Walking the Fine Line between Training and Coaching — The Business English Connection

Hello! On Saturday 8th August, I gave an online workshop for IATEFL BESIG, entitled “Walking the Fine line between Coaching and Business English Training”. Here, I’ve prepared a summary of the first part of the workshop for you. As a Business English trainer and an Ontological Coach, I find that these days the terms Training […]

via Walking the Fine Line between Training and Coaching — The Business English Connection


Walking the Fine Line between Training and Coaching

Hello! On Saturday 8th August, I gave an online workshop for IATEFL BESIG, entitled “Walking the Fine line between Coaching and Business English Training”.  Here, I’ve prepared a summary of the first part of the workshop for you.

As a Business English trainer and an Ontological Coach, I find that these days the terms Training and Coaching are used interchangeably and this leads to confusion; so I invited the audience to begin our talk by agreeing on a definition:

TRAINING: a process in which the trainer transfers a skill or piece of knowledge to the trainee, which will be used or applied on the job.

COACHING: a process in which the coach helps the client or ‘coachee’ find the answer to an issue and improve their effectiveness and performance. We say that the coach ‘walks together’ with and guides the client while making them thought provoking questions.

How do these two disciplines differ?

  • Methodology of work: Training adopts a direct approach, driven by the trainer who provides the content and leads the process, whereas Coaching adopts an indirect approach, driven by questions that lead the client to reflect. In doing so, the client finds the answer or solution to the issue he/she has brought up.
  • Goal: in training, the goal pursued is to teach; in coaching the goal is to develop an aspect of the cochee’s life.
  • Roles: The trainer is an expert that has all the answers for the trainees, whereas the coach need not be an expert in the field of inquiry and never has the answers. It is the coachee who will find the answer by themselves. The coach need only be a professional coach able to control the process. If I coach an engineer, I don’t need to know anything about engineering just to focus on his need and guide him towards his goal.
  • Evaluation: in a training process there is some form of test, either formal or informal but in coaching, there is no evaluation. The coachee’s feedback forms part of the process.
  • Needs: the needs that call for a training program are ‘technical’ needs, e.g. learn to use a software program or learn to speak a language. When we refer to coaching needs, we always refer to emotional, behavioral or organizational needs.


Where does Business English stand between these two disciplines?   Very often, Business English trainers act as facilitators who apply interactive training methods to help corporate learns develop skills. We are not experts in the fields of our learner’s expertise but we are specialized in the leading the process, all of which sounds similar to coaching.  Furthermore, as Business English needs become closely related to the development of soft and interpersonal skills, we are steadily moving into the world of behavior and emotions. Although we are not hired to address those aspects, they have a direct impact on the effectiveness of our job. This is basically why in Business English we walk the fine line between training and coaching.

We analyzed some real life cases. Let’s see one of them:

Vicky, receptionist at a multinational firm, is a B1 language level student. She is a polite but introvert lady. Being a B1 level student, she could be expected to welcome visitors.  However, she can’t because she “becomes paralyzed” when visitors enter the building. There she is pointing to an emotional aspect that does not allow her to communicate. So even if we teach her expressions to welcome visitors, at the very moment a native speakers comes in, she will freeze. She needs a coaching intervention to unlock her potential.

I ended this part of the talk with a reflection: What should we do? What hat should we wear: the trainer’s, the coach’s?  

Actually, the answer those questions depend on each one of us. In a Business English program, there is room for both and one does not remove the other. It depends on us how far we want to go into coaching and master these skills. However, what is important – at a first stage – is to be aware that not all communication and language needs will be effectively met with ‘an only training’ approach.

What can coaching be used for with BE learners?

