087 Seven question to lead better

The Coaching Habit


Are you a leader? Do you really know how to relate to your children? Are you an effective communicator?


I ask you these questions because I ask them of myself. If you know me and you have listened to The Art of Business English for a while now, you will know that I am on a constant mission of self-improvement. I believe that at the root, the core of self-improvement is being a better more effective communicator. Really understanding and listening to what others are saying, or “not” saying.


Today I want to share with you seven questions that you can ask. I am reading a really interesting book called “The Coaching Habit”, by Michael Bungay Stanier. In this book he outlines 7 questions we can ask to help leaders get to really understand a situation. Today, I want to do a bit of coaching with you and show you the premise behind the seven questions from the coaching habit.


In today’s episode of the Art of Business English we are going to look at the seven questions of the “Coaching Habit” and how you can easily start to use them to help you lead more effectively.


The reality is that most people really, really, really want to help others by giving them their opinion or some “good” advice. People draw on their own experience or understanding of the world to offer up this advice. However, most people don’t really offer good advice because they never really listen long enough to truly understand the situation or challenge.

Today we are going to show you how to be better leaders and listeners.

What’s on your mind?

This is a great, open ended question that instantly makes someone feel comfortable and is an open door. You ask this question as it is very wide in its scope and allows the person to easily share with you what their challenges are. It also has the effect of cutting through a lot of BS and allowing someone to open up and go straight to the point. In fact, it completely cuts out any “small talk” and allows you to get straight into the listening/understanding stage.


I mentioning listening a lot here, why? Well, most people try and diagnose without knowing the actual problem. We jump to conclusions; we speak from our perspective or we just try and “fix” things as quick as we can. This is not effective in many cases and alienates the one person we are trying to help.

So, to kick things off, you can simply say, “So, what’s on your mind?” Now the next step is to, you guessed it, sit back and listen.

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"most people try and diagnose without knowing the actual problem 

And what else?

Once we have established the conversation and we are listening we can move to the world’s best coaching questions, “And what else?” (AWE). This seems surprisingly simple, yet it is extremely powerful. Why might you ask? Well, firstly, it is our investigative question, it helps us to get to the bottom of an issue.


Secondly and more importantly, the first answer or response you get from someone is rarely the best. Surprise, surprise, most people have trouble articulating what it is that they actually want, or what it is that they have issue with.


Finally, and equally important to us as leaders and high achievers, we need to slow down the advice monster. The advice monster lives inside all of us. Since we lead others, we usually want to jump in and take over, give advice and provide solutions. By asking “And what else?” we give ourselves a break and more time for the other person to talk while we “listen”.

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The world’s best coaching questions, “And what else?

What’s the real challenge for you here?

This is what we refer to as the “focus question”. You will notice that there are two main elements. Firstly, we are directly asking someone what the challenges are. This is great as it can help us get to the real issues within an organisation, however, we must add “for you” at the end in order to keep the focus on the real issues affecting the individual.


If you ask someone what the real issues are, they will most probably externalise most of them or give you some vague idea about the problem and not really get down to the real issues that are affecting them.


By saying to someone, “what is the real challenge for YOU?”, you are forcing them to focus on what is really their issue. Not an external issue, but one that is affecting them specifically.


Furthermore, we can then reemploy AWE, to keep them focused, to really get to the true feelings or challenges that are affecting that particular person. This is great for laser focusing, as well as keeping the advice monster quiet, while you truly make efforts to understand the issues.

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By saying to someone, “what is the real challenge for YOU?”, you are forcing them to focus on what is really their issue.

What do you want?

This is referred to as a “foundation question”. Often, it is not a very easy question to answer. Many people feel angry, frustrated or undervalued in their personal and work relationships. They feel that they can describe what makes the angry, or what challenges they are facing, but then they don’t know how to tell you what they want to do to fix it.


“What do you want?” forces people to focus on an outcome, it makes them think about what they may see as a viable solution or result to the challenges that they are facing.

Furthermore, this is a great question to put to someone when you feel that the conversation is getting stuck or bogged down.


This can help give some new life and clarity to a conversation that seems to be going back over what has already been said.


It is also important to point out that we can follow up “what do you want?” with AWE. This will help you probe further the issues and how the individual envisages the solution or final outcome.

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“What do you want?” forces people to focus on an outcome

How can I help you?

This is referred to as the lazy question. This seems a bit strange, doesn’t it? What kind of person would encourage a leader, a high achiever to be “lazy”?


This question is in fact a great short cut that saves a lot of time and energy. We often don’t have all the answers and we often are not sure how we can really help someone. So, to avoid wasting time and assuming what we think the other person wants from us, we just come straight out and ask them… “What do you want from me?” or “How can I help you?”.


One of these two questions also help you get a clear idea of what it is they want you to do, BUT, you are still not busting in there with your advice, the other person still has ownership of the challenges or issues.

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We often don’t have all the answers and we often are not sure how we can really help someone. 

If you say yes to this, what must you say no to?

This is the question for those who are overwhelmed, overworked and over committed. Every time you say yes to something, you are making a commitment. This can lead to you over committing and burning out, or worse, making empty promises.


We need buy-in from people, we need people to make commitments they feel they can keep. There is no point in having people in your organisation who are “yes men”, people who never say no, yet never deliver. Or, deliver half-baked work.


When we try and get to the root of someone’s challenges, we need to make sure that they are committed to the solution. We need to make sure that their promises are real so that we can get things done.

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We need buy-in from people, we need people to make commitments they feel they can keep.

What was most useful to you?

The last question is our “learning” question. This is our feedback loop, the step where we make people stop, think and reflect on the whole experience. This question is extremely important to the learning process.


We learn from our experiences, both good and bad. If I tell you what to do then you are less likely to learn the lesson. Yet, if I ask you what “you” feel has been most useful, then you are forced to reflect on what role you played and the outcomes.


As this question is a feedback loop, it also allows people to think about what could have been done better and what they might try and improve on in the future.


As a leader or coach, this question also gives you the feedback you need. Here you will get some perspective on what strategies were most effective in managing the team or individual.

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If I ask you what “you” feel has been most useful, then you are forced to reflect on what role you played and the outcomes.

Final thoughts

As you can see, communication and leadership don’t have to be hard, these simple questions give you some pretty easy tools to help you generate more discussion and try and get to the root cause of issues, challenges and problems within teams and with individuals.


Remember, the key lesson today is that we should never jump in and offer up our advice. In order to be better communicators, we need to be better listeners as well as be emphatic and really try and understand others.


I have only touched on these seven questions, if you would like to go deeper into the coaching habit then I encourage you to purchase a copy of the book. It is an easy read and has many video interviews that accompany the different sections of the book. This book is great to help you improve your leadership skills, not only at work, but with your family. It is also great to help you improve your business English and general communication skills.

Well, that is all from me for this week.


I hope you have enjoyed this week’s episode of the Art of Business English. I will see you all next week. Take care, bye for now.

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About the Author Andrew

Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Art of Business English. Besides teaching and coaching native Spanish speakers in Business English, he is also passionate about mountain biking, sailing and healthy living. When He is not working, Andrew loves to spend time with his family and friends.

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