Just ask a question, any question!
In the past, I had the opportunity to experience a full-day of training on ‘facilitation with the brain in mind’ with David Rock of the Neuroleadership Group. My entire team and many colleagues shared a day of introductory training that started with an introduction to the brain science behind relating, communicating, teaching, and leading. It was a great refresher for me and motivated me to pursue my coaching certification through a full 2-year program through the Neuroleadership group.
For the bulk of the afternoon we focused on what David calls the “Dance of Insight”, which is a framework for quality conversations that take a coachee or direct report from ‘impasse to insight’. The approach just makes sense and I have witnessed, on several occasions now, the positive impact the approach can have in a conversation. If you are interested in more detail I recommend the book “Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work” by Rock.
What struck me recently was an extension of what I have learned in previous classes and have read in many books and articles. I am convinced of the power of a QUESTION rather than a directive, advice-giving, answer-providing approach to coaching. But what I realized last week occurred to me in the middle of a practice opportunity. As I struggled to find ‘just the perfect question’ I realized that all I really needed to do was ASK ANY QUESTION. If I am convinced that the answer or insight is inside the person with whom I am conversing, then all I really need to do is find A QUESTION that helps them continue their own train of thought. I don’t need the perfect question or the clever question that will take them straight to insight. My job is to help the person explore their own thinking from many perspectives, to help them generate their own solution. When this happens, there is buy-in… it’s their idea. There is motivation to make the change… because they made the connection.
The magic of questions. Now, there are definitely some more effective ways to ask questions. Best example — no matter how you intend it, when you start a conversation with “Why did you…”, it is likely to put someone on the defensive. But, a simple “what was your thought process?” or “what are the advantages of doing it that way?” can make a difference. When I first started to build the discipline of questioning rather than directing, I came up with a few standard ways to start a conversation that signaled to the other person that I wanted to listen to what he or she thought. One wasn’t even a question — I used to start many conversations with “help me understand”, and I meant it! I also used “what are some of the other options you considered?” and “what makes you confident this is a good idea?”. What are some questions you could use to fuel your conversations?
In the last few months I have recommended both the Quiet Leadership book and the book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 12 Powerful Tools for Leadership, Coaching, and Life” to at least six different people with whom I am working. I can’t think of anyone who would benefit from applying the principles in both of these books.
It can be difficult to let go of being the great ‘advice-giver’. It seems now that I also need to give up pride of being the ‘most amazing question-asker’. Just ask a question with a genuinely inquiring mind. It’s magic.