Watch out for Why

When we’re coaching, we should find that the majority of our questions are Open, designed to trigger more conversation and to give the coachee the balance of time to share their meaning.

That means that we will prefer to use questions starting with words like What, When or How as these will tend to be answered with more than just a simple Yes or No response.

Why is also an Open question, but it comes with a warning label. If used incorrectly, it can sound as if the coach is accusing the coachee of something, or suggesting that their answers are not ideal.

“Why did you chose that option?” can be taken as an attack on the coachee, with an implicit assumption that the coach disapproves, or feels another choice would have been better. If this happens, then it can close down the coachee, and the coaching outcomes will be less successful.

We can mitigate this impact with careful use of tone and rapport, softening our approach to show a desire to understand rather than to judge. We can also choose to rephrase our questions, flipping a Why to a less strong term “What was your process when selecting that option?”.

If we want to shock the coachee into greater awareness or to cause some deeper reflection, then we can use a strong form of a Why question to trigger this thinking, but this should be approached with care.

So, with all this said, Why is a powerful tool in the toolbox of a coach. We shouldn’t be afraid to use it, but we should be considerate of the risks it may bring to the conversation and how it can alter the flow of a relationship with a coachee.

Coaching – Reading List

Five books about coaching, ready to get you going with a running start in the New Year. Organised roughly in order of weight, from easy reading to comprehensive textbooks, there’s something for everyone, wherever you are on your coaching journey.

When your done with these, check out my Reading List, or go deep into my full set of reviews.

The Coaching Habit – This is a great short form book, which is really useful in a management coaching context. It gives you a simple structure to follow and some thoughts on how to flex the style. The seven core questions are easy to commit to memory, and it’s something you can use as another tool in your coaching toolbox.

Effective Modern Coaching – This book has some great approaches to introduce coaching in a business performance environment. It’s simple and easy to read, and includes some really good thoughts around the potential that everyone has to excel.

Manager As Coach – This introduces the OSCAR model, which expands on the GROW model by building back in the results of the actions the coachee has attempted. It also covers lots of great techniques on how to do coaching in the management relationship.

The Coaching Manual – Talks about contracting, structuring more formal coaching engagements and deep dives into the skills, tools and techniques. Excellent to develop and grow your coaching to the next level.

Coaching For Performance – The original in-depth approach to coaching in a business context, including the origin of the GROW model. Similar in idea and depth to the Coaching Manual, so again it’s suited to enhancing and improving your coaching practice.

 

Coaching Tools – Scaling

Scaling is a simple technique that you can bring to your coaching to unlock the coachee’s thinking about where they are now, versus where they want to be. Given the nature of the tool, it’s hard to pin down its initial origin, but it has strong history in various Solution Focused and Progress Focused approaches.

We open by asking the coachee “On a scale of 0 to 10, where do you currently rate yourself?”. The question should be tailored to their current goals or the topic of conversation. If the coachee wants to improve their public speaking skills, then the questions could be “On a scale of 0 to 10, how would you rate your ability to speak in public?”.

This question opens the conversation, with the aim of building a shared understanding.

We might next ask “On this same scale, where would you like to get to?”. It’s also useful to consider the extremes, “What does a 10 look like to you?”, “How about 0?”. This starts to give us a picture of the coachee’s thinking about this skill or area.

With the coachee’s scoring, it is important the coach doesn’t question the chosen score. Suggesting that the coachee should change their score, or rethink it, is likely to close the conversation, rather than open it. Far more useful is to question why a score was given “What is your thinking behind this 5?”.

Scaling can help us track goals, and also set steps towards achieving them. Starting at 2 and trying to jump to 9 may not be achievable, but the coachee can probably find some steps to take to move up in smaller increments, and you can shape this conversation as a coach, “What would it take to move to 4?”.

By revisiting the question over several sessions, we can build our understanding of how the coachee is approaching their goal, and show progress towards it. That can be a very powerful motivator in stepping up to the next level.

For some coachees, asking the questions may not be concrete enough. We can choose to sketch out the line along with the question, and mark the scores as we go. The physical representation can be very helpful in shaping the discussion, marking the paper can provide additional focus on the area.

As with all techniques, this may not work for you, or your specific coachee. It’s great to try it out, but if it’s not useful move on.

For those coachees that find benefit, I’ve tended to find it’s extremely powerful. Given the simplicity of deploying it, I’d very much advise every coach to consider it as part of their toolbox.

 

 

Drive

Daniel Pink’s Drive is a short and punchy introduction to the truth of motivation. It cuts through the traditional ideas of ‘carrot and stick’, to look at the intrinsic factors that encourage us to do a great job.

If we’re leading or coaching people, then the thoughts outlined in Drive are a really strong way to open them up to the best chances to grow, achieve and succeed in their endeavours.

