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Improve your coaching skills by asking better questions

raoulmeyer profile image Raoul Meyer ・3 min read

That's what the book "The Coaching Habit" by Michael Bungay Stanier tries to teach. It does that by going over seven different questions that you can use when you're coaching someone. In this post I want to share with you what I've learned about coaching by reading this book and what I've noticed about myself since I read it. I'll go over two of the seven questions presented in the book, and talk about two of the so called "Question Masterclasses" that I found most interesting.

The A.W.E. question

The main takeaway of the book is a simple but very effective question. It's presented as a magic spice you can add to any other question. After receiving an answer to a question, simply follow up with:

And what else?

This seems really powerful, because how often does it really happen that there is only one answer to what you're asking?

I've noticed in day to day conversation, it's really easy to just accept the first answer you hear. It feels like you've found the root cause of an issue, the solution to their problem, or the thing that's on their mind. Using this question, you keep an open mind to other options. And more importantly, the person you're coaching does as well.

Why?

When you read this question:

Why did you do that?

What do you think of the person asking it? Without any context, I'd estimate that person is not really interested in understanding the reasoning behind the approach taken. It feels like they're looking for someone to blame. As a receiver of this question, you'd probably feel attacked.

In general, asking why someone thinks, feels or acts a certain way is counter-productive. You put the other person on the defensive. While you're on the defensive, it's harder to think. You're using your resources to explain your actions or behaviour, and what do you really gain with that?

Of course asking why can be a good tool, mainly when used to analyze events. A popular technique, called 5 Why's, asks why repeatedly to get to the root cause(s) of some event or issue. Just make sure to not use that technique on behaviour of people, because they won't like it.

The Lazy question

The name the author gave to this question appealed to me, so much so that I thought about skipping ahead to this question directly.

Coaching is really about helping someone else develop themselves. It's so tempting to step in and "just do it" for them. Because we feel like we know the solution to their problems. Too often, this means that we're being counter-productive, not helping at all. If instead of "just doing it", you ask:

How can I help?

You give the person you're coaching room to do the things they're confident they can do themselves.

It's nice, because it gives them the option to make a really clear request for help. And it's nice, because you get to be lazy.

Actually listen

This might actually be the hardest part of any conversation. I've noticed that it's so easy to broadcast, but to give your full attention to what someone else has to say often takes a lot of effort.

In coaching this is even more important than in other conversations. Because how can you guide someone when you don't know where they are?

Conclusion

The book contains a lot of actionable advice, with clear reasoning. Most of the advice it gives I haven't covered. If you want to become better at coaching people, I recommend reading it. It's a really easy read, and it provides you with all the tools to start applying what you learned.

Discussion (2)

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ddhaeyere profile image
ddhaeyere

Doesn't the 'how can I help you?' question give someone the feeling he or she 'needs' help.
At work, we are advised to ask 'what can I do for you' :)

Totally agree with the 'why' section.
And especially the active listening. It takes time to be aware of how hard it is to be fully with a person..

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jenc profile image
jen chan

I for one could ask better questions as a mentor and mentee. And half of that is also listening and understanding why someone thinks a way. Thanks for writing this