Broadly speaking we can use coaching  with our BE learners for almost the same goals that they do coaching at work, as long as the focus is to improve their performance in communication. Some examples:

  • Become more effective leaders. A coaching approach can help them recognize their strengths and weaknesses as communicators and gain self confidence, clarity and assertiveness in their speech.
  • Identify blind spots. They may become aware of the internal or external obstacles that stop them from moving forward in
  • Get clear about goals. Some students reject promotions because they are not prepared to face the challenge of working internationally. A coaching conversation may help them increase their performance, plan their career in BE in parallel with their professional career.
  • Manage anxiety: Public speaking, giving presentations and participating in video conferences are sources of anxiety for many students. A coaching conversation can be used to find ways to cope with that emotion.


Everyday activities where the need for coaching may come up:

  • Giving presentations
  • Job interviews
  • Overseas assignments
  • Sales, meetings, etc.
  • Customer service
  • Giving Feedback



In my next post I will discuss the skills that make up an effective coach and the basics of Ontological Coaching.

I hope you have found this summary useful. I will be happy to hear from you.

Enjoy your days!

“Business Storytelling: Helping BE Learners Create Memorable Stories”


Storytelling is one of the few traits shared across all human cultures. In the global business context, storytelling has become a powerful tool.  Business leaders use it to connect both at an intellectual and emotional level.

However, the strategy to create a business story differs from a regular narrative. As Business English trainers, we need to be aware of the organizational goals pursued through a story and the best way to build an effective discourse.

On Sunday 12th April at 10:25, I will be giving a workshop on storytelling “Business Storytelling: Helping BE Learners Create Memorable Stories” (exchange 6)


In this interactive workshop we’ll discuss the key elements to include when framing a story. We will create inspiring characters and learn how to build tension that engages our audience.  We will also analyse the linguistic and communicative features of memorable stories: sensory experience, discourse devices and type of language.


Business people may use stories for different goals, e.g. to build trust and motivate change. So when we frame a story, the entire element should contribute to that goal. We will also analyse how to keep to the story objective.


In the second part, I’ll share the framework I use with my students to help them create their own stories and achieve organizational goals. All the elements discussed in the first part will be smoothly linked into a meaningful narrative that attains the leader’s objective.


I hope to see you there! And for those of you who cannot attend the Conference, I will blog about the talk next week.


Besig Summer Symposium – Satellite Event in Buenos Aires: The Future of Business English in Latin America

On June 14, together with Mercedes Viola from Uruguay and Jennifer Verschoor from Argentina, we organized a Satellite Event and invited teachers from Argentina and Uruguay to participate in simultaneous talks in the BESIG Summer Symposium held in Bonn, Germany. Teachers from Peru, Moscow and China were also connected in the same event. An enthusiastic bunch of teachers gathered in Buenos Aires and we spent a fab morning discussing hot topics in Business English.

We listened to a talk about Mentoring and how important it is for teachers to have a mentor, somebody that can give us cues to build and sustain our career. This mentor need not be a teacher: he or she may come from other disciplines and hence enrich our own professional view. The use of published material and how to adapt them to our students’ needs was another topic of interest.

In the second part of the event, we talked about three main trends going on in Business English and how we can apply them in Latin America. Jennifer Verschoor delighted us with a talk about using Tech tools in the classroom and Mercedes Viola shared with the audience her experience in tailoring material for her corporate courses in Uruguay and how tech tools can leverage their work. FInally, I talked about the importante of including soft skills practice in Business English classes. Soft skills, such as building rapport, active listening and persuasion can be embedded in your existing syllabus.

Finally,  we held an intersting discussion and made a book raffle. Thank you to Mercedes, Jennifer and all the teaches who attended the Satellite Event and made it a success!

20140614_121817Satellite Event BsAs 2014


There are experiences that leave an indelible mark in our lives and this is how I describe my trip to Harrogate. I am a Business English trainer based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. My passion for teaching languages and interacting with people from different cultures led me, some years ago, to become a member of IATEFL and actively participate in BESIG. This year I was awarded one of the two Facilitators Scholarships to attend the 48th IATEFL Annual Conference in Harrogate.