This is most especially important with the changing nature of work. As we move away from the algorithmic world of the 20th century, where output and effort were easy to measure, and into the heuristic world of the creative modern workplace, then we must change our approach. When the outcomes you strive for are not easily linked to the outputs, then rewarding people becomes a more complex problem.

Firstly, we must provide the environment for the intrinsic drive to come to the fore. So long as people have their basic needs met, and can see that they are compensated fairly when compared to others, then we can unlock their true potential.

The three strands that form this motivation are Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose.

Autonomy is the power to choose your own goals, to determine how you will achieve them and to make commitments on your own terms. In a commercial context, they must of course be aligned to the needs and goals of the organisation, but beyond that the more power of choice you can give, the better the outcomes will be.

Mastery is the recognition that the journey is often the valuable thing, rather than the final reward. It’s the idea that the goal medal is recognition for great achievement, rather than the goal itself. In seeking mastery you are always looking to learn and improve, and to get better at your craft.

Purpose is the knowledge that your efforts are building towards something greater, whether that’s an endeavour to build something great, or to create a positive change for the future.

If you can give these three things to a group, then they will become engaged, effective and solve problems far beyond their apparent capacity. As leaders, it’s our role to find ways to extend access to these opportunities. As coaches, we might encourage our coachee to find these opportunities themselves.

In the book, we are given a range of techniques to try for ourselves and our organisations, and some tools to check-in on how we are doing. You can pickup the ideas of Drive in a very short period of time, and then return to the resources again and again as you develop your own approach. It gives you a list of over a dozen books for further reading, with brief summaries of each. This is a great springboard for continued learning.

Very much recommended, a great read and an excellent investment of your time.

Intro to Coaching

I’ve recently been giving an “Intro to Coaching” workshop to current and aspiring People Managers. It’s a great way to focus down on what’s really important, and to figure out ways of sharing that with people in a compelling and engaging way.

I start off by breaking down some of the theory of coaching for performance, what it is, and also what it isn’t. Then we move on to some tools and techniques that you can apply in a coaching situation. Finally, we look at how you can apply them in the management context, in the few minutes here and there which are often all we have to spare in the busy day-to-day.

This is a forty-five minute blast of content, it sets some groundwork and gives ideas for future practice.

For the rest of the workshop, we break into small groups and practice applying the techniques and tools we’ve just learnt. This practical session is by far the most valuable time. Once you have the tools, then using them is the only way to get good. This is as true of coaching as anything else.

In the practical session, we have a coach and a coachee, and a supervisor watching to provide feedback. After a ten minute session, the supervisor provides feedback and the coach reflects on what went well and what could’ve gone better. Once this is done, the group swap roles and go again.

I’ve had great feedback from a wide range of people, from those who’ve benefited from a concentrated refresher, to those who’ve encountered these ideas formally for the first time and to managers who have never reflected on their approaches before, and learnt so much in the process.

For me, sharing these approaches with more people is incredibly rewarding. It sharpens my own thinking and practice, whilst giving so many people a great grounding in the world of coaching and a springboard to the start of their journey.

ILM Coaching Certification

I’ve been working through my ILM Level 5 Coaching Certification for over a year, and I’m really proud to say I’ve just completed and passed my final assessment.

It’s been a really great experience, meeting a lot of new people, learning a great deal of theory and also through practical experience coaching an exciting and diverse group of people.

I’d certainly advise anyone serious about their coaching to seek out the opportunity for this sort of training and structured learning.

Very much looking forwards to getting my certificate and moving on to the next set of challenges.

Never Split the Difference

If Getting to Yes is the book that teaches you how to negotiate with someone who’s looking for the best outcome in collaboration, the Never Split the Difference is the book you need to read to get better at negotiating in adversarial conditions.

The author has been involved in high stakes hostage negotiations, and uses this experience to distil a series of tactics and techniques you can use in daily life to get better negotiation outcomes.

Through each chapter we start with a scenario from the hostage negotiation world, and then translate that into usable advice, with examples of putting it into practice.

The book encourages you to build rapport quickly by mirroring, using empathy to label the pain of the other side and starting off looking for ‘no’ to gain real commitment to any later ‘yes’. It recommends you to seek “That’s right” to show agreement, and how to discuss what is or isn’t ‘fair’. Finally, it pushes on securing commitment, and also uncovering the ‘unknown unknowns’ that can transform a negotiation when discovered.

It ends with a guide on how to prepare for a negotiation, with steps and sample questions you can tune to your own needs.

This was an interesting read, with some new and updated techniques that are great to add to your toolbox. It very much benefits from familiarity with ‘Getting to Yes’ and other books that are referenced in the text, but it can still be read standalone.

I’d certainly recommend it.