You may find that you’ve become part of an overdependent team. There’s a double whammy here. First, you’ve trained your people to become excessively reliant on you, a situation that turns out to be disempowering for them and frustrating for you. And then as an unwelcome bonus, because you’ve been so successful in creating this dependency that you now have too much work to do, you may also have become a bottleneck in the system
To build an effective new habit, you need five essential components: a reason, a trigger, a micro-habit, effective practice, and a plan.
You need to get clear on the payoff for changing something as familiar and efficient (not the same, of course, as effective) as an old behaviour. Getting clear doesn’t mean imagining success, funnily enough. Research shows that if you spend too much time imagining the outcome, you’re less motivated to actually do the work to get there
Note: Getting clear > imagining success 🤯
if you don’t know what triggers the old behaviour, you’ll never change it because you’ll already be doing it before you know it
define your new habit as a micro-habit that needs to take less than sixty seconds to complete
The three components of Deep Practice are: Practicing small chunks of the bigger action (for instance, rather than practice the whole tennis serve, you practice just tossing the ball up). Repetition, repetition and repetition… and repetition. Do it fast, do it slow, do it differently. But keep repeating the action. And finally, being mindful and noticing when it goes well.
We will miss a moment, miss a day. That’s a given. What you need to know is what to do when that happens. Resilient systems build in fail-safes so that when something breaks down, the next step to recover is obvious. Make your habit a resilient system
Define the new behaviour, one that will take sixty seconds or less to do. We know that the fundamental shift of behaviour you’re looking to accomplish through this book is to give less advice and show more curiosity
Get back on the horse. The habit will slip. It won’t always work.
One of the laws of change: As soon as you try something new, you’ll get resistance.
The Kickstart Question: “What’s on Your Mind?”
It’s a question that says, Let’s talk about the thing that matters most.
Coaching for development is about turning the focus from the issue to the person dealing with the issue, the person who’s managing the fire. This conversation is more rare and significantly more powerful
ANSWERS ARE CLOSED ROOMS; AND QUESTIONS ARE OPEN DOORS THAT INVITE US IN. Nancy Willard
Pow! Within ten seconds you’re into the action, the adrenaline has jacked and the heart is beating faster. That’s a stark contrast to the way many of us ask a question, which often has a slow, rambling, meandering introduction that feels more like the thousand and one nights of Scheherazade than anything Ian Fleming dreamt up. Cut the preliminary flim-flam. You don’t need a runway to pick up speed—you can just take off
If you know what question to ask, get to the point and ask it. (And if you must have a lead-in phrase, try “Out of curiosity.” It lessens the “heaviness” of any question and makes it easier to ask and answer.)
Nutt found that decisions made from these binary choices had a failure rate greater than 50 percent.
In short, even though we don’t really know what the issue is, or what’s going on for the person, we’re quite sure we’ve got the answer she needs. “And what else?” breaks that cycle. When asking it becomes a habit, it’s often the simplest way to stay lazy and stay curious
This is a secret. Just between you and me. As I’m sure I must have mentioned and PUT IN CAPS and underlined in my bio somewhere in this book, I was the first Canadian Coach of the Year. So I’m whispering this to you as a professional, respected and decorated coach. When you’re not entirely sure what’s going on, and you need just a moment or two to figure things out, asking “And what
Recognize Success At some stage of the conversation, someone’s going to say to you, “There is nothing else.” When that happens, a perfectly reasonable reaction is a rapid heartbeat and slight panic. Reframe that reaction as success. “There is nothing else” is a response you should be seeking. It means you’ve reached the end of this line of inquiry.
Move On When It’s Time If you can feel the energy going out of the conversation, you know it’s time to move on from this angle. A strong “wrap it up” variation of “And what else?” is “Is there anything else?” That version of “And what else?” invites closure, while still leaving the door open for whatever else needs to be said.
“And what else?” is the quickest and easiest way to uncover and create new possibilities.