During this enriching week, it became clear to me that no matter the geographical distances and cultural backgrounds that separate us, teachers share similar needs and values across the globe. For example, we are keen on learning from other colleagues’ experience and sharing ours unselfishly.  Our current common interests lie on using technology to enhance teaching and foster students’ engagement.  We are also interested in understanding the route that English as a global language is taking in this highly interconnected world and its impact on ELT.  Undoubtedly, the Conference gave us a unique opportunity to learn about these issues in the thought-provoking talks and debates in the hands of leading ELT professionals. It also became clear to me that IATEFL makes an amazing job of turning this sometimes lonely profession – especially if you are a freelancer – into a collaborative activity.

Meeting other scholarship winners from all over the world was also a once-in-a-life experience. We engaged in interesting conversations at the tea party and the special stand at the Exhibition Hall. I also had the time of socializing at the diverse evening events.

I would like to make a special mention for the BESIG, a team coordinated by highly professional and thriving trainers.  I was able to see the energy and passion they put into brining innovation to the field of Business English. In this sense, they offer a wide range of professional development opportunities to their members and gather the most prestigious trainers to discuss the future of BE.  Being present at this debate was, for me, a privilege to understand where our profession is heading and how to keep up-to-date.

On the BESIG Day, I gave a talk about developing soft skills in Business English courses.  I described two authentic techniques used in management programs to develop persuasion and teamwork and explained how I have integrated them in my classes.  I was thrilled at sharing my experience with trainers from all over the world and at listening to the enriching exchange of ideas that followed my presentation.

All in all, I returned home with a renewed sense of our profession, full of energy to keep on improving and delighted to having met so many wonderful colleagues.  Thanks for this wonderful experience!BESIG DAY Authentic Business Skills


48th ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL IATEFL Conference – Harrogate 2014


“Management games” are one of the most commonly used training techniques in communication skills programs. Participants need to solve a challenging situation by applying an interpersonal skill, while they interact with others in n unstructured situation.  There is direct involvement of the participant, there is collaboration and fun. This is an experiential learning process. The basis of the experiential learning process is David Kolb’s learning cycle theory: do, review and improve.  We can borrow these management games and adapt them to our classroom activities so that our Business English learners may live a similar learning experience, but this time in English.


The first technique is called “Step Out”; it is used to develop persuasion and influencing skills. The trainer puts participants in pairs. Then marks a circle on the floor and asks for 2 volunteers to step inside.  Their goal is to convince the other to step out of the circle within a time limit. They can use any influencing technique, except physical force. During the performance, the trainer observes. The others may be asked (or not) to encourage their colleagues.  The game is over when one of the participants steps out or time is up.  Wrap-up to reflect on the experience.  Who really won? The one who remain inside or the one who stepped out in exchange for something he negotiated? What influencing technique did they use?  Whose method was more effective? Did they make eye contact? Use their voice persuasively? Body language was friendly or intimidating? What was the role of the audience? What is the most important lesson regarding persuasion skills?

This review stage is as important as the performance because participants reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, and the trainer may give feedback.

How to integrate this activity in our classes?  Integration Plan

As teachers we should integrate skill development and language in our lesson planning in a meaningful way for our business learners, so that they perceive an added value in our service. There are two key variables to consider in this is integrations process:

  1. Language level:  how operational is the English level of our group? In many cases, we may need to teach or review the language of persuasion.
  2. Teaching objective:  as language trainers, we should always havea teaching goal behind the decision to use this activity. For example, once I was teaching an Intermediate group, we were doing a unit from the course book (Business Advantage Intermediate) that covered Negotiating skills. I decided to use Step Out in order to give a closing to the unit, to round it off.   Then, our objective helps us to determine how to continue with the integration plan.

During the Input stage, my SS learnt the language to develop a logical argument: the use of conditionals and modals to describe the consequences of a proposal, the benefits and drawbacks of an offer. They learnt to identify share value in a negotiation. We made a revision of connectors of Reason & Contrast that are used in this type of exchanges. The unit also included conversational expressions such as “…so that means…., “. My SS learnt the language of persuasion at an intermediate level.

