Why You’re Not as Good at Coaching as You Think You Are
Michael Bungay Stanier
Look, we haven’t
met. So it’s fairly audacious, me accusing you of being not so hot at coaching.
All I can say in my defence is that I’ve now helped more than 10,000 managers improve their coaching skills and I’ve found a pretty standard distribution of coaching skills across the bell curve. On one end, a small number of people who have got good coaching skills in their bones. On the other end, a small group of people who refuse on principle to ask a question. Leaving most of us in the middle with good intentions, but without that combination of skills, structure and self-awareness necessary to translate those intentions into impact.
Michael Bungay Stanier
Odds are you’re in that middle group. And the reason? The Advice Monster.
The Advice Monster
You have a good mind and a good heart. As a manager and a leader, you want to be helpful and useful. You are there to “add value” to those you lead. You want to get things done. You want to contribute to the top line, the bottom line and the through line. In short, you’re committed and engaged.
And the way you do that most of the time? You give people answers. You offer solutions. You provide advice.
Here are the two flaws in that plan. First, most of the time you leap in with suggestions before you have any idea what the real challenge is. ‘Fess up now. You know that moment when you just stop listening to them talk, because you have the answer that they need and you’re now just waiting for space in the conversation to offer it up. This is the Advice Monster, and we all have one lurking inside. It means well, but it often gets in the way of us being an effective manager and leader.
Secondly, people are lousy at taking advice. Think of all the advice you get offered regularly. Think how little of it you actually follow. That’s what people do with your advice too. Most advice – the good, the bad and the ugly – passes harmlessly through people’s brains without leaving the slightest impression.
Have you thought about this?
Oh yes, you can be cunning. Because when you ask “Have you thought about … ?” it sounds like you’re coaching, doesn’t it? It sounds like you’re asking a question. But make no mistake. What we have here is advice with a question mark attached.
So what’s to be done?
The answer is to master a short number of excellent questions that will make it easier for you to be coach-like when it’s the appropriate time and place (which is more often that you might think.)
The Best Coaching Question in the World: AWE
Let me give you one right now, one that I would claim is the Best Coaching Question in the World. It’s just three words long, and conveniently those three words spell out the acronym AWE. This is indeed an awesome question.
And here it is.
“And what else?”
I know … it doesn’t seem much does it? It’s almost anticlimactic to see it here. But there are two reasons why this question can be the bedrock of your new approach to be an effective manager.
First, you need to know that the first answer someone gives you is never the only answer; and it’s rarely the best answer. It’s just the first thing they’ve said. But that first answer so often triggers Planning! and Action! and Get It Done! in everyone that it’s often the only one that emerges. In Chip and Dan Health’s book Decisive they quote a study which reveals 71% of decisions in corporates are binary (“should we do this, or not?”) These decisions, with just one real option, had a 52% failure rate.
But add an additional options (“should we do this, or THIS, or not?”) and the failure rate drops down to 32%. More options lead to better decisions lead to less failure. “And what else?” is the easiest way to generate new options.
Second, know that this is a way to manage your Advice Monster. It’s like a Star Wars moment. Even though you know better, the Dark Side keeps urging you to just TELL THEM THE ANSWER rather than being courageous enough to ask the question. “And what else?” helps manage that impulse.
Make this a habit
If this is sounding like a good idea, then here’s a quick plan to help you put this insight into action.
First, pick a person and a situation that’s coming up soon where you’d like to manage your advice monster and ask a good question. Get really specific.
Now write out for yourself: When [person] says [that thing they always say that makes you want to tell them what to do], instead of giving them advice I’ll ask, “And what else?”
And finally, put a reminder somewhere that will pop up after the event, so you can check in on how you did.
And if you’re really keen, drop me a line at Michael@boxofcrayons.biz and tell me how it went for you.
Michael Bungay Stanier is the Senior Partner at Box of Crayons, a company that gives busy managers the tools they need to coach in 10 minutes or less. Michael is the author of a number of books, including Do More Great Work and the upcoming The Coaching Habit (March 1, 2016) and is a regular speaker at HR conferences. As an Australian Rhodes Scholar, his smartest move was marrying a Canadian. He will be speaking about how you can work less hard and have more impact on November 3 at HealthAchieve in Toronto.