Asking Questions – The Coach Approach

In our last blog we talked about using “Why?” to engage others, to learn more and to explore ideas.

We take that a step further today with asking more questions — using a “coach approach” to leadership.

Good questions often lead to amazing answers — answers that can astound you and the person you asked, and can lead to leaps in success — yours, theirs and the organization’s.

The problem is, a lot of us ask terrible questions. We talk too much and listen too little.

We’re uncomfortable with a pause in conversation, we accept bad answers or worse, no answer. We’re embarrassed to ask the tough questions.

Will we look stupid?

Will they?

Bringing a coach approach is easier than it may sound, and leads to enormous gains (just ask anyone who has an executive coach helping them to succeed).

Here’s some of the key tips:

Ask open questions — in other words, questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” response. This leads to dialogue without an accusatory tone and builds a comfortable rapport. To watch this technique in action, watch an experienced journalist on a panel news discussion or watch a good talk show host interview a guest – pick your favourite, then watch the technique. (Find some links to good interviewers at the bottom of this note).

Ask questions one at a time — when we get into an interesting stream of thought, our questions pile up. But, asking more than one at once can confuse the listener, and can lead them down our path of thinking, rather than theirs.

Be curious — don’t fish for an answer. Bad questions fish for the answer you want, really good questions are based on curiosity. I find it helps to start the question in your own mind with “I’m curious about….” — that helps you come from a point of curiosity.

So when an employee is explaining how a mistake happened we might be tempted to ask “why didn’t you do it ‘this or that’ way?”

A better question might be “I see where you decided to go this way — what prompted you to choose that?”

You may learn something about your company processes that misled that employee.

You may find a gap in information sharing that left them poorly informed when making a decision. And, interestingly, you may find the option you would have chosen (‘this or that’) might not have been the best choice either.

In other words, you might learn something, the employee might learn something and the whole organization may benefit

Be comfortable with silence — being asked an insightful question often requires time to articulate an answer. Compassionate silence is ok, it leads to insight. If your question was based on curiosity, the silence will be compassionate. If the question was fishing, the silence will be accusatory

Interject with another question when necessary — sometimes you’ll face the opposite of silence — the other person will begin to ramble. Try interrupting with a thoughtful, curious question. Most people don’t mind interruptions that allow them to continue talking and help them focus on the issue.

Repeat back what you’ve heard — it shows the other person that you are engaged and listening, and it confirms you are both on the same page. This is when you may use a “yes” or “no” question to make sure you’re understanding. “So are you saying that the product you are selling will provide us with faster data on a user friendly system?”

Experienced executive coaches use insightful questions to help their clients achieve great things. Bringing a “coach approach” of asking questions to your organization can help do the same thing.