But language structures are not enough to apply a business skill. We need to raise SS’s awareness of the elements that make up personal interaction. This means organizing our discourse in a influencing way: the language structures need to be accompanied by rapport building, empathy, active listening, making effective questions. Only then will language structures acquire a persuasive impact. We also need to use non verbal communication (eye contact, gestures and body language and use of voice). I used the following sources to develop persuasion and influencing skills:

Win Win Negotiation Theory: video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqn4azeHikc

Reading: The Four Essential Elements: http://hbr.org/1998/05/the-necessary-art-of-persuasion/ar/1

And put this material in practice with guided role plays.

Now my intermediate SS were reasonably equipped with language, were aware of the skill and were confident to perform.  I recorded them and they watched themselves in the feedback session.  As an output task, they made a list of the emotions they felt while performing. Why emotions?  Because emotions form part of our experience and by acknowledging the positive ones, we help SS be self confident and by detecting the negative ones we help them detect their weaker areas. As NNSs, they were unconfident, afraid, shy, enthusiastic, anxious, alert, nervous, joyful, grateful, and so on.


The second technique is called “Early Bird and Second Mouse”. It is based on the funny one-liner “the early bird may get the worm, but it’s the second mouse who gets the cheese”; two contradictory ideas in the same sentence.

The trainer splits the group in 2 teams and assigns one half of the liner to each of them. Each team has to discuss why their half is the best strategy for business (or for a given project, or a situation or for life) and then make a 2, 3 minute presentation. All the team members have to contributewith their opinions, thoughts, abilities and know how to this decision. After the presentations, the group holds a debate. We may explore different areas/topics, depending on your underlying training objective:

  • Different strategies for different situations: adaptability vs consistency
  • Different strategies for different type of people, personality, companies, cultures


Some of the business skills we can help develop with this game are: Teambuilding, Decision making and Problem solving.


Integration plan.

  1. Level: My group was advanced level (C1) and we’d already covered the language items used in meetings (giving, discuss opinions, reach a decision, agree and disagreeing) they did not need any language input.
  2. Objective: my teaching objective was to use this activity as a lead in to kick off the following topic of the syllabus (Teamwork)

To achieve this goal, I designed a thought- provoking review session. While the two teams were discussing their ideas, I observed how each of them put forward their contributions and the roles they adopted (leader, the follower, the compromiser) and took down notes of these behaviors. The teams made their presentations. For the review, I prepared questions (based on (https://www.kent.ac.uk/careers/sk/teamwork.htm)

What type of contributions did you make? How did the team deal with disagreement? Do you feel your opinions were listened to? About their own experience in teams.

To elicit information about team roles, I wrote “team roles” and brainstormed the concept and together made a mind map.  We discussed the different roles team members adopt based on researcher R. Meredith Belbin ( http://www.belbin.com/) , what problems they faced and how to overcome them

At this stage, my advanced learners were enthusiastic and looking forward to beginning with the new topic. The activity raised their awareness of team building skills and their interest to keep on learning.


Highlights to  Integrate these Game in a Business English Class

Review and feedback:

  • Plan this stage as part of the integration, it is the opportunity for students to reflect and draw their conclusions.
  • Use open questions, leading questions that engage learners and facilitate discussion.  We can also use other formats, multiple choice, mind maps,
  • Highlight the positive features of SS’s performance with short, clear ideas, and then I give concrete suggestions for improvement in weaker areas.
  • Focus on the effectiveness of the message not on strictly accuracy.

The Role of the teacher in this type of activities

  • When the instructor gives input: teachers
  • During the game performance, we enable the process: facilitators.
  • In the review and feedback session: coaches.

We cannot be teachers during the performance, or during the feedback. As it would distort the purpose of the technique.

To conclude, these games create an opportunity for experiential learning and can be adapted to the course profile and needs. By incorporating these games, we can add value to our classes and boost our learners self confidence, as long as we have a teaching goal, gives constructive feedback and follow the 3 roles of the instructor: teacher, facilitator and coach.