Finding the Right Moment “And what else?” is such a useful question that you can add it into almost every exchange. For example: When you’ve asked someone, “What’s on your mind?” and she answers, ask, “And what else?” When someone’s told you about a course of action she intends to take, challenge her with “And what else could you do?” When you’re trying to find the
If we’re claiming that “And what else?” is the best coaching question in the world—and make no mistake, we are—then it’s useful to understand the science behind the question. When we put the challenge to our researcher, Lindsay, she came back with a couple of compelling insights. The first paper she cited has held up for more than eighty-five years since it was published in 1929. The study found that when students were offered a second pass at a number of true-or-false questions, this “deliberate reconsideration” helped students get more answers correct.
fake question. “Have you thought of…?” “What about…?” “Did you consider…?” Stop offering up advice with a question mark attached. That doesn’t count as asking a question.
challenge that needs to be sorted out. They could be describing any number of things: a symptom, a secondary issue, a ghost of a previous problem which is comfortably familiar, often even a half-baked solution to an unarticulated issue.
You’re Solving the Problem Yourself Your team has trained you well to do their work for them.
It feels (at times at least) as if it’s easier that way for you and for them, but you may also be noticing that sense of overwhelm that comes from having to do your own job and some of the jobs of the others on your team. If you were in a therapist’s office, at this stage the therapist would nod her head sagely and mutter “hmmm… co-dependent.”
first problem that’s put on the table. Slow down just a little and you’ll get to the heart of the issue. And here’s the question that makes all the difference:
The Focus Question: What’s the Real Challenge Here for You?
What’s the real challenge here for you? It’s too easy for people to pontificate about the high-level or abstract challenges in a situation. The “for you” is what pins the question to the person you’re talking to. It keeps the question personal and makes the person you’re talking to wrestle with her struggle and what she needs to figure out.
WITHOUT A GOOD QUESTION, A GOOD ANSWER HAS NO PLACE TO GO. Clayton Christensen
about a “third point” (most commonly another person, but it can also be a project or a situation), you need to uncover the challenge for the person to whom you’re talking. So in the example above, it becomes a coaching conversation when it’s a conversation about how this person is managing John, not a conversation about John. And asking the Focus Question—“So what’s the real challenge here for you?”—will get you there.
It’s not that this type of conversation isn’t interesting, because quite often it is. It can feel more like a slightly academic discussion or an executive summary of what’s going on. What’s entirely unclear is how it is ever going to turn into one in which a problem gets identified and solved. This is the time you need to ask the Focus Question: “So what’s the real challenge here for you?”
When you start shifting your behaviour from giving advice and providing solutions to asking questions, you will feel anxious. “I’m just asking questions. They’re going to see right through this any minute now.”
Remember the Second Question Someone once said that everything tastes better with bacon. As a fallen vegetarian, I can attest to that. Equally, every question gets better when you add, “And what else?” Asking, “What’s the real challenge here for you?” Good. Adding, “And what else? What else is a real challenge here for you?” Even better.
Stick to Questions Starting with “What” Peter Senge was big in the 1990s when his book The Fifth Discipline and its theme of the learning organization caught the imagination of executives everywhere. One of the tools he introduced was called “The Five Whys,” a self-explanatory process to work backwards through a story to find a root cause of “a pernicious, recurring problem.” Simon Sinek carried on that theme with his popular book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (he also has a great TED Talk). For Sinek, organizations must have as their foundation absolute clarity about the Why of their existence if they’re going to inspire people—customers and employees both—to stay engaged with their brand. Ignore both authors.
Yes, there’s a place for asking “Why?” in organizational life. And no, it’s not while you’re in a focused conversation with the people you’re managing. Here are two good reasons: You put them on the defensive. Get the tone even slightly wrong and suddenly your “Why… ?” come across as “What the hell were you thinking?” It’s only downhill from there. You’re trying to solve the problem. You ask why because you want more detail. You want more detail because you want to fix the problem. And suddenly you’re back in the vicious circles of overdependence and overwhelm.
