When giving the answer is not the answer

What keeps people from thinking for themselves? Someone jumps in with the answer. What keeps people from accepting responsibility and taking initiative? Someone tells them what to do. What keeps people from feeling free to try and fail and learn? Someone says we need to get it right the first time. Better be right. Better have the answer.

Maybe this sounds familiar? In reviewing a potential deal, a manager listens impatiently—knowing what needs to be done to get the deal done.  After the sales person finishes, the manager says “This is what you need to do. Call on these people and present this….” In a pipeline review, you’re told “It’s taking too long to close these deals; you should look at this and that.  You need to get more into your pipeline; you should increase your prospecting activities……”

Managers have all the answers.  We become so used to this kind of coaching that we think of this as the norm.  Pretty soon, we come to rely on our managers to help us come up with all the next steps and they feel needed, and important. Why bother thinking for yourself if you’re constantly told what to do? This is clearly not effective coaching.

Business coaching has gone from fad to fundamental. Leaders and organisations have come to understand how valuable it can be, and they’re adding “the ability to coach and develop others” to the ever-growing list of skills they require in all their managers. In theory, this means more employee development, more efficiently conducted. But in reality, few managers know how to make coaching work.

What is effective coaching?

Coaching can be defined as a style of management characterised by asking questions. With those questions you can move away from command-and-control leadership to a dynamic in which your direct report grows through self-reflection. Coaching focuses on helping another person learn in ways that let him or her keep growing afterward. It is based on asking rather than telling, on provoking thought rather than giving directions and on holding a person accountable for his or her goals.

The purpose is to increase effectiveness, broaden thinking, identify strengths and development needs and set and achieve challenging goals. Effective coaching is about growth – it’s about discovery.  Effective coaching challenges each of us to look at things differently and to think about new approaches.  Effective coaching increases our independence – we develop new capabilities to assess our strategies, to determine next steps.  We no longer need to go back to our managers for instructions on next steps.  We have the tools and capabilities to think about what we should be doing.

How to ask questions?

The effectiveness of your communication depends on how you ask a question. It is important:

  • ·         to be structured: before you start, provide some background information, and reasoning behind your motive of asking questions. Your respondent will be more open to your questions, and the interaction will go more smoothly, if they know why you are asking these questions.
  • ·         to use silence: is a very effective way to delivering questions, to emphasise points, or simply just give your coachees a few moments to gather their thoughts before you continue. Pausing for a minimum of three seconds is proven to be very effective. This emphasises the importance what has been said, prevents the questioner from immediately asking another question, and encourages the respondent to continue with their answer with more detail.
  • ·         to encourage participation: to involve people in the discussion or debate. Carefully encourage quiet members of the group to participate.

What types of questions to use and when?

  • ·         Closed questions: invite a short-focused answer, and they are often either right or wrong. These are easy to answer, and they can be effectively used early in conversations to encourage participation, or to identify a certain piece of information.
  • ·         Open questions: allow longer responses, and more creativity and information.
  • ·         Leading or “Loaded” questions: usually point the respondent’s answer subtly in a certain direction.
  • ·         Recall questions: require something to be remembered or recalled from memory.
  • ·         Process questions: requiring some deeper thoughts, analysis or sharing an opinion.
  • ·         Rhetorical questions: are often humorous and don’t require an answer, and by design they are used to make the audience think. They also help to keep attention.
  • ·         Funnelling: a clever questioning technique of using a series of open questions that become more or less restrictive at each step, and ending it with a closed question or vice-versa, to funnel the respondent’s answers.

There is so much more to coaching than only asking questions. Yes, powerful questions initiate profound shifts in thinking, believing and actions. The bulk of what a coach does is asking. It’s asking in the service of creating a new awareness. Noticing, sharing, encouraging, challenging, and silence are all important parts of this process.

What will coaching your employees do for you? It will build stronger bonds between you and your team members, support them in taking ownership over their own learning, and help them develop the skills they need to perform and their peak.

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 leader is to help create the space for people to have those learning moments.

Maurice Kerrigan Africa offers unique training

Over three days, we’ll give you a comprehensive toolkit of coaching training containing the skills, action plans, philosophy and approach you need to unleash the performance potential of your team and yourself. You will learn key coaching skills and develop the personal qualities required to coach.

We will coach you while you use the skills and techniques we impart to you, so that you personally experience the benefit and growth from their application. Using an action-based, experiential learning process, we’ll make sure you not only understand the theory, but are also equipped with a complete coaching process that you can apply as soon as you return to the workplace.

Book your seat at our Coaching for Performance training course.

Click here to look at Maurice Kerrigan Africa’s public course training schedule.

To find out more about the training courses offered by Maurice Kerrigan Africa or to arrange an appointment, simply call +27 11 794 1251 or email info@mauricekerrigan.com.








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