Using diagnostic tools

Diagnostic tools have two main uses in coaching and mentoring:

  • They help both parties understand each other better, so there is a better level of rapport
  • They help pinpoint and prioritise areas, on which the learning relationship can usefully focus

Some diagnostics, such as the personality measures, need to be administered by an expert, who can help interpret them. Choosing the right personality questionnaire is important. One aspect of this is deciding whether to use one that is ‘type’-based, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) questionnaire, or one that is ‘trait’-based, such as the 16PF questionnaire. If both parties in the relationship have a good understanding of what the scores mean, the data can be very useful for both developing understanding and identifying issues to work on. In general, personality is very difficult to change; behaviour much easier.

Most instruments used are self-diagnostics (ie filled out by the learner). They are therefore subject to a variety of factors that may cause a distorted picture. In particular:

  • People are often not very good at distinguishing between the person they are and the person they aspire to be
  • The issues covered in the questionnaire are based on large samples of respondents – so they may not reflect all the issues relating to the specific individual
  • The more complex the individual is, the more their pattern of answers may distort their response patterns
  • Some diagnostics are vulnerable to changes in the respondent’s mood – how you answer on a good day may not be the same as on a bad day.

While some diagnostics do address these issues, it is prudent to regard them as indicators of issues, rather than as “fact”. We all have a remarkable capacity for self-deception or blindness to some facets of ourselves and this may lead us to be highly selective in the messages we extract from the data. (Most of us tend to believe the positive indicators more easily than the negative!) Diagnostics, which involve responses about an individual from multiple sources, can iron out many of these errors, but in the end, the individual may still “tune out” unpalatable or difficult information.

The role of the coach or mentor may include:

  • Identifying where a diagnostic tool may be helpful; and selecting the appropriate one (see below for a list of those available on MCIR or on-line resources) – directing the coachee/ mentee to professional help, where appropriate
  • Sharing relevant data from their own diagnostics, to build confidence in the coachee/ mentee and initiate discussion about how they themselves have used the information to bring about personal change
  • Talking through with the learner the implications of the analyses
  • Helping to identify other people, who can give an alternative view on the learner’s behaviour or strengths/ weaknesses
  • Helping to plan how the learner wants to be different
  • Re-administering the questionnaire at key points, if appropriate, to assess progress.

© David Clutterbuck. All rights reserved

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