You Need a Coaching Habit
You’re probably not getting very effective coaching; and you’re probably not delivering very effective coaching.
Coaching is simple. In fact, this book’s Seven Essential Questions give you most of what you need.
You can coach someone in ten minutes or less. And in today’s busy world, you have to be able to coach in ten minutes or less.
Coaching should be a daily, informal act, not an occasional, formal “It’s Coaching Time!” event.
You can build a coaching habit, but only if you understand and use the proven mechanics of building and embedding new habits.
So let’s look at why coaching others helps you. It lets you work less hard and have more impact. When you build a coaching habit, you can more easily break out of three vicious circles that plague our workplaces: creating overdependence, getting overwhelmed and becoming disconnected.
- Circle #1: Creating Overdependence. Building a coaching habit will help your team be more self-sufficient by increasing their autonomy and sense of mastery and by reducing your need to jump in, take over and become the bottleneck.
- Circle #2: Getting Overwhelmed. Building a coaching habit will help you regain focus so you and your team can do the work that has real impact and so you can direct your time, energy and resources to solving the challenges that make a difference.
- Circle #3: Becoming Disconnected. it’s not enough just to get things done. You have to help people do more of the work that has impact and meaning.
How to Build a Habit
The change of behavior at the heart of what this book is about is this: a little more asking people questions and a little less telling people what to do. But simple doesn’t mean easy, and theory’s no good if you don’t know how to put it into practice. So before we look at what to change, we need to understand how to change.
To build an effective new habit, you need five essential components: a reason, a trigger, a micro-habit, effective practice, and a plan.
- Identifying the Trigger: When This Happens… Define the trigger, the moment when you’re at a crossroads and could go down either the well-trod road of the old way of behaving or the Robert Frost path less trodden. If you don’t know what this moment is, you’re going to continually miss it and, with that, the opportunity to change your behavior. There are just five types of triggers: location, time, emotional state, other people, and the immediately preceding action. You can see how you might use a number of them to define a very specific trigger.
- Identifying the Old Habit: Instead Of… Articulate the old habit, so you know what you’re trying to stop doing. Again, the more specific you can make it, the more useful it’s going to be.
- Defining the New Behavior: I Will… Define the new behavior, one that will take sixty seconds or less to do. We know that the fundamental shift of behavior you’re looking to accomplish through this book is to give less advice and show more curiosity.
We live within our habits. So shape the way you want to lead, and build the right coaching habits.
Ask one question at a time. Just one question at a time.
1: The Kickstart Question : “What’s on your mind?”
The Small Talk Tango: Small talk might be a useful way to warm up, but it’s rarely the bridge that leads to a conversation that matters.
Because it’s open, it invites people to get to the heart of the matter and share what’s most important to them. You’re not telling them or guiding them. You’re showing them the trust and granting them the autonomy to make the choice for themselves.
It’s a question that says, Let’s talk about the thing that matters most. It’s a question that dissolves ossified agendas, sidesteps small talk and defeats the default diagnosis.
Coaching for performance is about addressing and fixing a specific problem or challenge. It’s putting out the fire or building up the fire or banking the fire. It’s everyday stuff, and it’s important and necessary.
Coaching for development is about turning the focus from the issue to the person dealing with the issue, the person who’s managing the fire. This conversation is more rare and significantly more powerful.
A challenge might typically be centered on a project, a person or a pattern of behavior.
Call them forward to learn, improve and grow, rather than to just get something sorted out.
ANSWERS ARE CLOSED ROOMS; AND QUESTIONS ARE OPEN DOORS THAT INVITE US IN. Nancy Willard
Projects - A project is the content of the situation, the stuff that’s being worked on. It’s the easiest place to go to and it will be the most familiar to most of us. This realm is where coaching for performance and technical change tends to occur.
People - When you’re talking about people, though, you’re not really talking about them. You’re talking about a relationship and, specifically, about what your role is in this relationship that might currently be less than ideal.
Patterns - Here you’re looking at patterns of behaviour and ways of working that you’d like to change. This area is most likely where coaching-for-development conversations will emerge.
“What’s on your mind?” you ask. “The [insert name of thing they’re working on],” they say. “So there are three different facets of that we could look at,” you offer. “The project side—any challenges around the actual content. The people side—any issues with team members/colleagues/other departments/bosses/customers/clients. And patterns—if there’s a way that you’re getting in your own way, and not showing up in the best possible way. Where should we start?” It doesn’t matter which one they pick—it will be a strong start to the conversation.
Whatever you’re thinking about can also influence the choices you make, so you might not, in fact, make the optimal choice.
If you know what question to ask, get to the point and ask it.
