Coaching is one of the most powerful leadership and sales tools.
It can be tempting to dismiss it as time-consuming or handholding, but both of those assumptions are mistaken. In his book, The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier gives busy leaders advice on how to coach effectively.
In ten minutes or less, you can ask strategic and thought-provoking questions that can help drive beneficial changes in behavior, help build team cohesiveness, and get things done effectively.
Here are his seven questions to add to your coaching toolbox to make your life easier and get big results.
1. The Kick Start Question
“What’s on your mind?”
This question jumps right to the heart of the matter without assuming you already know the answer. It gives your associate a chance to voice the thing that is most pressing for them.
You may already have a good idea of what they are struggling with, but by asking this question, you’ll know what the real focus of your conversation should be.
2. A.W.E. Question
“And what else?”
Stanier calls this the best coaching question in the world because it can supercharge any conversation. It’s a follow up that forces the other person to think deeper about the issue at hand. Often the first response that comes to mind isn’t the only answer or even the best answer.
As a leader, your first inclination is to fix problems, but this question also works as a great self-management tool. It forces you to slow down and really think about what the person is saying before rushing to give advice.
3. Focus Question
“What’s the real challenge here for you?”
As mentioned with the A.W.E. question, the first response someone gives may not be the most relevant. Similarly, the first issue that comes up in a coaching session might not be the real problem at hand.
This question helps nail down the actual problem, and those two little words at the end “for you” help steer towards a more personal conversation. This leads to a more developmental coaching session rather a performance-based one, which can save time on having to do less coaching down the road.
4. Foundation Question
“What do you want?”
Sometimes this is actually a difficult question to answer, but asking this is a great way to get deeper into the conversation more quickly. It can be particularly powerful if the conversation seems to have been derailed by frustration or other negative emotions.
As with many of these questions, it also works as a self-management tool. If you’re feeling a little lost, asking yourself what it is that you want out of this conversation can help you get back on track.
5. Lazy Question
“How can I help?” or “What do you want from me?”
Being lazy is rarely a recommended course of action in the business world, but here, it’s sound advice. Doing work that isn’t yours to handle wastes your time and doesn’t help the other person grow.
Instead of assuming you know what the other person needs from you, just ask. By asking either of these questions, you can get a clear request for what you can do without taking ownership away from them.
6. Strategic Question
“If you say yes to this, what must you say no to?”
Strategy is often about saying no to things that you really want to say yes to. It’s about making decisions by looking at what has to be sacrificed for the choice you ultimately make.
Tough choices are something you and your associates have to learn how to deal with. It’s important when making these choices to know exactly what the decision involves.
It’s easy to assume that you already know the answers, but when you think about it in terms of “what do I have to give up by making this choice?” it can put things in sharper perspective.
7. Learning Question
“What was most useful or most valuable here for you?”
This question makes people stop and reflect, and this is extremely important for the learning process. Neural connections aren’t made when people are being told what to do, or even when they’re doing something; they’re made during the reflection process.
This question also provides you with feedback on which coaching approaches work and which could use some tweaking.
Most of these questions can be used well beyond 1-on-1 coaching. You don’t necessarily have to memorize them as a script to read off in this order, just pick out whichever one is most useful to you in your situation.
However you use them, these seven questions can help get more out of your conversations to build up and promote the development of your team, and thus, the company as a whole.
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