Note from Bob: I just recently came across this terrific book! At first glance you might think this is simply a book for Wellness Coaches! Or at second glance just for Coaches. You would be wrong! This is a book for all Leaders! For everyone who wants to grow their “Leading With Questions” skills! You will want to order your personal copy – hard copy or eBook today.
In order to ask good questions and to even know what questions to use, one must be a good listener first.
Listening is at the heart of helping. It should be considered your Home Base. When you are not sure what to say, first listen. Then, reflect back what you are hearing and as needed, ask questions.
Beginning coaches often rely too much on asking questions. So do more experienced coaches. I often tell practitioners we have two ears and one mouth. Therefore, we should be listening twice as much as we speak.
Many coaching traditions advocate for as much as 80% listening, especially in the initial sessions. The bottom line is to listen more and talk less. Many people think they are good listeners, but because we live in such a fast-paced world, it is easy to be a summarizer or a person who draws conclusions and diagnoses too quickly. Remember, this is not part of the coaching job description.
Because they are so passionate about serving their clients well, coaches can be easily distracted searching for the next question. A mistake of many new coaches is that they move to solution-finding too quickly. Again, coaching is never about “fixing” but we all have to check in with ourselves when that desire to “make it all better” and provide value for our clients shows up – and it will – from time to time.
Good listening is like slow cooking. That is the rhythm. What needs to be mastered is the Art of Active Listening. This means listening not only to what is being said, but to what is not being said. To listen between the lines… for the feelings, the unsaid thoughts, fears, and desires. This is the place from which the best questions will arise.
Part of Active Listening is reflecting back to the client what you have heard. Reflection is equal in importance to asking powerful questions. We often think we must immediately know the best next question when in fact simple reflection back to your clients can allow their own internal process to blossom and still allow you plenty of time and space to intuit an even more powerful question.
Basic reflection is a simple repetition of or paraphrasing back to the client what you have heard from them.
Client: I am feeling like I am making no progress with my weight.
Coach: You feel you are making no progress with your weight.
More advanced reflection not only holds up the mirror, but also offers a confirmation of the feelings and thoughts that are being expressed. This can sound like:
Coach: It seems you are angry and frustrated about not losing any weight so far – OR – I hear that you are frustrated about not having made more progress – OR -You seem really frustrated and disappointed with yourself for not having made progress with your weight so far.
Then, the client will usually confirm or deny the statement. They may take your implied invitation to go deeper or you can ask them next to “say more about it.” As mentioned earlier, when the coach does their own work, they are able to hold a much clearer space for their clients.
Attention to when and how to get out of the way of the client is key. This includes always being OK with being wrong. The goal is not for you to get the reflection perfect or to ask the exact, right question or to be a mind-reader coach. It is to create space for the client to explore, express, and refine their thoughts, feelings and actions, and help them get and stay unstuck so they can move forward in their lives.
The most soul-centered description of this process was described best to me by Tom Daly, Ph.D., the creator of 4 Gateways Coaching: “Listen until you disappear.” This feels about right to me.
Silence As a Question
When silence comes up between a coach and a client, there arises an inferred question: “And then what?”
When a practitioner is able to be comfortable with silence, they will take their coaching to the next level. Beginners are often quick to fill the silence out of their own need to be helpful. However, the truth is, if a coach can practice holding the silence just a few seconds longer, it is most often the client who will fill the gap. This is when some of the richest parts of the session can emerge.
Shifting Perspective with Reframing
Clients often look at a situation through a single lens. As coaches, one invaluable tool we have is to help the client reframe what they are seeing. As its name suggests, when we take an event, belief, or situation out of one particular frame and put it into another, the client can experience an immediate shift in perspective.
Consider an old picture hanging on the wall day after day which you see only one particular way. Pop it out of its frame, put it into a new one, and hang it on a new wall and you might see things about this scene that you never noticed or appreciated before.
A client feeling disappointed that they have only lost 5 pounds in the last month might feel a little differently about their progress if the coach were to hand them a 5 pound bag of potatoes. They could simply ask the client to consider the possibility that this could look like a great success in light of the fact that they have finally managed to lose weight for the first time in years and keep it off rather than yo-yo up and down.
It is important that the coach does not dismiss the client’s feelings, but rather affirm them, and then ask how else they might look at the situation. For example, if a client loses their job and they seem ready to explore the situation a bit further, a coach might say:
COACH: I appreciate your exploring your feelings about what happened and your fears about the future.
Honoring the Client
Practicing the Art of Active Listening keeps the client in the driver’s seat and honors that they are the expert of their life and master of their own destiny. When we come from the perspective that the client is not broken and in need of “fixing” and speak to them as if we know they have most of the answers they need within themselves, it can be very affirming and hope giving for the client.
It can also take a lot of pressure off the coach to have to “make magic” and add ease to the coaching relationship. Our work is about holding a sacred space for the client where they can see themselves as whole and capable. Nothing does that faster than offering them the gift of our confidence in them along with our loving attention and presence.
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