The Coaching Habit

This post is inspired by a book I recently read, titled “The Coaching Habit” by Michael B. Stanier, and how it applied to my everyday life. It’s available on Amazon Kindle for $7.95.

Do you run into situations where it seems like someone just won’t listen to you? No? I’m happy for you! Yeah? Welcome to my world (and the rest of us). In the context of teamwork, I used to experience this frustrating feeling a lot. It used to make me feel misunderstood, ignored, unappreciated, etc. I would do everything to get rid of it. “Why don’t they just listen to me!”, I used to wonder. “We’d all be so much better off if you listened.”, I used to say. The irony is, it was me who needed to listen more carefully.

Enter this book on coaching. What is coaching?

Coaching is an act of asking questions, in order to navigate the discussion and learn more about the person across the table. It pairs well with active listening. Active listening means you aren’t there just to nod and mumble. It’s asking a lot of probing questions that will guide the other person to tell you everything you both need to know.

Communication is about establishing a link for exchanging information between two parties. What happens when you are not on the same page with someone? What I would do, usually, is double down on my own theories, and make the gap even wider. What would you do instead? I’ve arrived at a conclusion that in such situations I need to forget about my own agenda and focus entirely on understanding the other person. It takes serious willingness and commitment to do just that, but it will take you a long way.

Seven Chapters / Questions

So that being said, this book came quite handy to learning how to coach better, how to ask better questions to understand what the other person is saying. They are geared towards people who are coaching others, such as a manager-report or mentor-mentee situations. However, I found it quite applicable in other situations as well, including my own perils and frustrations with not being heard during team oriented debates. The book is organized in seven short chapters, each explaining how that question comes into play.

So, here they are, in order of appearance, what they mean in the context of coaching and how they applied in my own context of teamwork:

1. What’s on your mind?

The opening question. The author recommends asking this question to open up the discussion.

In the context of coaching in 1-1 sessions, the author describes two different situations. One is coaching for performance, which is the everyday, urgent matters of work. The other one is coaching for development, a more important, long term discussion that needs to happen in such a relationship.

In my own context, this is also a good question to stop myself from talking and let the other person express their point of view, uninterrupted.

2. What else?

The expansion. Author recommends following up with this question to get closer to the bottom line.

Most of us won’t immediately say what really bothers us or where we’re stuck at. This question can help get to it faster. It will help you skip over the mundane things and get to the important stuff.

Feel free to ask the question multiple times… and what else?

In my own context, this helps me get the most of the disagreement out in the open and laid out in front of me to understand.

3. What’s the real challenge here for you?

The Focusing question.

Once you’ve identified what’s really on the other person’s mind, asking this question will help you understand why it’s on their mind. Or what part of it is bothering them.

Feel free to ask the question multiple times here as well… what else is a real challenge for you?

In my own context, this question helps me get to the point of the disagreement. What’s at the core of the problem. Usually there will be one point of disagreement, where perhaps I made a mistake in my own thinking, which caused all the other points of disagreements. Asking this question and identifying that point together can help us both reach an agreement, by changing either of our opinions. Personally, I care only that we do the right thing, I don’t care who’s ideas win.

Stick to “what”

The author strongly recommends not drilling down on people with “whys”. They put people on the defensive side. They feel attacked. There’s a place for this question, coaching is not one of them. Besides, do you really need to have the backstory? Stick to “what”.

4. What do you want?

Author says there is a big difference between wants (tactical) and needs (core). We are more likely to talk about the wants, that get our needs satisfied, without directly revealing what our needs are. Your job as a coach is to understand the need behind the want. It will help you get the other person what they need, sometimes even without giving them what they want.

In my own context, I like to ask this question as “what is it that we want?”, as we’re working as a team on the same problem. If we’re coming to this discussion with opposite wants (I want it good enough and simple vs I want it great and elaborate), then perhaps that’s the real discussion we need to have first. Here I find it useful to acknowledge both our ideas are good in their own respective contexts, and that we’ve made progress towards a unanimous decision.

5. How can I help?

Great question that will help identify if the other person needs something from you. Author recommends guiding the other person to solve the problem for themselves, by asking more questions.

6. If I’m saying yes to this, what am I saying no to? Strategic question.

The author mentions five other strategic questions that should be considered before you jump into lending a hand to someone and spending your time on something that might distract you from something more important.

7. What was most useful for you? Repetition is the mother of learning.

Finally, at the end of each session and beginning of next one, author recommends reflecting on the past discussion as a way to hack your brain into remembering it better. Apparently, when we recollect our thoughts, our brain is more likely to put them in a long-term memory, and they are less likely to disappear. Therefore this blog post. Yup.

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