Focus your Questions on the OTHER Person
The big challenge for a lot of coaches is asking questions that don't just provide the coach more information, but also help the client piece together what they need to move forward. It really is a both/and. The best coaching questions actually do affect both participants--the client makes progress toward their goals and the coach is better informed and so can ask a better next question.
I do think you can get there by focusing your question on only one of those outcomes--helping the client piece together what they need. This is a great strategy for getting the most out of your coaching relationships. Let me tell you a story.
I have a coaching client that where I rarely understand the substance of what he's talking about. He has a very specific knowledge base in his work complete with a vocabulary that's filled with terms of art and other jargon. I'm strictly alongside help him build clarity. In our coaching calls, the routine for me goes 1) a good open ended question and, 2) wait for the answer. When the answer comes, it's about areas filled with jargon and technical language that are difficult to understand even for other leaders in his field. Hear me clearly: I don't know what my client is talking about. But the point is, my client is gaining clarity with every word.
Don't get me wrong: this is NOT how I want my coaching relationships to consistently go. But if the relationship is solid, and both participants are committed to the clients results, it can be very effective. Solid, helpful coaching questions have to be built on where the other person is. If I spent a lot of time in the coaching conversation trying to understand the technical side of his expertise, the time would be wasted on his end. Our coaching relationship is not designed to help me understand his work, it's intended to help him gain clarity about his work.
Yes, this client is a leader in a complex professional field, but this scenario could play out in your organization or church or relationships as well. The more detailed your focus is on a particular situation--in leadership, in a theological situation, or in a community initiative--the more you butt up against the possibility that you may not always know exactly what your client is describing.
So as uncomfortable as it seems, coaches have to accept the fact that it's possible that we're not always going to know exactly what our clients are talking about. But if we stick with asking focused questions designed to help the other person gain clarity, we can get an awfully lot done in a short period time.
Even when we don't know exactly what the client is talking about.
For more from Jonathan Reitz, please click here.
Jonathan Reitz has a number of impressive titles at CoachNet Global (Chairman/CEO/Guy with Coffee). Jonathan has been coaching since 1996 and has worked with over 500 clients in the church, the non-profit sector and the business world.
“Coaching plays a part in the kind of leadership the world needs,” says Jonathan Reitz. “I want to be a part of that.”
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