Guest Post by Pam Smith
My first exposure to the use of a “ruler statement” is one I will never forget. The marketing manager of my former company presented his product plan to the senior staff and our company president asked him: “On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your chances of accomplishing this?” The response was: “Oh, about a four”.
As the senior staff did a collective “gulp” at the thought of a leader presenting a plan he didn’t believe in, the president became angry, let the manager know it right there in the meeting, and sent the manager back to rewrite the plan.
While that was an almost career-ending use of a ruler statement, asking a one-to-ten question with a couple of follow ups can be an excellent way to help a coachee or employee to embrace change, gain confidence, and resolve ambivalence. Using ruler statements comes from a process called Motivational Interviewing and is a tool used to facilitate change in addictions counseling.
Let’s say your coachee has expressed a change they want to make. You can use a ruler statement to determine how important it is to your coachee to make that change.
Coach: “On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being not all that important and 10 being a real priority, how important do you feel it is to make this change?”
Coachee: “I’d say an 8.”
At this point, you may be tempted to accept that number as pretty important and move on. However, if you want to solidify the importance, always ask why they have not used a lower number:
Coach: “It sounds important to you…why not a 6?”
Your coachee (or employee) will begin verbalizing what is called “change talk”. The coachee begins selling you on the importance of the change. The more the coachee verbalizes reasons for choosing a higher number than you suggest, the more the need to change is strengthened in the coachee which increases the likelihood of implementation.
The second follow up question to ask for any number given that is not a 10 is:
Coach: “Why not an all-out 10?”
Within the coachee’s response are the perceived obstacles, which open the door to coaching for solutions. (By the way, if you get a 5 or a 6 as the importance response, you have a coachee who is ambivalent about changing. You will want to find out if this is a change they really want to make.)
Once you have examined the importance, you can use a ruler statement to test the level of confidence in making the change. A desired change can be very important to your coachee, yet the coachee may not have confidence that it can be done.
As with the “importance ruler”, always ask first why the coachee did not state a lower number. This will encourage the coachee (or employee) to express why they can do it which builds confidence.
I use ruler statements as a regular tool in coaching. They are great facilitators for good coaching conversations.
Pam Smith is a Leadership and Transition Coach @ ErgoSophic, LLC where she provides life-giving, wisdom-driven coaching at an accessible cost for those who are stuck. She instructs on career and vocation at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA and is a client advocate at the North Care Women’s Clinic in Lansdale, PA. You can reach Pam @ firstname.lastname@example.org