An Exceedingly Good Question!

If you’ve had a session with a coach before, it’s likely that you’ll have been on the receiving end of probing, open-ended questions. These are designed for your coach or manager to open up a conversation with you and listen, rather than dominate the proceedings with advice. A really great question is all in the asking – as the poet, Rudyard Kipling, was more than aware.

One particular type of open question the incisive variety* whereby the issue causing the problem is set aside – is especially useful in coaching because by ignoring the thing that is getting in the way, the path towards finding a solution can become clearer!

An example of what I mean.

Last week I was coaching a group of MBA students and we tried it out. I invited each of them to pick their most pressing business problem and to ask themselves the following question:

‘’What am I assuming to be true that is preventing me from moving forward?’’

Initially, there were some furrowed brows in the audience, so we picked one student’s business challenge and role-played it with the wider group.

Here’s how it unfurled:

ME: What’s your most pressing issue?

STUDENT: I‘m bored in my current role as an executive in the Public Sector

M: What are you assuming to be true that’s stopping you from finding something more engaging?

S: Experience in the public sector is not worth a cent in the private sector, I would have to start again as a junior.

M: If you knew you could find a stimulating alternative job that merited your experience, what would you do tomorrow?

S: I would dust off my CV, call some recruitment consultants and prepare the case as to why my experience is really valuable to private companies – for example the investment in me in the top executive programs by the State and the knowledge I have gained from working alongside top civil servants.

Then, getting the hang of it, another student said:

S: I need a pay rise to be able to get a mortgage. I want to ask for more money but as my company is very structured, I know I would have to get promoted to do so. I am thinking I’ll have to find a new job which seems like such a huge thing to do.

M: Let’s assume that you don’t need to get promoted to get a pay-rise, what would you do if you didn’t actually have to get promoted to get more money? What would be your next step?

S: I would prepare a report on all the great work I had done this year, illustrate how my role is paid more in the private sector, stress my commitment to stay in the role, but outline the bank’s requirements.

Being a bright, confidant group they then turned the table on me and asked me what MY limiting belief had been in leaving the corporate world and setting up on my own.

M: Not having a psychology degree

S: and how did you get over it?

M: I read that 70% of coaches have psychology degrees so I reckoned there was room for one or two who didn’t!

Why not send me your most pressing business issue and let’s try it out!

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*  Source: Nancy Kline – Time To Think, 2011 Octopus Publishing Group Ltd.