As part of my consulting I am often asked “What is the best way to say this?” or “How do I talk to someone?” or even more directly “I need help in being a better coach.” Thus, when I was offered the opportunity to review a book on coaching I accepted.
The book is The Coaching Habit- Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier. He is the Senior Partner and founder of a company called Box of Crayons which “specializes in giving busy manager the practical coaching skills so that they can coach in 10 minutes or less.”
First let’s talk about the mechanics of the book. It is very readable, with the pages and print broken up into a variety of type sizes, thus adding visual interest. It reads pretty quickly, so you can generally get through it in two or three easy sittings, depending on your reading speed. It is enjoyable and informative so it doesn’t bore you with “business speak.”
The premise, as witnessed by the title, is to help you develop the habit of providing coaching much better and more consistently than you probably currently are. As MBS says: “Building a coaching habit will help you and your team reconnect to the work that not only has impact but has meaning as well. Coaching can fuel the courage to step out beyond the comfortable and familiar, can help people learn from their experiences and can literally and metaphorically increase and help fulfill a person’s potential.”
The book covers a series of seven questions that MBS says are important to help the coach break out of the advice giving mode, which teaches nothing, and into helping the employee discover what they can do and how to do it. This allows them to learn from the process and to discover that they have capabilities they may not have been aware of previously.
The Seven essential questions
The book explains that the best coaching methodology is to ask questions. There are seven of these essential questions that provide a quick method to get at the root of issues and develop solutions to problems. These include:
#1- The Kickstart question
Rather than starting a meeting with small talk or the assumption you know what the person wants to talk about the kickstart question asks “What is on your mind?” The book suggests that you can focus on the 3Ps, project, people and/or patterns.
The good thing about this book is that MBS does not leave his coaching of you at that. He provides space in the book for you to determine what may trigger these conversations and he gives you references to videos on the company website in order for you to see a demonstration.
#2- The AWE question
This is my favorite question of the bunch. I have already started to incorporate this into my consulting discussions. AWE stands for “And What Else.” Asking this question allows you to determine what ALL the issues are and keeps you, the coach, from jumping in and offering advice without really understanding the issues. I guarantee it opens up the discussion. To make sure you don’t abuse this question, MBS provides us with four tips to asking this question: Stay curious and stay genuine; Ask it one more time, at least three times; Recognize success when someone says “there is nothing else.”; and Move on when it is time.
MBS throws in additional advice periodically, such as don’t offer advice in the form of a rhetorical question.
#3- The Focus question
MBS says that “When people start talking to you about the challenge at hand, what’s essential to remember is that what they’re laying out for you is rarely the actual problem.” If you start jumping to fix things you may be fixing the wrong problem. To focus on the problem you need to ask “What’s the real challenge here for you?” If someone presents you with several issues ask “If you had to pick one to focus on, which would be the real challenge for you?” That helps bring focus to the situation.
#4- The Foundation question
This is very simply the question “What do you want?” This helps you untangle the differences between wants and needs. This will improve the communication.
One of the inserted tips is something that all good interviewers understand; get comfortable with silence.
#5- The Lazy question
The Lazy question is called lazy because it gets the other person to propose a solution helping you avoid having to create on. The question is “How can I help?” or more bluntly “What do you want from me?” Of course you have to be able to respond to that and one tip provided is to be prepared to say “I can’t do that, but…” An essential tip for this question is to make sure you are listening, truly listening, at this point.
#6- The Strategic question
The strategic question is one you ask yourself. If I am saying “yes to this” what am I saying “no to”? MBS offers some excellent guidance on how to ask this question. One such piece of advice is to say “yes” more slowly to allow yourself to learn more before committing.
#7- The Learning question
The last question can take a variety of forms, but MBS suggests that the best is to ask “What was most useful to you?” This make the person think back through the conversation and extract what they thought was important. That is their learning moment. This question makes it personal; it gives you feedback on what they got out of it; it is learning not judgment; and it reminds people how useful you are to them.
The book is chock full of tips and other resources. You are invited to explore their website and watch their videos of examples of how this is done. You don’t just have to read it, you can also model it.
If you are uncomfortable with the process of coaching I think this book would be a very good starting point in order to improve your skills. Apparently the very long list of clients also agree.