Ask Don’t Tell

Ridiculously easy. And hard.

A foundation for coaching.

In episode 46 about coaching, I defined one of the biggest pitfalls I see with coaches is telling versus asking. 

This is a bit about how we see ourselves and the reframing required to be more effective as a coach. There are 4 reasons I believe we tell people what to do.

  1. Lack of knowledge or self-awareness: not effective?
  2. Our perceived role: problem solver, solution provider, fixer
  3. Our image: helpful, supportive
  4. Speed and convenience: fast and move to the next problem

Short and long term problems with this approach are:

  • Individuals don’t take ownership over their own challenges and/or opportunities
  • No buy-in or commitment to the solution; do it out of compliance
  • Enables others to rely on us for solutioning (disempowering)
  • Don’t strengthen problem solving skills

As a coach, the majority of time in a coaching discussion you should be asking questions rather than offering suggestions and/or advice (or solving people’s problems for them!).

Think of someone you’d like to coach. What is the area you’d like to grow or change? Write it down if you’re able. Then we’ll consider how to gain their insight and buy in to making the change. This comes through powerful questioning.

Ask great questions in the following 4 areas about the change/improvement you are advocating for:

I’ll use an example of someone who’s missing deadlines.

Uncover Root Cause:  What is happening and/or not happening with the behavior? Why?

“What do you think is happening that makes it difficult for you to stay on top of your workload and meet your deadlines?”

“What is likely to make it difficult for you to change the situation?”

Understand the Reasons for Change: Help them understand the value of change and/or the consequences of not changing. This provides motivation to change.

“What do you think might happen if you do nothing to change?”

“Why is it important to you to improve?”

Envision the Desired State: Paint a picture of the desired state, how will they operate more effectively? What benefits with they achieve? How will they be performing better?

“What would you like to accomplish?”

“How will you know when you’ve succeeded?”

Explore Actions to Achieve Change: What is needed to change? What problems or barriers will arise that will affect the ability to change? Who needs to be involved? How and when will the change happen? The practical reality, the plan.

“What would you like to accomplish?”

“How will you know when you’ve succeeded?”

This questioning practice combined with the 4 steps to coaching I shared last episode will create a strong foundation for you for a successful coaching outcome.


Original Source based on concepts from: HRDQ, Coaching for Development & Coaching Conversations

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