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What’s the Question YOU Want to Answer?

Have you seen the latest Google television ad? It builds on the power of questions, starting from the standpoint that question is the most powerful force on earth.  Check the ad out here.  (You’re welcome, Google, for all the free pub this blog post is going to generate!)

This certainly lines up with Google’s philosophy. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has said that the best advice he ever got was to hire a coach. It’s an acknowledgement that questions open possibilities that statements never can.

Questions are the most powerful force on earth.  And coaching is the most powerful relationship there is!

So what’s the question you really want to answer? And how could a coach help you answer it? I’d love to see your thoughts in the comments below.

Who Else Wants to Ask Coaching Questions That Hit Home? (Part 2 of 2)

In the last blog post, we explored a helpful application of why questions for coaches, called the 5 Whys.

The 5 Whys can be a powerful coaching technique that digs beneath a presenting issue or situation and discovers underlying reasons/causes. The 5 Whys are especially effective at discovering cause-and-effect relationships.

The Danger of Why

photo credit: mbshane via photopin cc


But for coaches, ‘why?’ questions open a myriad of challenges. They put us at risk of stopping forward momentum, getting into counseling situations, and getting caught up in details that don’t focus on the “bottom line” of the coaching situation.

An old friend of mine who is a football coach says “The details make you dangerous.” I think that’s true for coaches, especially if we get focused on the wrong details! And that’s exactly the unhelpful risk why questions set us up to take.

The danger of why questions is something that gets covered on the first day of coach training! We need another way forward!

What questions are more effective for coaching. Let’s try to apply What questions to the cause-and-effect structure of the 5 Whys.

The key insight that has to drive this approach is to facilitate learning for the client first, then go after results. This is the gateway to masterful coaching.

Here’s a coaching strategy I use to pair the structure of the 5 Whys with the power of What questions. This strategy really builds on the trust and intimacy you have with a client.

In my coaching practice, this strategy has been most effective when I have some history with the client (6 or more sessions), but it can be used in the first few sessions of a coaching relationship as well.

Start by asking the client to pick an emotional challenge or moment that has happened recently. Invite the client to go back to the moment and remember what the thoughts, feelings and emotions they were having at that time.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Make sure the client can feel the emotion of the moment. The emotions of the moment provide the roadmap to deeper awareness.

Once the client has this moment in mind, start with the 7 Whats. These questions are strategically ordered to start with the issue, go beneath the surface, identify the cause of the emotion and then explore actions the client might be able to take to address the issue.

Let’s look at the 7 Whats. With the emotion in mind, ask these questions:

1. What’s causing the emotion? This question invites the client to start from a deeper place than just feeling the emotion.

2. What is positive about it? Negative? Now the client is evaluating the impact of the emotion. This question adds context.

3. What’s behind that reaction? With a little context, the client can then look a little more deeply at what is actually going on. Faith-driven coaches may stop for a moment of clarifying prayer with this question.

4. What’s at the root of your reaction/situation? Now we’re at the real cause. You may need to repeat questions 1–4 a couple times to really get at the root.

5. What does that tell you about yourself? We’ve gone now into facilitating learning. The client has a chance to make assessments about themselves and to embrace the things they are realizing about themselves. NEVER insist that a client realize a particular thing about themselves or embrace an opinion of yours.

6. What action(s) can you take to grow? What can you do to make this growth a habit? Question 6 is where the hard work begins. You are inviting the client to not only talk about the root issue, but also to name the change they want to make and to lay out a plan for bringing it to life.

7. What can you do to stay accountable and on track with this change? The key here is to help the client find their own accountability plan and to not build dependence on the coach.

A simple question structure like this will help you go deeper with each client AND to draw out of the client action steps that they are willing to take to make a change that will last.

When you repeat a process like this with a client, you can move into a coached prevention mode. With a few repetitions, clients will anticipate the line of questioning and begin to diagnose key issues on-the-fly and in-the-moment. You’ll start farther into the process and your coaching will become more effective!

What strategies do you use to dig beneath the surface in coaching?

Who Else Wants to Ask Coaching Questions That Hit Home? (Part 1 of 2)

At a coaching conference a few years ago, I agreed to be coached in a public demo by a very well known coach and author. My mind was clear on what we were going to talk about and I was really looking forward to the experience.

The coach didn’t do much in the demo, other than ask me why questions–which is a practice that often leaves the coach in me cold. (My coaching bias is against coaching questions that start with why because they force the client to look backwards instead of guiding the action forward.)

Over the ten or 15 minutes of the demo, this well known coach got me to look at an issue I was facing from about 5 different sides.

He was quiet and focused on drilling deeper into the issue, and encouraged me to look under the surface with every “Why?”.

Why did the chicken cross the road?
photo credit: patrick wilken via photopin cc

Before too long, I had come to a realization about what was really going on with me. Then he shifted into action mode, and we made a plan for how I woul address the issue.

In the group debrief, this coach unpacked that he was using a specific coaching technique called The 5 Whys. I was shocked.

Not only was this high profile coach using why questions…on purpose…but it worked!

I thought to myself “There is NO WAY I’m ready to ask Why questions in my coaching the way he did. NO WAY. I can never make them work.”

But I was missing his key strategy: he never let me lapse back into talking about my childhood or some kind of baggage I was bringing into the coaching. He only let me explore connections between things that were happening NOW.

It was all cause-and-effect. And root causes are powerful. Finding and addressing the root cause of a particular situation or instance is probably the thing that coaching does best.

But you can’t address a root cause if you don’t know what it is. So how do you identify what’s really going on?

The 5 Whys is a great coaching strategy. Researching The 5 Whys uncovers roots in the Toyota Motor Company’s Continuous Improvement Culture and the start up world. But the lessons apply to all of us.

Take any key issue, for example a church who’s late service always starts 2–5 minutes late. Names and details have been omitted/changed to protect the innocent, but this is a real coaching issue from my practice a few years ago.

Start with why questions, looking for cause and effect.

Issue: Worship starts 2–5 minutes late every week.
– 1st Why: Attendees come into the worship area slowly.
– 2nd Why: They are in conversation in the outer area.
– 3rd Why: Groups get congested in the coffee area and people bump into their friends.
– 4th Why: The coffee area is too crowded, because the urns are in a corner and there is additional furniture taking up useful space.
– 5th Why: The orginal thinking was that people might sit down and have a conversation, but no one does.

So this series of Whys has gotten to the root issue that the sitting area is not being used for it’s intended purpose. And that issue had NOTHING to do with anything going on in worship.

The cause-and-effect exploration got beneath the obvious issues, and nailed what was actually going on.

Here’s a great video from Eric Ries (author of The Lean Start Up about the process behind the 5 whys. It’s a little more process or product development oriented than the coaching that CoachNet-trained coaches do, but I think you’ll see how digging beneath the surface can be very powerful.

So how do you dig beneath the surface to the key issue in your coaching? I’d love it if you shared your knowledge in the comments.

Tomorrow on the blog, I’ll walk you through a twist on the 5 Whys that takes you down a different path to explore the cause-and-effect of presenting issues and key issues.

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