2: The AWE Question: “And What Else?”
There are three reasons it has the impact that it does: more options can lead to better decisions; you rein yourself in; and you buy yourself time. Having at least one more option lowered the failure rate by almost half, down to about 30 percent. When you use “And what else?” you’ll get more options and often better options. Better options lead to better decisions. Better decisions lead to greater success.
We’ve all got a deeply ingrained habit of slipping into the advice-giver/expert/answer-it/solve-it/fix-it mode. In short, even though we don’t really know what the issue is, or what’s going on for the person, we’re quite sure we’ve got the answer she needs. When you’re not entirely sure what’s going on, and you need just a moment or two to figure things out, asking “And what else?” buys you a little extra time.
Get used to asking the question with genuine interest and curiosity. For bonus points, practice listening to the answers. As a guideline, I typically ask it at least three times, and rarely more than five. “There is nothing else” is a response you should be seeking. It means you’ve reached the end of this line of inquiry. Take a breath, take a bow and go on to another question.
A strong “wrap it up” variation of “And what else?” is “Is there anything else?” That version of “And what else?” invites closure, while still leaving the door open for whatever else needs to be said. Now it’s generally assumed that four is actually the ideal number at which we can chunk information. If you get three to five answers, then you’ve made great progress indeed.
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS IF YOU’RE GOING TO FIND THE RIGHT ANSWERS. Vanessa Redgrave
Follow-up questions that promote higher-level thinking (like “And what else?”) help deepen understanding and promote participation. Stop offering up advice with a question mark attached. If you’ve got an idea, wait. Ask, “And what else?” and you’ll often find that the person comes up with that very idea that’s burning a hole in your brain. And if she doesn’t, then offer your idea—as an idea, not disguised as a fake question.
3: The Focus Question – “What’s the Real Challenge Here For You?”
In which you find out how to stop spending so much time and effort solving the wrong problem.
It keeps the question personal and makes the person you’re talking to wrestle with her struggle and what she needs to figure out. Focus on the real problem, not the first problem.
Some of the well-practiced but ineffective patterns that show up between you and the person you’re coaching. These are the patterns that keep things misty and vague when you’re trying to bring the challenge into focus. At Box of Crayons, we call them the Foggy-fiers, and we call the three most common ones the Proliferation of Challenges, Coaching the Ghost, and Abstractions & Generalizations.
Proliferation of Challenges - “What’s on your mind?” has unleashed a seemingly unending stream of things he’s worried about. “If you had to pick one of these to focus on, which one here would be the real challenge for you?”
Coaching the Ghost - The key thing to know here is that you can coach only the person in front of you. As tempting as it is to talk about a “third point” (most commonly another person, but it can also be a project or a situation), you need to uncover the challenge for the person to whom you’re talking. “I think I understand some of what’s going on with [insert name of the person or the situation]. What’s the real challenge here for you?”
Abstractions & Generalizations - Quite often there’s talk about “us” and “we,” but there’s no talk of “me” and “I.” “I have a sense of the overall challenge. What’s the real challenge here for you?”
The simple act of adding “for you” to the end of as many questions as possible is an everyday technique for making conversations more development- than performance-oriented. Yes, the problems still get sorted out. But with “for you” there’s often additional personal insight, and with personal insight comes increased growth and capability.
Trust That You’re Being Useful. Questions—“What was most useful here for you?”—so you create a learning moment for the person and for you. Remember That There Is a Place for Your Advice. One of your roles as a manager and a leader is to have answers. We’re just trying to slow down the rush to this role as your default behavior. Remember the Second Question. every question gets better when you add, “And what else?”
You can take this insight and add it to all of the questions you ask people. Adding “for you” to a question helps people figure out the answers faster and more accurately.
Yes, there’s a place for asking “Why?” in organizational life. And no, it’s not while you’re in a focused conversation with the people you’re managing. Here are two good reasons:
You put them on the defensive. Get the tone even slightly wrong and suddenly your “Why… ?” come across as “What the hell were you thinking?” It’s only downhill from there.
You’re trying to solve the problem. You ask why because you want more detail. You want more detail because you want to fix the problem. And suddenly you’re back in the vicious circles of overdependence and overwhelm.
If you’re not trying to fix things, you don’t need the backstory. Stick to questions starting with “What” and avoid questions starting with “Why.” It’s no accident that six of the Seven Essential Questions are What questions.
4: The Foundation Question: “What Do You Want?”
But even if you do know what you want, what you really really want, it’s often hard to ask for it. But even if you know what you want and are courageous enough to ask for what you want, it’s often hard to say it in a way that’s clearly heard and understood. On the other side of the conversation, it can be hard to understand that when someone makes a request, when she tells you what she wants, you don’t actually have to say Yes. You can say No. Or Maybe. Or Not that, but this instead.
