When I do coaching training, novice coaches often fall into the trap of asking for information from the client that they are interested in. More often than not, when we ask such questions, we get information that we may feel we need but may not be helpful to the client. Sometimes this looks like asking about third parties in a client’s story or situation or trying to diagnose what is going on. This is not the right behaviour as a coach.
What a coach should stay focused on is helping the client by asking questions related to information that the client needs as opposed to the information we want to satisfy our curiousity. The way to teach yourself this discipline is to always ask yourself, “Did I ask that question because I want information or because it will lead the client to the information that they need?” In a recent training event, I shared a story with the participants and had them craft open and broad questions to help me dig deeper.
The story was an event in my early leadership where my boss gave me a job to do. The job did not go well. Inadvertently, the participants were assuming something was wrong between me and my boss. They were looking for information that they wanted based on their assessment/diagnosis. I encouraged them to open up their question to allow me to have control as the client to discover the information that was important for me. The question they wanted to ask was, “What happened between you and your boss?”
As I addressed the problem with that question, I challenged them to open up the question and make it neutral so that it gave me the freedom to dig out the information I wanted. The broader question they came up with was, “Talk about your relationship with your boss.” This broader, more neutral, question gave me control over what I saw in that relationship rather than the assuming question that something wrong was up with me and my boss. To their surprise, by boss and I had a very good relationship. The job didn’t go well because the strategy was flawed, not the relationship.
As a coach, be careful to not diagnose. If you have a hunch or assumption as to what is going on – don’t diagnose it but ask the client about it. Or better yet, listen to what the client is telling you about what is important in their present situation and ask them more about it to help them get out the information they need to take their next step.