Asking Powerful Question

Whether you are a parent, a sportsperson, or a corporate manager. Irrespective of our roles, all of us play the role of a leader or a coach. Therefore, the concept of coaching becomes relevant to everyone. International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity, and leadership. In simple words, coaching is 

·      Igniting growth by improving thinking 

·      Facilitate positive change by improving thinking 

·      Creating self-awareness by showing blind spots 

·      Showing the mirror 

·      Providing the structure and process to help identify goals and actions to achieve them. 

Another related concept with coaching is the concept of Powerful Questioning. You cannot coach someone well unless you know the minute details of their problems. People tend to hide details unless explicitly asked or enquired. As a coach, you need to extract out the fine details of the issues, and this is where the concept of powerful questioning comes into the picture. So, if we refer the person to be coached as a coachee, the powerful question is something which 

·      Gets intricate details from the coachee 

·      Takes coachee forward 

·      Makes coachee think 

·      Makes coachee owns his issue 

·      Reflect active listening 

Powerful questioning is a vital tool in coaching and leadership. As per ICF, powerful questioning asks questions that reveal the information needed for maximum benefit to the coaching relationship and the client. We usually ask the following type of question 

·      Investigating question – Thinking of solving the problem. 

·      Advice question- Asking questions is more like some advice. Show how it does not work 

·      Thinking question- The objective of the thinking question is to make another person think 

·      Planning question – We thought of a solution now what the action plan is. 

·      Detailed question – Detail questions are usually followed by some other type of questions. If the detailed questions are followed by investigation, you are moving towards advice, and if detailed questions are linked with thinking questions, it leads to planning questions. 

What is the difference between coaching and mentoring? 

As a coach, I ask the questions, so the base of where the questions come from is the biggest difference between mentoring and coaching. When I am mentoring, I am answering questions. When I am coaching, I ask questions because I want to understand and grow and develop the coachee’s thinking. I’ll use the word coachee, which in general could be your team member, child, friend, colleague, or client in a professional coaching relationship. When we use powerful questioning, we uncover the real challenge and what is getting in the way. When we hear something like I am so overloaded, I can’t get all my work done. We can unpack that through powerful questioning to understand how to overload is caused and the real challenge getting in the way for that person. Powerful questioning is there to ensure that we deal with the thinking of that individual and not just deal with our perception of what’s going on and what we can contribute towards it. One of my favorite leadership coach Michael Stanier, the CEO of a box of crayons and an author, says we need to do three things as managers, as leaders, as coaches, and probably as parents as well. 

·      We need to be curious 

·      We need to be often 

·      We need to be lazy 

These are the best definition of the implementation of powerful coaching: 

Be Curious, eager to know, or learn something. So, when you ask a question and hear the answer, you can learn as well. Being curious helps us as well to learn not only the other person but ourselves. 

Be often, don’t keep the opportunity to use powerful questions for a formal coaching session, a performance review, or an interview. Instead, use it all the time. Use it at any opportunity that you get to learn what the other person has to say, what they think what contribution they can make towards the conversation. 

Be Lazy; stop doing all the work by yourself. Not only the physical works but the thinking works too. Stop jumping in solving it, fixing it, finding solutions, and providing advice, telling people what to do. Rather, let the people work by themselves and bring the solution to you. Coaching is a thought-provoking creative process that inspires coaches to maximize their professional potential. Therefore, you must ask the right questions, “Questions that are likely to generate insights.” However, there are many types of questions that do not generate any insights and therefore don’t make a part of good coaching. Questions less likely to generate insights: 

·      “Why” questions that try to get more details 

·      Loaded questions that tell people what to think about 

·      Questions that force people into actions 

·      Questions too focused on investigating the problem 

How to develop the skill of Powerful Questioning? 

To develop the skill of powerful questioning, become comfortable with it. Use it often, and you’ll soon find a rhythm. The other thing that I suggest is to listen to questions that other people are asking, google powerful questions and see the variety of questions that people ask because we need to expand our vocabulary of questions. Three things 

·      Be often 

·      Be aware of questions that have been asked in your environment and 

·      Search for questions to expand your question base and asking patterns

How to answer a question as a leader? 

There are two things we can do as a leader when we are asked a question. We can promptly answer the question or throw a question back to the person to determine what their thinking is about the question. While it’s tempting and easy to follow the first approach, most good leaders always start with the second approach. They ask the person what their thoughts have been so far. What have they done to fix the problem till now? This approach is better because it tries to understand the present before jumping into the future to provide a solution. Also, by throwing back the question, you can get more information about the problem that the person might have missed when they first asked the question, even when you are adopting the first approach and directly answering the question or providing the solution. Once you have answered the question, there is nothing wrong in telling them that these are your thoughts, and they can feel free to add upon these thoughts.

