Five coaching hacks and techniques every manager should know
Double the number of questions you ask. When you find yourself wanting to step in with a suggestion or answer, pause and ask a question instead. “What do you think?", “I’m curious what you’d say?".
You can learn fancy techniques, but simply upping the ratio of questions you ask in a conversation with your report will make you a better coach.
Research from training provider LifeLabs shows that the best coaches ask about 10 questions every 15 minutes.
Pro-tip: give some context first. “The reason I’m asking is, you have better insight than I do”, or, “the reason I’m asking is I’m confident you have some ideas I’m not thinking of”.
Open question hack
Some questions are better than others when it comes to generating insight and new ideas. Start questions with a “W-word” (who, what, where, when) or with “How”
Closed questions that elicit a yes or no response tend to trigger short responses and close off deeper thinking.
Examples of closed questions include:
Are you …
- feeling bad about … prepared for… going to ….?
Do you …
- have a plan… feel like … need …?
Open questions, on the other hand, open up possibilities.
If you start your questions with a word that starts with a “w” or with “how”, you will likely receive a more thoughtful, creative, and useful response as your report will need to elaborate beyond a simple yes/no.
Open questions start with:
- Who… needs to weigh in?
- What… is the best use of your time?
- Where… should we go from here?
- Why… do this?
- How… can we solve this problem?
Enhance an open question with a phrase that drives towards a goal.
- Who needs to weigh in so we get a faster and better result?
- What’s the best use of your time so we meet our sprint deadline?
- How can we solve this problem and delivery quality and speed?
Master a technique: the GROW model
Structure a coaching conversation using the GROW Model. GROW stands for Goal - Reality - Options - Will.
Together, set a goal for your report to achieve. Whether it’s a behavior to change or a challenge to solve, make sure you can both describe what success would look like and what the timeline for the change is.
- What does success look like? By when should it happen?
Don’t dive into possible solutions without fully understanding the starting point of the issue or goal. Get your report to describe the current reality.
Useful questions include:
- What’s happening now (who, what, where, when, and how often)?
- What’s the impact of this situation?
- Have you already taken steps toward your goal?
- Does this goal conflict with any other goals or objectives?
The first idea is often not the best one. Guide your report to come up with as many good options as possible without making decisions for them.
Aim for at least 3 options.
Useful questions include:
- What else could you do?
- What if that constraint were removed? Would that change things?
- What do you need to stop doing in order to do this?
The final step is to get your report to commit to specific actions that will move them toward their goal or solution. Essentially: what will they do? Through this process, you will help motivate them to achieve their goal or solve the problem they’re dealing with.
Useful questions include:
- So, what will you do first? What will you do after that? When will you do all of this?
- What could slow you down? How will you overcome this?
- How will you keep yourself motivated?
- How often, and to whom, will you communicate progress? Weekly? Monthly?
Master a technique: Solution-focused coaching
When faced with a challenge, our minds start thinking of the causes and ruminating on all the things that could go wrong moving forward. Solution-focused coaching can help you step away from this negative spiral.
Rather than examining the causes of an issue, you can focus on finding solutions from past successes.
As a manager, you can enable your staff to use experiences, skills, and expertise that they already have. Help them find creative solutions to the situations they find themselves in by exploring what has worked in the past and why.
A solution-focused coaching model walks your direct report through the following steps:
Some managers take a preliminary step prior to diving into the present-past-future framework. They ask, “Tell me one thing that is working for you right now”. This “one thing” might be significant or trivial—it doesn’t matter.
Just by asking this question, you’re giving your direct report a boost of oxytocin, which is sometimes called the “love drug” but is also considered the “creativity drug”. Getting them to think about specific things that are going well will alter their brain chemistry so that they can be open to new solutions and new ways of thinking or acting.
Start with the present. If a team member approaches you with a problem, they are dealing with it now. They may feel weak or challenged, and you have to address that or at least validate their concerns. So, start by asking what’s on their mind and explore the issue.
- Ask them to describe the issue: “Tell me about the challenge / issue.”
- Ask how they feel: “How did that make you feel?”
- Ask what they observed: “Describe what you observed only. Not what you think it means.”
- Assess the issue: “On a scale from 1 to 10. How much of an issue/challenge is this (to you)?” Then follow up with a question to get more insights. For example, if they scale the issue as a “7” you could ask, “What makes it a 7, not a 6? What would make it an 8?”
Much of our lives happen in patterns, so it’s likely that your direct report has encountered a particular problem a few times before. In dealing with one of these situations they most likely found a way to move forward by using some action, insight or connection.
Here are some questions you can use:
- Have you been in similar situations before?
- When you had a problem like this in the past, what did you do that worked?
- What worked well for you in similar past situations?
- What have you seen others do successfully in similar past situations?
Every time you recognize something they did that really worked, stop them and analyze it together. If they get stuck, by all means offer up 1 or 2 of your own experiences..
After looking at the past, revisit the current situation and see what past actions your direct report could apply going forward.
Feel free to offer up 1 or 2 of your own experiences to help them get clarity on their own. But during this step, assume that your direct report already knows all or at least part of the solution; you’re merely helping them recognize it. This is the essence of coaching!
After they are clear on a partial solution, you can work with them to fill in any gaps in regard to next steps.
Ask your direct report:
- What do you already know about what you need to do?
- What do you already know that will work in this situation?
- Do you have any other suggestions on what you could be doing?