How to Answer a Question

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June 18, 2013

A lesson I learned from my dad, a couple days after Father’s Day…

Fluorescent TubesMy dad was a research physicist. He worked in corporate world labs with a specialty in optics and glass product development. His paychecks mostly said General Electric, but over a 40-year career the physics were really his reward. Some of his projects were world-changing, like the glass in your car’s headlights and the thin tube of the stuff in the fluorescent lamp that’s probably over your head right now.

Because of his background and chemistry and physics, he was always focused on the details of a particular situation. (It’s a little amazing that I ended up as his son, because details are typically the last thing on my mind.)

I remember him asking me after one of my high school basketball games, “How many points & rebounds did you have last night?”

In typical high school bravado, I responded with “18 and 10.”

I’ll never forget his response. “What are the units?” he said. “18 what? 10 what? We need to know about the units.”

At the time I thought he was just being a physicist, not my dad. I know he knew that I had 18 points and 10 rebounds the night before, but he was teaching me something: The units do matter. The number tells you how many. The units tell you what. It mattered 18 points and not 18 rebounds, and it mattered 10 rebounds and not 10 points. The unit made all the difference in how the story played out.

I think about this exchange all the time. In my coaching conversations, the units of the conversation sometimes get lost. It matters if you’re talking about 100 baptisms or 100 hours spent in community service. You could answer a question about both of those topics by simply saying “100”, but it would tell a very very different story. The units make a difference.

The lessson here is that unspecific language works against effective coaching. The unit conversation is a big part of it. When you ask a client a question, be sure, as a coach, that you are clear on the units about which you’re asking. If the client answers without adding the units, there’s no shame in asking them to rephrase the answer to include those particular details of the conversation.

Got an example of unspecific language that’s come up in your coaching? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

For more from Jonathan Reitz, please click here.


Jonathan ReitzJonathan 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.”

For a daily coaching question from Jonathan Reitz, follow him on Twitter @jonathanreitz  Or, you can email hime at jonathan@coachnet.org or by phone at 440.550.4374.

Comments (1) - Post a Comment
Hi Jonathan . I enjoy your articles. My desire is to develop the coaching aspect of my life and to extend it to the Spanish Speaking world. With 35 years of experience in different aspects of ministry and church life plus my education I have a lot to share. I need to develop a blog and begin to give shape to my dream. Any suggestions from you? Jose.
Jose A Fernandez Jr at 11:52am EDT - June 19, 2013


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