Want: I’d like to have this.
Need: I must have this.
Rosenberg says that there are nine self-explanatory universal needs: AFFECTION, CREATION, RECREATION, FREEDOM, IDENTITY, UNDERSTANDING, PARTICIPATION, PROTECTION, SUBSISTENCE
“What do you want?” is an extraordinarily strong question. Its power is amplified when you not only ask the question of the person you’re working with but also answer the question for yourself. Over the course of humankind’s evolution, the successful survival strategy has been “better to be safe than sorry.”
There are four primary drivers—they spell out the acronym TERA
- T is for tribe. The brain is asking, “Are you with me, or are you against me?” If it believes that you’re on its side, it increases the TERA Quotient. If you’re seen as the opposition, the TERA Quotient goes down.
- E is for expectation. The brain is figuring out, “Do I know the future or don’t I?” If what’s going to happen next is clear, the situation feels safe. If not, it feels dangerous.
- R is for rank. It’s a relative thing, and it depends not on your formal title but on how power is being played out in the moment. “Are you more important or less important than I am?” is the question the brain is asking, and if you’ve diminished my status, the situation feels less secure.
- A is for autonomy. Dan Pink talks about the importance of this in his excellent book Drive. “Do I get a say or don’t I?” That’s the question the brain is asking as it gauges the degree of autonomy you have in any situation. If you believe you do have a choice, then this environment is more likely to be a place of reward and therefore engagement. If you believe you don’t have a choice so much, then it becomes less safe for you.
Your job is to increase the TERA Quotient whenever you can.
Silence is often a measure of success. Bite your tongue, and don’t fill the silence. I know it will be uncomfortable, and I know it creates space for learning and insight.
5: The Lazy Question: “How Can I Help?”
Karpman says, we’re bouncing around between three archetypal roles—Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer—each one as unhelpful and dysfunctional as the other.
- Victim The core belief: “My life is so hard; my life is so unfair. ‘Poor me.’” The dynamic: “It’s not my fault (it’s theirs).” The benefits of playing the role: You have no responsibility for fixing anything; you get to complain; you attract Rescuers. The price paid for playing the role: You have no sense of being able to change anything—any change is outside your control. You’re known to be ineffective. And no one likes a whiner. Stuck is: “I feel stuck because I have no power and no influence. I feel useless.”
- Persecutor The core belief: “I’m surrounded by fools, idiots or just people less good than me.” The dynamic: “It’s not my fault (it’s yours).” The benefits of playing the role: You feel superior and have a sense of power and control. The price paid for playing the role: You end up being responsible for everything. You create Victims. You’re known as a micromanager. People do the minimum for you and no more. And no one likes a bully. Stuck is: “I feel stuck because I don’t trust anyone. I feel alone.”
- Rescuer The core belief: “Don’t fight, don’t worry, let me jump in and take it on and fix it.” The dynamic: “It’s my fault/responsibility (not yours).” The benefits of playing the role: You feel morally superior; you believe you’re indispensable. The price paid for playing the role: People reject your help. You create Victims and perpetuate the Drama Triangle. And no one likes a meddler. Stuck is: “I feel stuck because my rescuing doesn’t work. I feel burdened.”
THE MINUTE WE BEGIN TO THINK WE HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS, WE FORGET THE QUESTIONS. Madeleine L’Engle
The power of “How can I help?” is twofold. First, you’re forcing your colleague to make a direct and clear request. Second (and possibly even more valuably), it stops you from thinking that you know how best to help and leaping into action. The more direct version of “How can I help?” is “What do you want from me?” Other phrases that can have a similar softening effect on the question being asked are “Just so I know…” or “To help me understand better…” or even “To make sure that I’m clear…” What’s essential to realize is that regardless of the answer you receive, you have a range of responses available to you.
- “Yes” is one, of course. You can always say Yes. But you don’t have to say Yes, and your sense of obligation to say Yes is the source of your anxiety.
- “No, I can’t do that” is another option. Having the courage to say No is one of the ways you stop being so “helpful.”
- “I can’t do that… but I could do [insert your counter-offer]” is a nice middle ground. Don’t just give them a No; give them some other choices.
- And finally, you can just buy yourself some time. “Let me think about that.” “I’m not sure—I’ll need to check a few things out.”
The goal here isn’t to avoid ever providing an answer. But it is to get better at having people find their own answers. One of the most compelling things you can do after asking a question is to genuinely listen to the answer.
