One sure way to help people discover new roads and increase perspective is by asking questions from different angles. Angles are the perspectives, or the roads our thinking travels along. If our thinking stays on the same road, solutions will be limited to those that are available on that road. However, there are many roads—many ways to think about something—and just as many perspectives.
When the coachee presents their situation to us it’s natural that we will see it immediately from two perspectives, our own and the coachee’s. It’s easy to get stuck on either road—either perspective. Instead, the coach can ask questions from different perspectives, or what we call angles. Angles are similar to the topic or categories we used above in open questions. Common angles to explore are: relational, financial, motivational, organizational, spiritual, etc.
Here’s an example. Jennifer was country director for a large humanitarian organization. She shared with me about a conflict with another field leader. She described the conflict as a personal attack by the other leader. She told me that she’d never gotten along with the other leader and found him to be arrogant and self-serving. As we explored the coachee’s perspective, we couldn’t find any leverage for action. She was stuck and unable to move forward.
Then we looked at the conflict from the angle of organizational culture.
I asked, “How might organizational culture be affecting your relationship?”
“I don’t see any link because our organization is empowering, very decentralized and flat in its structure,” she said.
“How does an empowered, decentralized leader behave?” I probed.
“Independently.” She answered.
“And how is your colleague behaving?” I continued.
“Independently… we all do. But I’m trying to work together, and he said he wanted to as well. This is one thing that is so tough in my organization—nobody works together.”
“So, you’re saying it’s rare that leaders in your organization partner between fields?”
“So, how might that aspect of your corporate culture be adding to your conflict with this field leader?”
“Actually, he’s not behaving much differently than everyone else, I just expected that we’d be able to partner together, and he indicated that he’d like to partner as well. But our organization doesn’t have a good history of that kind of partnership.”
“Well, I’m seeing that it’s more than just him and me here. We are trying to swim upstream in our organizational culture. I had high expectations, maybe unrealistic, and possibly he did as well.”
“With the corporate culture in mind, how might you think differently about this field leader and your expectations of partnership?”
“I still expect him to keep his word. But I also realize that we have our organizational history going against us. I shouldn’t take his lack of action so personally. Actions that I see as self-serving and arrogant could be interpreted as him just doing his own thing, like everyone does. There’s a big difference between a good idea or something we ‘should’ do and something strategic enough for us to overcome our personal habits and organizational culture.”
“Those are helpful insights.” Changing angles again, I asked, “If you think about his personality and yours, how might personality differences be affecting your partnership?”
Asking questions from different angles allows the coachee to reflect on their situation from different perspectives. I use angle questions quite freely. Sometimes I have a hunch that there might be something to be gained from exploring a certain angle. Other times, I simply ask an angle question to see what new reflection it may provoke. The goal is to raise awareness and increase the perspective of the coachee.
If you ask an angle questions that falls flat, that is, the coachee sees no relevance, then just move on. The key is to get the coachee off of the road they have been traveling on—their own perspective—and help them explore different roads. Some roads are dead-ends. You will need to turn around and head in another direction. Other roads are like expressway on-ramps that quickly take the coachee’s thinking to new places.
Angles are different perspectives from which to discuss a situation. Any topic, category, or perspective could be formed into an Angle question. Here are 25 examples:
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