There is a really good chance you are not getting effectively coached, and you are not giving effective coaching. Has a peer come to you with a problem that turned into a gripe session? Or a one-on-one that felt like it just sort of wandered? Sometimes if feels like there was a great conversation hiding in a mediocre one and having a few tools in your conversation tool belt can really make a huge difference. I bumped into some great questions to kickstart better coaching in a book: The Coaching Habit.

In a nutshell, these are the questions that you can start asking as soon as your next one-on-one:

  1. What is on your mind?
  2. And what else?
  3. What is the real challenge here for you?
  4. What do you want?
  5. How can I help?
  6. If you are saying ‘yes’ to this, what are you saying ‘no’ to?
  7. What was most useful to you?

So what is the reasoning, and why would we ask these questions?

What is on your mind?

You might have otherwise started with “what’s up” or “how is it going?”, this is also what Facebook thinks is most successful to prompt their users to start talking. If you are lucky the response to this is overwhelming and broad, there is a model called ‘3ps’ to help with this. The idea straight forward, ask the person if they want to focus on either the projects, people, or patterns in what they brought up. There are many ways to find the focus area in a wide issue, this acronym is just one of them.

And what else?

More often than not, the response to “how is it going?” will be the same I have used all day while passing coworkers in the hall or at the coffee machine, a pretty short and superficial response. Asking for more is a fantastic way to get past a knee-jerk response: “what is on your mind?”, “not much”.

What is the real challenge here for you?

This is great especially when there is a lot of connected issues, we want to narrow down. In an example, someone is describing a very detailed a conflict between two coworkers, the real problem could be: work is getting slowed down, poor decisions being made, the noise level while siting near a pair of coworkers is distracting. Without asking, it is not clear what the challenge is and we risk assuming the wrong thing! Adding ‘for you’ at the end also helps honing in that we are really looking at your challenge, not the challenge of the coworkers.

What do you want?

Carrying on with the previous example, instead of assuming what the other person wants, just ask! The really cool part about this question is that sometimes the other person may have started needing just to vent, not even considered what they want. If we haven’t given them the chance to consider themselves, how would we know?

How can I help?

Instead of jumping to a solution, find out what the other person thinks. Any solution they come up with will be much more memorable to them, because they invested some mental energy into solving it! Plus, it is better to get feedback before providing our own solutions.

If you are saying ‘yes’ to this, what are you saying ‘no’ to?

Having been in many meetings where result was essentially: “In addition to working at max capacity, we will also…”. Having the decision framed as a tradeoff of time, makes the choice much more real, and because of that much more likely to stick.

What was most useful to you?

This does two things at the same time, it helps the other person think about any useful parts of the conversation, and lets us know if the conversation was useful. Just like any meeting, sometimes the answer will be “no” and when it is, will you know without asking?

Communication is the same as any skill, it needs practice and trained to get better at it. One of the hardest parts of communication is the illusion that it happened.