6: The Strategic Question: “If You’re Saying Yes to This, What Are You Saying No To? “
we make the distinction between Good Work (the everyday, get-it-done, this-is-my-job-description type of work) and Great Work (the work with both more meaning and more impact), all with the goal of helping organizations and their people do less Good Work and more Great Work.
We’re slowly waking up to the fact that being busy is no measure of success.
People have lots of snappy advice for you. “Work smarter, not harder.” “Be more strategic.” These maxims tend to be TBU: True But Useless sound bites that sound good but are impossible to act upon.
Of the many definitions of “strategy” that I’ve seen, I think I like Michael Porter’s best, when he said, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”
But a Yes is nothing without the No that gives it boundaries and form. And in fact, you’re uncovering two types of No answers here—the No of omission and the No of commission.
- The first type of No applies to the options that are automatically eliminated by your saying Yes. If you say Yes to this meeting, you’re saying No to something else that’s happening at the same time as the meeting. Understanding this kind of No helps you understand the implications of the decision.
- The second type of No you’re uncovering—which will likely take the conversation another level deeper—is what you now need to say to make the Yes happen. This second type of No puts the spotlight on how to create the space and focus, energy and resources that you’ll need to truly do that Yes.
Bill “Mr. Simplicity” Jensen taught me that the secret to saying No was to shift the focus and learn how to say Yes more slowly. Saying Yes more slowly means being willing to stay curious before committing. Which means asking more questions.
Being willing to stay curious like this will likely provoke one of four types of responses, three of which might be helpful.
- The first response, and the one that’s not useful, is that the person tells you to stop with the annoying questions and just get on with the task.
- The second response is that he has good answers to all your questions.
- Third, he doesn’t have the answers but might be willing to find them for you. That’s good.
- And finally, he may just say this: “You’re too much like hard work. I’m going to find someone who says Yes more quickly than you do.”
It’s awkward saying No to something, because actually you’re saying No to someone.
Say Yes to the person, but say No to the task.
In Roger Martin and A.G. Lafley’s Playing to Win book there are 5 questions:
- What is our winning aspiration? Framing the choice as “winning” rules out mediocrity as an option. If you want to win, you need to know what game you’re playing and with (and against) whom. What impact do you want to have in and on the world?
- Where will we play? “Boiling the ocean” is rarely successful. Choosing a sector, geography, product, channel and customer allows you to focus your resources.
- How will we win? What’s the defendable difference that will open up the gap between you and the others?
- What capabilities must be in place? Not just what do you need to do, but how will it become and stay a strength?
- What management systems are required? It’s easy enough to measure stuff. It’s much harder to figure out what you want to measure that actually matters.
Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel prize in economics in 2002 for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, and the field more generally known as behavioral economics. He’s best known for his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, which explains that we have two decision-making processes: a fast, instinctual “gut-feeling” one, and a slower, more rational one.
- The first bias is the planning fallacy, which can be summed up as saying that we’re lousy at figuring out how much time something will take us to complete. It’s a combination of overestimating our abilities and, to add insult to injury, underestimating the degree to which we are overestimating. We think we can do more than we can; the Strategy Question helps us be more realistic about what’s actually possible.
- The second bias, known as prospect theory, tells us that loss and gain are not measured equally. Losing $100, say, feels worse than gaining $100 feels good. One result of the bias is that once we’ve got something, not only do we not want to let it go, but we also tend to overvalue its worth.
you’re staying focused on the questions rather than rushing to offer advice and suggestions. Remember to acknowledge the person’s answers before you leap to the next “And what else?” This isn’t about judging people; it’s about encouraging them and letting them know that you listened and heard what they said.
7: The Learning Question: “What Was Most Useful for You?”
People don’t really learn when you tell them something. They don’t even really learn when they do something. They start learning, start creating new neural pathways, only when they have a chance to recall and reflect on what just happened.
Your job as a manager and a leader is to help create the space for people to have those learning moments. “AGES” stands for Attention, Generation, Emotion and Spacing.
Why “What Was Most Useful for You?” Tops the List
- It Assumes the Conversation Was Useful
- It Asks People to Identify the Big Thing That Was Most Useful
- It Makes It Personal
- It Gives You Feedback
- It’s Learning, Not Judgment
- It Reminds People How Useful You Are to Them
peak-end rule. In short, how we’re evaluating an experience is disproportionately influenced by the peak (or the trough) of the experience and by the ending moments.
LIST OF 7 QUESTIONS:
- “What’s On Your Mind?”
- “And What Else?”
- “What’s the Real Challenge for You Here?”
- “What Do You Want?”
- “How Can I Help?”
- “What Are You Saying No To?”
- “What Was Most Useful for You?”