Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Coaching: using two ears and one mouth when questioning

Yesterday I blogged about the importance of awareness and responsibility as part of the coaching process.  Today, reading further in John Whitmore's book Coaching for Performance the importance of questioning as a way of raising awareness and responsibility is highlighted.  Coaches ask questions not simply to get information, but to make sure the coachee has the necessary information.  Effective questions are those that start with what, when, who and how much.  Coaches should avoid asking questions that start with why or how, as the aim is not to get involved in analytical thinking, but simply to raise awareness.  Whitmore writes that coaches should start with broad questions and then gradually focus on the details, and that these should follow the interest and train of thought of the coachee, not the coach.

The aim is to empower the coachee to take responsibility, however the coach needs to listen very carefully in order to come up with the best question to ask next.  Questioning should be spontaneous, and questions should not be prepared beforehand.  Whitmore writes "we were given two ears and one mouth [so] we should listen twice as much as we speak."  But what is a coach listening for?  Whitmore writes about the importance of paying attention to tone of voice and body language and also how important it is to reflect back from time to time, summarizing the points being made.

Whitmore also writes about the importance of sequencing questions.  He says start with the goals, both short and long term, then go on to discuss the reality of the current situation.  He puts the questions in this order because it's important to set goals that are not simply based on the current reality or on responses to current problems - the focus should be on the future, not on what has been done before.  Only when a future goal is set, can you start to consider where you are now and how you can move towards what you want to do in the future - asking the questions in this order is more inspiring, creative and motivating.

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

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