Here’s Your New Habit WHEN THIS HAPPENS… When I’m tempted to ask them why… INSTEAD OF… Beginning the question with “Why… ” I WILL… Reframe the question so it starts with “What.” So, as some examples, instead of “Why did you do that?” ask “What were you hoping for here?” Instead of “Why did you think this was a good idea?” ask “What made you choose this course of action?” Instead of “Why are you bothering with this?” ask “What’s important for you here?”
An Irresistible 1-2-3 Combination The first three questions can combine to become a robust script for your coaching conversation. You’ll be surprised and delighted at just how often these are exactly the right questions to ask. Open with: What’s on your mind? The perfect way to start; the question is open but focused. Check in: Is there anything else on your mind? Give the person an option to share additional concerns. Then begin to focus: So what’s the real challenge here for you? Already the conversation will deepen. Your job now is to find what’s most useful to look at. Ask: And what else (is the real challenge here for you)? Trust me, the person will have something. And there may be more. Probe again: Is there anything else? You’ll have most of what matters in front of you now. So get to the heart of it and ask: So . . . what’s the real challenge here for you?
Peter Block is a brilliant thinker about how we behave at work. His book Flawless Consulting should be on the bookcase’s top shelf for anyone who’s trying to get any thing done within organizations, as should The Answer to How Is Yes. I’ve heard him frame the work he does as “giving people the responsibility for their own freedom.”
The Foundation Question: “What Do You Want?” Taking responsibility for your own freedom is notoriously difficult to do. Block defined an adult-to-adult relationship as one in which you are “able to ask for what you want, knowing that the answer may be No.” That’s why at the heart of this book is this simple but potent question, “What do you want?” I sometimes call it the Goldfish Question because it often elicits that response: slightly bugged eyes, and a mouth opening and closing with no sound coming out. Here’s why the question is so difficult to answer. We often don’t know what we actually want. Even if there’s a first, fast answer, the question “But what do you really want?” will typically stop people in their tracks. But even if you do know what you want, what you really really want, it’s often hard to ask for it. We make up reasons about why it’s not appropriate just now to make the request; it’s because the timing’s not right, or the person’s only going to say No, or Who are you anyway to make such a boldfaced ask? What we want is often left unsaid. But even[…]
In Rosenberg’s model, wants are the surface requests, the tactical outcomes we’d like from a situation. A want could be anything from getting a report done by a certain date to understanding whether you need to attend a meeting or not. This kind of information is what typically shows up in response to our question, “What do you want?” Needs go deeper, and identifying them helps you pull back the curtain to understand the more human driver who might be behind the want. Drawing on the work of economist Manfred Max-Neef, Rosenberg says that there are nine self-explanatory universal needs. AFFECTION CREATION RECREATION FREEDOM IDENTITY UNDERSTANDING PARTICIPATION PROTECTION SUBSISTENCE When you ask someone, “What do you want?” listen to see if you can guess the need that likely lies behind the person’s request. For example, when someone says, “I want you to talk to the VP for me,” he might really be needing protection (I’m too junior) or participation (I need you to do your part in this project). When someone tells you, “I want to leave early today,” she might really be asking for understanding (it’s difficult at home) or creation (I need to go to[…]
There are times when simply asking a question is the thing to do. And there are other times when sharing your answer to that same question can increase its impact. “What do you want?” is an extraordinarily strong question. Its power is amplified when you not only ask the question of the person you’re working with but also answer the question for yourself. It takes us back to Peter Block’s point, mentioned at the start of the chapter, about the nature of adult-to-adult conversations. When we each understand what the other wants, we’re in the middle of an interesting and worthwhile conversation. And part of the reason for that is the neuroscience of engagement.
