Developing On-the-Fly Coaching Habits
The real point of coaching is to help others, and to unlock their potential. In doing so, you’ll likely end up helping yourself too. How? Effective coaching translates into you working less hard, yet having more impact. When you establish a coaching habit, you can eliminate employees’ overdependence and overwhelm, and prevent them from becoming disconnected.
How exactly do you develop a coaching habit? Luckily, as it turns out, coaching is pretty simple. All you need to do is ask questions, listen to the answers, and then ask more questions.
You yourself have probably been managed before. How often did it feel like the conversation between manager and employee fell flat? In many cases, you both felt like you knew how to have the conversation, but one of you would quickly veer off-topic. It would then take too long to get back on track, and by the end of the conversation, you’d both be tired and feel like you didn’t really accomplish what you’d set out to do.
Hey, it happens — we all fall victim to our routine habits and the goals we’re trying to meet get lost in conversation. The trick to coaching is not just asking questions, but building a habit of curiosity. Give a little less advice; and offer up a little more curiosity. You have to learn how to ask the right questions, find your own voice, and make your questions an everyday, practical coaching habit.
Where to start
First, look for a way to open a conversation. Asking a question such as, “What’s on your mind?” immediately helps create a discussion and also eliminates unnecessarily long chit-chat. Following up with “And what else?” can generate more ideas throughout the conversation.
Once you get things rolling, hone in on the real issue by asking, “What’s the real challenge here for you?” Then follow that with “What do you want?” Once the person has explained the outcome he or she is looking for, find out exactly why he or she has come to you specifically by asking, “How can I help?”
Remember that people sometimes need help in effectively prioritizing and may need to let certain things go, so ask, “If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?” Wrap it all up by finding out what the point of the conversation was with something as simple and direct as “What was most useful here for you?”
These seven questions (or your personal variations) will reduce your workload and help your employees learn and develop, all the while making the workplace more productive.
You may not need to use all of these questions in every coaching conversation, but you’ll find that “And what else?” is the one coaching question you can’t live without. “And what else?” — the “AWE” question for short — prevents you from jumping in with all the advice and answers you think your employee needs. Sometimes when we don’t really understand an issue, we can be too quick to provide answers. The AWE question puts a halt to that tendency.
It also buys you a little time if you’re trying to figure out what the person you’re coaching is looking for (which helps you both in the end). It encourages the coachee to come up with more options and to focus on what they actually need.
Aside from its practicality, this kind of coaching allows responsibilities to be placed in the right hands. As a manager, you can help only when you know what needs to be done. Sometimes the way to help is to do less. Practical coaching helps coachees generate their own ideas and head down the path they’ve set for themselves. This, in turn, helps coachees disengage where they aren’t needed, resulting in less work and more impact.
Michael Bungay Stanier is the Senior Partner and Founder of Box of Crayons, a company that helps people and organizations do less Good Work and more Great Work. They’re best known for their coaching programs that give busy managers the tools to coach in 10 minutes or less.
Originally published in volume 19 issue 1 of Your Workplace magazine.