GREAT QUESTION, COACHEE!
Authors: Julie Johnson and Jane Mobille
Our coachees expect their coach to ask the powerful questions, right? Afterall, that is what a coach is trained to do. But what happens when our coachee asks THE question?
When observing real coaching conversations conducted by participants of our ‘Coaching is an Art’ program (leaders who have been learning how to craft fantastic, thought-provoking questions) – I get particularly excited whenever I hear the coach say to the coachee, “GREAT question!”
Together they have probably just clarified a very productive direction to take the conversation. Yet here’s what often happens next: Both coach and coachee revel in the moment, and then forget to get the coachee’s question answered. The opportunity slips away, like sand through their fingers.
What is quite common is that the coachee doesn’t see the importance of the question they have just asked. They are talking and thinking, and not always focused on the importance of what they are saying. But the coach is! In fact, the coach can notice a great question in the moment, name it as such, and make sure that the coachee actually answers it.
This reminds me of a memorable session I had with one of my coachees who wanted to regain her enthusiasm for her consulting business. She started by spending a good five minutes giving me an overview of the current state of affairs. It seemed like she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders.
I asked her simply, “What does enthusiasm feel like?” I waited.
“Like everything is possible. And there is no pressure.” Pause. “When I started my business I had savings and a first contract from a client who knew me. It was easy to feel enthusiastic because I was safe. Now it is two years later, and my savings are gone, and I am afraid of what will happen if I can’t make my business work.”
I was curious about her possibilities. “What is your mission?”
“To help entrepreneurs build a strong brand and online presence. To pay my own bills and have a little left over for me.”
At this point it looked like she was about to say something else, but she didn’t. I waited, and then said, “And?”
“Am I even good at this? Pause. The question is, ‘What AM I good at?’ Pause. Maybe I should close down and look for a regular job. You know, sometimes I am just riddled with doubt.”
There was a lot to unpack here. In fact, I almost started with the last thing she said: “riddled with doubt”. But it was her second question that caught my attention. “What a great question. What ARE you good at?”
“Lately I think I am terrible at everything. I am just not enthusiastic about what I do.” Sigh.
I countered with: “How might knowing what you are good at make you feel more enthusiastic?” She countered with a long sigh. Again I asked, “What are you good at?”
After a long pause, she responded, “I just don’t know anymore. Nothing, really.”
“Hmm. Pause. What is one thing you are good at?”
Finally! “Well, I am good at project management.”
“I am good at involving all the needed stakeholders to create a project plan and take responsibility for delivering it. I think I am very good at ensuring the communication around the project is done well.”
My client’s energy changed before my eyes. When she finished talking about project management, I plunged on with the same question: “What else are you good at?” We spent the rest of the session answering the question. Over and over again. At the end, we had quite a list.
When that “GREAT question!” (from the coachee) moment happens, I say, STOP! We coaches can make the most of it by doing one of the following:
- Simply stay silent.
- Repeat the question, and then stay silent.
- Say, “So, what’s the answer?”
- Ask, “How can you find the answer to this question?”
- Persistently pursue the answer.
- When the coachee doesn’t answer the question, ask it again. And again.
Coaches! When you hear your coachee ask a great question, name it. Grab it! Be tenacious and stay there – you’re on to something!