There are four primary drivers—they spell out the acronym TERA—that influence how the brain reads any situation. TERA is a handy acronym, as it brings to mind “terroir”—the influence that a specific location has on the taste of the wine made from the grapes grown there. When you focus on TERA, you’re thinking about how you can influence the environment that drives engagement. T is for tribe. The brain is asking, “Are you with me, or are you against me?” If it believes that you’re on its side, it increases the TERA Quotient. If you’re seen as the opposition, the TERA Quotient goes down. E is for expectation. The brain is figuring out, “Do I know the future or don’t I?” If what’s going to happen next is clear, the situation feels safe. If not, it feels dangerous. R is for rank. It’s a relative thing, and it depends not on your formal title but on how power is being played out in the moment. “Are you more important or less important than I am?” is the question the brain is asking, and if you’ve diminished my status, the situation feels less secure. A is for[…]
Get Comfortable with Silence When you ask someone one of the Seven Essential Questions, sometimes what follows is silence. Echoing, endless silence. And by “endless” I mean sometimes as long as three or four seconds. In those moments, as everything slows to Matrix-style “bullet time,” every part of you is desperate to fill the void. Put this existential angst aside. Silence is often a measure of success. It may be that the person you’re coaching is the type who needs a moment or three to formulate the answer in his head before speaking it. In which case you’re giving him that space. Or it may be that, like me, he’s the type who typically just launches into an answer without knowing what he’s going to say. In either case, it means he’s thinking, searching for the answer. He’s creating new neural pathways, and in doing so literally increasing his potential and capacity. Bite your tongue, and don’t fill the silence. I know it will be uncomfortable, and I know it creates space for learning and insight.
Edgar Schein has untangled the paradox of being helpful in his excellent book Helping. At its crux is the insight that when you offer to help someone, you “one up” yourself: you raise your status and you lower hers, whether you mean to or not.
Victim The core belief: “My life is so hard; my life is so unfair. ‘Poor me.’” The dynamic: “It’s not my fault (it’s theirs).” The benefits of playing the role: You have no responsibility for fixing anything; you get to complain; you attract Rescuers. The price paid for playing the role: You have no sense of being able to change anything—any change is outside your control. You’re known to be ineffective. And no one likes a whiner. Stuck is: “I feel stuck because I have no power and no influence. I feel useless.” Persecutor The core belief: “I’m surrounded by fools, idiots or just people less good than me.” The dynamic: “It’s not my fault (it’s yours).” The benefits of playing the role: You feel superior and have a sense of power and control. The price paid for playing the role: You end up being responsible for everything. You create Victims. You’re known as a micromanager. People do the minimum for you and no more. And no one likes a bully. Stuck is: “I feel stuck because I don’t trust anyone. I feel alone.” Rescuer The core belief: “Don’t fight, don’t worry, let me jump in and take[…]
The Lazy Question: How Can I Help? The power of “How can I help?” is twofold. First, you’re forcing your colleague to make a direct and clear request. That may be useful to him. He might not be entirely sure why he started this conversation with you. Sure, he knows he wants something, but until you asked the question, he didn’t know that he wasn’t exactly clear on what he wanted. Unless he was, in which case the question is useful for you, because now you can decide whether you want to honour the request. Second (and possibly even more valuably), it stops you from thinking that you know how best to help and leaping into action. That’s the classic Rescuer behaviour. Like “And what else?” this question is a self-management tool to keep you curious and keep you lazy. Too much of your day is spent doing things you think people want you to do. Sometimes you’re completely off base, but that’s not the worst of it because that gets sorted out relatively quickly. More dangerous is when you’re only slightly wrong. That’s when you find yourself kind of doing what they want, but not enough so[…]
What do you think I should do about…?” is the cheddar on the mousetrap. Now, there’s a time and a place for giving advice. The goal here isn’t to avoid ever providing an answer. But it is to get better at having people find their own answers. So here’s your new habit: WHEN THIS HAPPENS… Someone gives you a call/drops by your cubicle/shouts out across the office/sends you a text message and asks, “How do I [insert query most likely to sucker you in]?” INSTEAD OF… Giving her the answer… I WILL… Say, “That’s a great question. I’ve got some ideas, which I’ll share with you. But before I do, what are your first thoughts?” And when she answers, which she will, you’ll nod your head and be engaged and interested, and when she finishes, say, “That’s terrific. What else could you do?” More nodding, more being interested. Then say, “This is all good. Is there anything else you could try here?” And then, and only then, you can add your own idea into the mix if you wish. And of course, if the conversation is going well, keep asking “And what else?” until she has[…]
The Strategic Question: If You’re Saying Yes to This, What Are You Saying No To?
