Participants in the one-day workshop at Kornerstone Institute in Central arrived with high hopes that the neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) used by master coach Harry
Wong would improve their work relationships and performance.
"Coaching is about being able to accept personal differences, the fluctuations in everyone's emotions and having an interest and curiosity about the issues currently put before you," says Wong, an auditor who developed an interest in NLP after reading a newspaper article about the technique in Canada. He returned to Hong Kong in the 1990s to join a large accounting firm and later became the first Hong Kong NLP coach and trainer.
NLP is a form of psychotherapy that studies thought patterns underlying people's behaviour with the aim of "rerouting" their neurological pathways. It was founded in the United States in the 1970s by a University of California student, Richard Bandler, and one of his professors, John Grinder.
The rerouting technique in NLP can change negative perceptions of what somebody else says or does, or in what context words are used. He, or she, can then make the most of the situation. The key is the willingness to embrace change. One has to be flexible, find pleasure in whatever role he, or she, plays and not be discouraged by failures.
"A coach does not pass judgment on the basis of a person's behaviour, which is affected by one's mood, mindset, physiology and other factors," says Wong, who is known as `Dr Happy'. "NLP is a tool to facilitate communication."
Workshop participants, comprising managers, business leaders and professionals, were taught the art of listening and asking neutral questions that do not put the other party on the defensive.
Examples of non-directive questions used in coaching are "What do you think needs to happen?" (achieving the goal) or "What will motivate you to start?" It is important to avoid making assumptions.
At the one-day workshop jointly organised by Classified Post and Kornerstone, participants played games that helped them react spontaneously, before small group discussions on questions and words that stem from positive thinking.
Wong emphasised the importance of an open, positive mindset in cultivating a productive workforce. While conflict is an inevitable part of human interaction, Wong says things can change for the better with the right frame of mind and communication skills.
"Conflicts often arise as a result of inappropriate responses," the coach says. "One needs to learn to respond through questioning rather than merely stating one's views. This would encourage the other person to continue talking."
There has been a rising trend among Hong Kong companies to invest in cultivating positive, fruitful working relationships. "In the past, companies asked me to just coach their staff but in the past two years, they have asked me to train their staff to be coaches themselves," says Wong, who regularly holds workshops for human resources personnel on how to retain quality staff.
He believes his positive psychology approach is valuable in today's volatile business environment in which companies often find it difficult to offer additional incentives, monetary or otherwise.
He says there are five things that make people happy at work: the feeling of being appreciated, knowing what they do, liking what they do and who they are with, and belief in what they do. Happy coaching involves communications characterised by mutual respect.
A positive mindset breeds optimism, resilience and a new-found pleasure in one's job, or in all, happiness.
"It is about accepting personal differences, the fluctuations in everyone's emotions, and having an interest in the issues set before you."
Companies stand to benefit from coaching, which allows staff to look closely at themselves and the issues they face, instead of merely carrying out orders from management. The probing process can increase their accountability and sense of ownership of their work.
"A coach is like a mirror. It helps another person reflect on who he, or she, really is and how he, or she, can improve himself, or herself," Wong says.
"The coaching process is empowering because it can reinforce the other person's value.
"How happy a coach is matters too. Your staff feel more engaged if you are a happy person yourself and have the internal flame for seeking improvements. It is a stimulating process that can help one become a better person. Managers can delegate some tasks more rather than shouldering all the burden."
Understandably, companies with loyal, motivated staff are in a better position to sustain themselves, though individuals could be the biggest beneficiaries.