How to balance mentor, trainer, and coach in a leader? 

Books like situational leadership by Kenneth Blanchard say that the style we use as a leader should relate to the person and the task. Therefore, as a leader, it is of paramount importance to know the person you are leading. One size does not fit all. Sometimes you have a person who is experienced and knows the work well. In this case, all you need to do is a slight push, and the person will take it over from there. However, sometimes, a person can be very new at something and might need much more than a push. You might need to train the person by example. You might need to give the person some ready reference. So as a leader, you don’t want to fall into the trainer box all the time. You want to allow the learning to come from the person’s thinking to use their potential and not always to use your experience. 

Remember, when we can unlock the value in individuals, we start to unlock the value in the organization at the same time. 

Why would people go to coach when they are going to ask powerful, difficult questions? 

As a coach, you need to watch how you ask questions because you don’t want to become the inquisitor; you want to be curious and not pressure people. Nobody likes being put under pressure. It would be best if you were careful with questioning. If somebody comes to you with a problem and demands a solution, you can’t directly ask: Well, what are you going to do about this problem? Or you cannot directly show them the major consequences of the problem. If you go that way, the person will become uncomfortable, and you will get defensiveness. 

Generally, start with questions that focus on the present situation. Ask questions like “What has happened so far?”, “What have you done so far?”, “What are your thoughts about this challenge?” etc. The idea is to make them comfortable by asking something which they know answers to. They do not have to think much about while answering: once this conversation has settled and they are pleased with you, you need to slowly start asking questions about what will happen in the future, which the coachee is struggling about. 

This way, you will be able to get the best details out of the coachee, you will be able to grasp the exact problem, and then will be able to provide the best solution or suggest the best directions ahead. 

What’s the best way to coach up? 

So, coaching-up is when you are coaching someone who is up above in hierarchy than yourself. It can be your boss, your clients, your parents, your senior colleagues, etc. We all face situations when we are not in agreement with our supervisors or find some outstanding flaw in an approach suggested by them. These are the situations that lead to someone coaching up. 

While it’s fine for you to coach up someone, you must tread very carefully. People generally do not want to seek help or suggestion from their subordinates. You do not want to create any imbalance, definitely not while coaching up. It would be best if you put a lot of acknowledgments to the thoughts of your supervisor. 

The best approach to adopt is to ask questions. First, you should ask what they are trying to achieve and how they think their system will help achieve the same. Then, you need to provide them with a better approach to arriving at the same results, preferably more easily or cost-effectively. The key is t make them realize that your approach is more practical and easier to implement while continuously acknowledging that their approach is workable. 

Why use the “We” word? 

Using the word ‘We’ is essential. Empathy plays a vital role in coaching. While coaching, you need to make all feel that you can feel other’s problems. It makes them comfortable and gives a sense that they are actively working towards resolving the problem rather than just getting some help. 

This is especially important in a corporate setup where there is a sense of competitiveness with your subordinates, subordinates, or manager. You do not want anybody to feel that you are looking down upon them, or else you will start getting pushback from them. 

Biggest coaching failures ever

Quite early in my career, I had few instances where people just wanted to be rescued. They did not want to be challenged. They wanted a ready-made solution, and I provided that to them. I put them back on the horse I rode and rode them off. Slowly, I realized that this is not the way. I did not even receive the proper credit for the coaching, and there was no self-satisfaction too. 

You need to understand that the opportunity for a leader, for a coach, is to grow other leaders, tap the hidden potential among the people, and bring out their talent rather than handing them over some ready-made solution. Today, I do not want to play a role where I must coach passive people, unwilling to show some zeal to learn and evolve. That is why I sometimes also say that a very demotivated person is the hardest to coach. 

Remember from the rules above by Michael Stainer. It would be best if you were often but not always. As a coach, your task is to provide coaching, not to provide solutions. It is the task of coachees to solve by themselves, by using their potentials. 

Who is the right Coach for me? 

Not everyone is the right coach for everyone. Someone who has a proven record of coaching might not fit well with you. You must have good chemistry with the coach. If you’re looking for a coach, make sure you are comfortable with them. If you feel that the match is not good, it is not the sort of person you are looking for because we are different as coaches, we all bring something different, and you need to be able to find comfort with the person. As I said earlier, empathy is important. It will help if you can establish a connection out of the coaching situation. Also, it will help if you have a prior connection with the person. That is why people sometimes seek coaching about their personal life with their office colleagues or vice-versa. It is because they can easily empathize with them, can relate their common boundaries. 

To conclude, coaching someone needs a deep understanding of the problem and the person as well. Therefore, there is no proven theory that applies to all coachees and coaches. However, the above information can help you in better coaching. However, feel free to ask any questions or seek any clarifications, and I would be happy to help.

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