One of my favorite books this year is The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier. I read anywhere from 20 to 54 books a year, and this is among one of my favorites.
The premise of the book is this: instead of rushing to provide solutions and answers, we should stay curious and ask questions to help people get more clarity and reach their own conclusions.
Michael stresses that “coaching should be a daily, informal act, not an occasional, formal “It’s Coaching Time!” event.”
In the book, Michael shares 7 questions to ask to be a better manager-coach. Of those, I resonated with the four listed below and will be using them in my conversations:
Coaching Question 1. “What’s on your mind?”
Michael calls this the Kickstart question because it’s a great way to immediately dive into the heart of the issue.
An almost fail-safe way to start a chat that quickly turns into a real conversation is the question, “What’s on your mind?”
Coaching Question 2: “And What Else?”
“And What Else?”—the AWE Question—has magical properties. With seemingly no effort, it creates more—more wisdom, more insights, more self-awareness, more possibilities—out of thin air.
When you start your weekly check-in meeting by asking, “What’s important right now?” keep the pressure on by asking, “And what else?”
Coaching Question 3: “What’s the real challenge for you here?”
When you’re trying to find the heart of the issue, and you ask, “What’s the real challenge here for you?” and he offers up a timid or vague or insipid first answer, push deeper by asking, “And what else is a challenge here for you?”
If someone offers you a laundry list of challenges, here’s how you’d narrow down the exact challenge:
“If you had to pick one of these to focus on, which one here would be the real challenge for you?”
Coaching Question 4: “What was most useful for you here?”
I personally love this question, and I’ll be using it to end my coaching conversations.
You’ll notice that you’re not asking, “Was this useful?” That question sets up a Yes/No answer, and it doesn’t actually prompt insight; it just elicits judgment. “What was most useful?” forces people to extract the value from the conversation.
In addition to those four questions, I also liked Michael’s three other insights that the book offered:
Insight 1 – Focus on what over why
Instead of “Why did you do that?” ask “What were you hoping for here?” Instead of “Why did you think this was a good idea?” ask “What made you choose this course of action?” Instead of “Why are you bothering with this?” ask “What’s important for you here?”
Insight 2 – Advice disguised as a question doesn’t count as coaching
“Have you thought of…?” “What about…?” “Did you consider…?” Stop offering up advice with a question mark attached. That doesn’t count as asking a question.
Insight 3 – Be comfortable with silence after asking a question.
Instead of filling up the space with another question or the same question just asked a new way or a suggestion or just pointless words, I will take a breath, stay open and keep quiet for another three seconds.