respectfully and constructively:

  • A coach should set an appropriate time and place to share their observations.

If they wait to give feedback on a past action or situation, their observations will

not be as powerful because the trainee will not necessarily remember the event well.

Additionally, the coach should be sure that the time and place in which they choose to give feedback is not threatening or embarrassing for the trainee.

  • A coach should describe and discuss facts and their observations rather thangeneralizations.

They should be as specific as possible, and should not express stereotypes or judgments based on assumptions.

The three-part question allows a coach to give feedback in a safe and productive way by organising their feedback and the conversation that results from it in a respectful way.

The figure below offers an explanation and some examples of the 3-part question.

These important communication skills always require a calm, polite, interested tone in order to avoid offending or angering a listener.


The 3- part question is based on a simple formula:

• Explain your observation

• Be specific and clear

• Remain as objective as possible

Share why you are focusing on a specific behavior or action and explain its importance. • Allow the team to reflect

• Display genuine interest in what happened

“I saw…”

“I observed…”

“I watched…”

“The team did…”

“The team didn;t…”

“I noticed…”

“I think…”

“I believe…”

“It’s really important to…”

“I am pleased that…”

“I am concerned that…”

“Can you help me understand?.”

“I am curious, what do you think happened?”

“What is your point of view?”

“How did you experience that?”

“I wonder what you think happened?”

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