Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
I think we can probably agree that most people’s initial response when asked for help is to try to give a solution, and while this can be useful and sometimes necessary, it can also be as important to listen and question. For example, if someone tells you there’s a leak in the kitchen and they need to turn off the water at the stopcock then the best thing to do is tell them where it is. This is not an occasion to be actively listening in order to reflect back to them how much you understand and empathise and to ask how deep the water is. They won’t thank you for it, and you’ll end up with damp feet. On the other hand, if they come to you with a concern around an important decision they need to make regarding their career then blithely telling them that they should ‘go for it’ or responding ‘didn’t you try that before and it was a disaster?’ is not really going to be helpful.
I was honoured recently to be asked to become a People Coach at work as well as carrying out my current role in Business Development. This involves being available for specific colleagues to talk through questions they may have about anything from day-to-day work niggles and gripes to topics that may be causing them sleepless nights. Now, I know that to many people listening to someone else tell you about their challenges at work sounds like hell on earth but trust me – done well it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do. And surely if you can contribute in any way to helping others feel better at work then everyone gains, don’t they?
“A tailored question can spark a response that the person being coached can explore and use to find a way to resolve their concern.”
Listening, however, is only a part of the process. Another important way you can help the person you are coaching is by exploring the topic and focusing on the main issue. The best piece of feedback I have had following a coaching session was ‘never underestimate the power of a good question’. It really resonated with me. What is meant by this is that a tailored question can spark a response that the person being coached can explore and use to help them find a way to resolve their concern. It’s generally accepted that we often have the solutions to our own problems within us. It’s part of a coach’s job to tease this out and to ask questions that peel away the layers of objections and obfuscation that can stop people from seeing the answer.
The type of question you should ask is very much determined by the outcome you want to achieve. Are you trying to identify an issue? (try ‘what seems to be the trouble?’). Are you trying to add extra information? (‘tell me more about…?’) or is your question outcome-focused? (‘what do you propose? What’s your desired outcome?’). Sound obvious? You should try being a People Coach!
I feel privileged to work somewhere that appreciates the role of People Coaches. It’s not the answer to all the world’s ills by a long way but it can provide support and guidance with daily work issues for people who may be feeling a little lost and vulnerable. Trust forms a huge part of the role and having someone you know you can confide in can itself be a huge help even if there are no obvious answers.
Being a People Coach might not be for everyone but if you are lucky enough to be employed by a company that values the role and are curious about the benefits then I cannot recommend it highly enough.