The Practical Coaching Series: How to Get Clear

Coaching is a powerful tool that all managers and leaders could be using more than they do. The challenge? How do you make coaching practical in these days of overwhelm and relentless productivity?

This Practical Coaching Series will help. It’s going to be running through much of February in celebration of the International Coaching Week.

Why you need to get clear

“Albert Einstein once said, ‘If I had an hour to save the world I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions.’  And I find in most organizations people are running around spending sixty minutes finding solutions to problems that don’t matter.” ~ Stephen Shapiro

We’re in so much of a rush to get things done, find the answer and create an action plan, that we so often go haring off in the wrong direction.

But an elegant solution to the wrong problem is not an elegant solution.

It’s a simple, powerful and rare discipline to take just a little more time at the front end to figure out what the real challenge might be.

Try this seven-step process to help you get yourself and others clear on what matters.

1. Slow down just a bit

Realize that it’s your impatience as much as anyone else’s that’s got your rushing to the solution.

I know there are emails to answer, meetings to go to, plates to keep spinning and people and projects calling out your name…

Regardless, take a breath and decide you’re going to give yourself three or four minutes just to be curious about what’s at the heart of the challenge.

You can spare just a few minutes to figure out what matters, can’t you?

2. Don’t be seduced by the presenting challenge

When someone’s coming to you for a conversation, they may have done a brilliant job at perfectly seeing and articulating the essential challenge with which they’re wrestling.

But you’d be unwise to bet on it.

The first thing that comes out of someone’s mouth is rarely the real thing. It’s often a best guess, or a smokescreen, or even a solution to the unarticulated challenge.

And by “someone” I’m talking as much about you as I am about a person you might be talking to.

Stay on the path, just for another few minutes, to see if there might be something else at play.

3. Turn off your finely-tuned advice-giving machine

I know you – you just love to help.

You want to add value. Or better put, “add value”.

You want them to help you help them, like crazy Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire.

But if you’re giving them advice, you’re unlikely to be helping them get clear.

More questions. Less advice. That’s the mantra I want you to take away from this piece.

But what questions? You just need three…

4. Ask this question

Jump right in by asking this simple and powerful question:

What’s the real challenge here for you?

It does a near-perfect job at focusing the conversation, focusing the person and focusing you the coach on what might be going on.

“… the real challenge…” means they have to reflect, consider and prioritize.

“… for you …” means they can’t deflect it to “them” or “we” or “us”. It’s about their role in whatever’s going on.

5. Then ask this question. A lot.

But – remembering #2 – don’t stop there. After they’ve told you what the real challenge for them might be, ask them this:

And what else?

Truly, this is my favourite coaching question Of All Time.

Because the first answer they give you is not going to be the only one they have, and it may not even be the best one they have.

And more importantly, “And what else?” acts as a self-management tool to stop you jumping in to add your own point of view, offer the solution, move to action.

It keeps the spotlight on them rather than on you.

So see what the options are.

Ask, “and what else?” at least a few more times.

6. And finally

When they finally say, “There is nothing else!” (which, by the way, is a measure of success not failure) and they’ve got nothing left to share, step back, admire the great possibilities you have in front of you, and ask them to select the one that would be most useful to look at right now.

Here’s how that sounds:

“If you were to chose one of those to look at right now, which one would it be?”

I know you think you know what the answer is. But shut up and listen for just a bit. You’ll see that they know it too, and it’s so much better for everyone involved if they figure this out for themselves.

7. Repeat til done

You might stop here.

But try repeating steps 4 through 7 through another cycle or two.

Watch as the conversation drops down and get to the heart of what really matters.

And notice who’s doing the work and who’s learning here. For once, it’s not you figuring it out, it’s them.

Without anyone even really noticing it, you’re coaching…

Cool, eh?

Simple but difficult

When you try this, as I know you will, you’ll find a few things out.

Your doubts about this being too simplistic will be unfounded. It is simple, true, but it’s precise and powerful.

It’s difficult to keep things simple. You’ll certainly want to follow your hunch, start giving advice, take a different turn. It’s extraordinarily tricky to stick to a simple and elegant process.

Let me know how it goes on the comments here.

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Posted in coaching skills, productivity

One Response to The Practical Coaching Series: How to Get Clear

  1. Abderrafie says:

    Getting clear about the issue is difficult, because the world is noisy ! there are a lot of voices shouting inside of us : our needs, desires,fears,…so the message you are trying to identify have first to go through a lot of filters .