Help your people help themselves

Would you believe me if I told you that great coaching can take place in under five minutes? This is not to diminish the powerful effect that mentoring and coaching programs have on maximizing high potential development, nor is it to assume that individuals with challenging and complex development needs don’t require a more long-term coaching commitment. But this article is not about that. This article is about how you as a manager can incorporate more coaching into your daily work; into the work you are already doing to support the development of your people and your teams. And to tell you the truth, it does not take much time. What it does take, are some simple communication tools you can use on a daily basis to make you a more effective manager and coach.

In our last article, we discussed why this all matters to you; why you as a people manager should care about coaching. Over the last few years, the Harvard Business Review has published some great content on this topic to highlight the growing need for managers to possess coaching ability (“You Can’t be a Great Manager if You’re Not a Good Coach” and “4 Reasons Managers Should Spend More Time on Coaching”). Take a look below at some of our top communication tips, specifically designed for busy managers who want, but don’t always have a lot of time, to coach their people.

Ask questions that dig deep

The questions you ask can have the power to evoke discovery, insight, commitment, and action in your people if you ask them in a way that promotes reflection. Take your conversations to the next level by challenging others’ assumptions, creating new opportunities for learning, and making others think more deeply or moving them past a set way of thinking. These may sound like lofty conversation goals, but they can all be easily obtained by asking great questions.

Great questions are open-ended, meaning they cannot be answered with a yes or no response. They are simple and direct, meaning they are concise and asked one at a time. They are forward-focused, meaning they are focused on the future rather than on the past (i.e., “What will you do differently next time?” versus “What should you have done differently?”). Great questions fall into four main categories when working with an individual to help them attain their goals.

Ask big-picture questions to understand the issue:

  • What is the single biggest challenge that, if resolved, would most help you or your team move forward?
  • What are the three most important changes you need to help you accomplish your objectives?

Dig deeper, prompt reflection, and explore options:

  • What impact is this having on you right now?
  • How else may you approach the situation?

Focus on action planning:

  • What are your next steps?
  • How will you go about it?

Assess commitment:

  • What do you need from me?
  • What can you commit to doing between this meeting and the next?
  • Why does an asking great question matter so much? The bottom line is that they help individuals both think through their situations and play a larger role in solving their own problems.

Master the art of listening:

Do you slightly cringe when you hear the term “active listening?” We’ve all been told that this is the key to having successful conversations, but the term has become so overused that it’s almost become an anti-buzzword. That being said, the sentiment behind active listening is still one of the most important coaching concepts, and from my experience, if you can listen really well, people almost coach themselves. Here are some of our top tips on how to become a better listener.

  • Restate using their words – We all know that repeating information back to someone is a great way to indicate understanding, but make sure you use their words, rather than paraphrasing in your own words. If you try to rephrase in your own language, you may not capture the essence of what the individual had actually said, which could lead them to believe that you don’t really understand them.
  • Use encouragers – Be positive and encourage the individual to tell you more. Using expressions like “it sounds like you are taking the right steps” and “it seems like you’ve made some great progress so far” are great ways to encourage and keep your people on track.
  • Validate – There are always reasons behind why people feel and act the way they do. You don’t have to agree with those reasons, but appreciating and validating the way others feel will help you understand them better and in turn, help them more effectively.
  • Use silence – Don’t be afraid to leave silence on the table. When you do, you may be surprised at what happens. Silence can be a way to let the other person digest and reflect on what has been said. Give people a moment to think through things before moving on to the next question or discussion topic.
  • Use “I” messaging – Reduce defensiveness by describing only behaviors that you have observed. For example, say “I have noticed that you appear stressed because of x, y, z” rather than “You are stressed.”
  • Reframe or redirect – Rather than imparting your own knowledge in the form of advice, impart it through reframing situations for the individual to consider. For example, ask “Have you thought about the situation in this way…” and share a different perspective or redirect their thinking in a new area they may not have thought of.

Why does listening matter so much? Again, it is about people teaching themselves, rather than learning from you. The less talking you do, the more your people will talk through their own problems and come to solutions themselves.

Including even just one of these communication tips into your everyday work will set you on the path to helping your people help themselves.

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