Is coaching and mentoring more about great questions or great listening ?


When I am training new coaches and providing feedback, one thing they tell often confide is “Yeah, I know I’d stopped listening properly…it was because I was thinking about the right question to ask next.”
So how can you learn to pose the right question in the right way? Without thinking too much about thinking about the question…because that inhibits your ability to listen well?!
I can’t say I have found all the answers, but I have got some experience and been given some great feedback that has helped me. Before I start with the specifics, a great piece of overarching feedback I once received was “None of us are ever the finished article, Dulcie, so let it be OK you are not perfect every time”. Thinking of this helps me to reflect on my coaching in a positive way – and not give myself too hard a time when I find I could still could do better, despite over 10 years of coaching!
First, the old adage that we have 1 mouth and 2 ears…It’s probably more relevant when coaching than at other points in your management day. Sometimes the old ones are the best. Sometimes if I find that I am asking too many questions and taking up too much of the air time, this will pop into my head. And that is enough to help me to re-focus on the coachee and less on me. Because frankly if I am spending too much of the coachees time thinking about my questions, then my ego is getting in the way of my ability to help. Just trust that if you are wondering whether to listen or speak, stay schtum…Silence is your friend as a coach. Use it.
Second, have a few “saviours” up your sleeve. Questions to get you out of a lack of listening hole !! It can be relatively easy to stop yourself spending time in unproductive thoughts about the quality of your next question. But what then. You stop yourself. You realise you have not been listening as well as you could. You zone back in. Shit! You have lost the thread of what the coachee is saying. Don’t panic. It happens. It happens less with practise. But for now, try a saviour. They are questions that tend to help coachees at any point. So it’s not cheating. Just you finding a solution that works to being human…
“I’m curious about what that means for you?”
“What do you think might be going on under the surface for you?”
“What are you wondering right now?”
Or if all else fails (and anyone who has been in coaching training with me will now be envisaging John Travolta…)
“Tell me more”
Thirdly, Know that this does come with practise. So clock up the hours, but just as importantly, reflect afterwards. Notice when you were focusing more on you and your brilliant question to come, than on them. Noticing and being curious about why that is for yourself will get you there.
A final thought. Give yourself permission to not ask questions right now. Another stunning piece of feedback I was given was “It is never too late to ask a great question Dulcie…but it can be too early.” This helps me park a thought that I am excited to share! That way, if it is too early for the coachee or my instincts are wrong – no harm done. If it’s not – great. It will still be relevant later on. I tend to just jot a key word down on my notes so I don’t forget it and then straight back with my full attention and listening.
I had a great result with this technique recently. I asked my client to think about the question I had “saved” as homework between our sessions. It gave us some real breakthrough thinking. But I suspect, had I asked it in the moment it would not have had that power…
It’s never too late to ask a great question and your mind might be desperate to refine it and make it brilliant. But if in doubt…listen for a bit longer first.

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