“What could being fully committed to this idea look like?” it brings things into even sharper, bolder focus. But a Yes is nothing without the No that gives it boundaries and form. And in fact, you’re uncovering two types of No answers here—the No of omission and the No of commission. The first type of No applies to the options that are automatically eliminated by your saying Yes. If you say Yes to this meeting, you’re saying No to something else that’s happening at the same time as the meeting. Understanding this kind of No helps you understand the implications of the decision. The second type of No you’re uncovering—which will likely take the conversation another level deeper—is what you now need to say to make the Yes happen. It’s all too easy to shove another Yes into the bag of our overcommitted lives, hoping that in a Harry Potter magical sort of way it will somehow all be accommodated. This second type of No puts the spotlight on how to create the space and focus, energy and resources that you’ll need to truly do that Yes.
Bill “Mr. Simplicity” Jensen taught me that the secret to saying No was to shift the focus and learn how to say Yes more slowly. What gets us into trouble is how quickly we commit, without fully understanding what we’re getting ourselves into or even why we’re being asked. Saying Yes more slowly means being willing to stay curious before committing. Which means asking more questions: Why are you asking me? Whom else have you asked? When you say this is urgent, what do you mean? According to what standard does this need to be completed? By when? If I couldn’t do all of this, but could do just a part, what part would you have me do? What do you want me to take off my plate so I can do this? Being willing to stay curious like this will likely provoke one of four types of responses, three of which might be helpful. The first response, and the one that’s not useful, is that the person tells you to stop with the annoying questions and just get on with the task. Depending on the person, the culture and the urgency of the task, sometimes it’s clear that[…]
How to Say No When You Can’t Say No (Part 2) It’s awkward saying No to something, because actually you’re saying No to someone. And now people are involved, so we’re into the messy awkwardness of dashing hopes, stomping on toes and having people think that you’ve let them down. One secret from the world of facilitation, which we saw in a different context in the discussion about Coaching the Ghost, is to create a “third point”—an object that you can identify as the thing you’re saying No to, which isn’t the person. For instance, if you write down someone’s request on a bit of paper or a flip chart, you can then point to it and say, “I’m afraid I have to say No to this,” which is a little better than “I’m afraid I have to say No to you.” Say Yes to the person, but say No to the task.
These questions are not linear. Answering one will influence the answer to the one that follows and likely to the one that preceded it. It is the process of working back and forth between them, creating alignment between your answers, that is the strength of this process. It was Eisenhower who said, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable,” and while that’s a little black and white, it’s also true that the result of these questions is that they force great planning. Here are the five questions: What is our winning aspiration? Framing the choice as “winning” rules out mediocrity as an option. If you want to win, you need to know what game you’re playing and with (and against) whom. What impact do you want to have in and on the world? Where will we play? “Boiling the ocean” is rarely successful. Choosing a sector, geography, product, channel and customer allows you to focus your resources. How will we win? What’s the defendable difference that will open up the gap between you and the others? What capabilities must be in place? Not just what do you need to do, but how will it become and stay a strength[…]
People don’t really learn when you tell them something. They don’t even really learn when they do something. They start learning, start creating new neural pathways, only when they have a chance to recall and reflect on what just happened.
But the real secret sauce here is building a habit of curiosity. The change of behaviour that’s going to serve you most powerfully is simply this: a little less advice, a little more curiosity. Find your own questions, find your own voice. And above all, build your own coaching habit.