Coaching is more than asking questions

I’ve seen a lot written and said about how important it is for people managers to coach the people around them. Often, the enthusiasm about coaching is anchored in leaders asking more questions rather than telling others what to do.

Asking, not telling, is an admirable way to lead others, and is an important skill for coaching. Yet as someone who teaches leaders to coach others, just asking questions isn’t enough to really coach people. You want them to set a goal and take ownership of their actions and results; simply asking questions isn’t enough for that.

What else is there? Start here:

Goals are at the heart of coaching. When the person you’re coaching declares a goal, there is something to shoot for, and a direction to your coaching conversation. Ask them what their goal is and if they don’t know, ask questions that will help them to define it.

Ask  questions that are wide open, and you’ll spark good thinking in those you’re coaching. When you ask questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no”, the conversation ends. When you ask “leading questions” – those that have the answer YOU want embedded in them – you’ve led people down your path, not theirs. Questions like “What would you like to see happen?” are focused on their thinking and solutions.

Listen to people more than you talk when you’re coaching. Together with asking those great open- ended questions, you’ll find creative solutions busting out all over the place. Silence is okay, since it often means someone is thinking – don’t interrupt their thought processes by interjecting another question or (worse yet) your answers. You certainly want a 2-way conversation in coaching, and you should be doing significantly less talking and a lot more listening than the other person.

And now for the hard parts:

Your mindset must be on them. Seems simple, but your mind can stray when you’re listening and it’s all too easy to interject your thoughts and solutions into the conversation. Those aren’t really helpful to the other person’s ability to continue thinking. When you notice your mind straying, bring yourself back to listening. Remember that this is about them, not you.

Your heart should be in a place of inner knowing that the person you’re coaching is completely capable of coming up with their own ideas. You must trust the coaching process and know that when you give someone your full presence, ask open-ended questions, and listen intently, magic can happen. Even if it doesn’t happen in that conversation at that moment, you’ve sparked something in the person you’re coaching that will bring them the wisdom they need at a later point.

A coaching conversation is a special kind of dialog that requires more of you than asking questions. When those open-ended questions are combined with deep listening, your unconditional presence, and an inner sense that they know the way forward, you will be coaching at your best. And the people you coach will have a shot at reaching their full potential.

Do you want to learn how to coach people? Is your team ready to learn? Contact us at info@aspire-cs.com .

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.