Whether you’re a manager talking to a direct report who has a problem, or a friend helping out someone who doesn’t know what to do next…
there’s a simple flow of questions that can help bring focus and call to action.
Coaches talk a lot about the GROW model, perhaps the most known – and simple! – flow of questions used in coaching conversations. I personally first read about it in 2000, and it’s still very deeply rooted in my coaching style.
The GROW model uses 4 stages – Goal, or realizing what you really want; Reality, or understanding where you are now; Options, or exploring solutions; and Will, the call to action.
But for now, let’s explore this set of questions. I’ve added some of my personal principles when using coaching: support, encouragement, structure.
1. What’s the issue you want to talk about?
This first question is the “What’s up, Doc?” of coaching. One of my coach friends describes Bugs Bunny’s question as the “best coaching question in the world”. It opens up the coachee, but at the same time brings focus.
You may also want to use “What’s on your mind?” or “What troubles you?” to create openness, but be aware that any of these two might create an emotional response without the structure. Bringing “the issue” into the question will focus the coachee not only on what he feels, but also on what’s happening.
2. How can I help, in this conversation?
This is one of my favorite questions because it brings the focus to the here and now. Sometimes people don’t realize how much they can get out of a 10 minutes laser coaching conversation. Answers may vary from “I want you to help me find a solution” to “A project plan” to “I just want to vent out and need someone to listen to me.” And that’s perfectly okay.
Be careful when you receive the answer, and reformulate it so that it’s a call to action for the coachee, not for you. If the answer is “I want you to give me a solution”, you might want to say “OK, let’s explore some options together”.
3. So what’s happening?
This is the simplest way to explore Reality, and spend as much time here as needed. Truly listen and focus on what your coachee is saying. Keep eye contact, nod your head, or even take notes. Be as supportive and understanding as you can. Try not to judge – this is his/her reality, not yours. Your role here is as a by-stander.
4. What do you think is the cause of that?
In structured problem solving, every issue has a root cause, and inside the problem lies the solution.
What I tell my coaching clients and participants in coaching trainings many many times, is that if you spend enough time in Reality, your coaching is half done. When your coachee gets stuck in options, doesn’t see the light, it’s because you haven’t looked around the tunnel enough.
5. What is this telling you?
A brilliant variation of this question is “What wants to happen here?” (credit to this question to Alan Seale). This provokes a systemic thinking, and allows the coachee to see that all things are interrelated, and that, by pulling one thread, he can change the weaving of the whole situation.
You don’t need to see the solution here – when you ask this type of question, you tap into the inner, unconscious learning process of the coachee. You might be surprised of the resources he/she has inside.
6. What’s YOUR responsibility in this?
This question provokes ownership and responsibility. You can reformulate it depending on the gravity of the issue – it can be as simple as “What change do YOU need to make?”
We’re now in the Options phase, where the coachee starts to assume ownership for the change, whether big or small.
Be careful not to jump too fast to next steps. The responsibility or change here are ideas, not actions yet.
7. What resources do you have for this?
In my coaching, I prefer to focus on resources rather than barriers, in the Options phase, because they create a sense of positive creativity, rather than of fear. So I tend to explore all possible resources and create a sense of encouragement, of “you can do it!”. It’s unbelievable what people can accomplish when they have a positive attitude.
Explore resources in terms of people, cash, knowledge, skills, material resources, time. Even if the coachee tends to bring back the discussion to something that he’s lacking “I have the skills, but I don’t have any budget”, ask “What could you accomplish with those skills, that could create cash?”
8. What are the next 2 steps you need to take?
I usually ask my clients for a short term step, the immediate next action, something that can be realized in a day or two, and then a longer term step, something that will require at least one or two weeks.
This provides structure because it then creates a timeliness to the whole project. Eventually I ask them to also link these steps with the resources they found in the previous step, and they create like a mini project plan.
9. How do you feel about this solution?
This question brings closure and asks the coachee to reflect back on the initial issue. If the solution is not right, you go back to Q2 and restart. However most times the answer here should be a large smile and a desire for action. Here is also your role to underline this positive drive for action, to acknowledge the coachee and to cheer, well, reasonably.
10. How do you want me to hold you accountable?
So many coaches forget this final, immensely important question. Coaching is nothing without follow-up.
Coach meets client, they explore an issue, they get to a brilliant solution, client leaves meeting with immense drive and energy to DO something. Then…reality happens. Emails, phonecalls, busywork…and the energy gets lost. The ideas that before seemed so easy and sparkling, now look greyish and difficult.
Now’s the time for the coach to step in. “Hey, how’s that project of ours going? Did you accomplish what you set out for? Why yes? Why not?”
By having the coachee ask to be held accountable, imagine you’re tying another piece of thread around the commitment. Double knot.
Don’t forget to add salt, pepper and spices over these 10 question. Ask follow-up or understanding questions – “Really? why’s that?” or clarification questions – “Let me see if I understand correctly. So what you’re saying is…”
If done correctly, the above steps should last not longer than 20 – 30 minutes, but the effects will be amazing, the learning process long term and – of course – engagement and call to action, huge.