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Senior Correspondent

I’ve noticed an unsettling and revealing set of questions that my coach, Bob Hancox, asks. 

1. What’s most concerning for you? 
2. What makes this so important to you? 
3. What’s really at stake for you here? 

These questions crush the tyranny of the urgent and cause me to focus on my fears. Bob never asks me, “What are you afraid of?” I’d pull back if he did. “I’m not afraid.” 

Values

Fears point to things we cling to – things we don’t want to lose – things we’re protecting. Fear points to values in emotional and behavioral terms.

Barriers

Fear creates barriers. I’ve watched fearful people talk in self-protective ways while, at the same time, they search for weaknesses or faults in others. It may not be intentional, but it’s manipulative. 

Connecting

Asking the questions I listed above allows people to get in touch with their values and see core issues. Connect with others through understanding. Be certain you’ll disconnect if you judge. When someone expresses a concern, ask, “What makes this so important to you?”

Avoid: 

1. “Why” questions.
2. Judging.
3. Belittling or minimizing. “That doesn’t seem very important.”
4. Quick conclusions.
5. The temptation to fix. The first lesson of coaching is you don’t fix people.

One application might be asking a stressed out employee (after they’ve calmed down), “What’s really at stake for you here?” That approach sounds better than “Calm down,” doesn’t it? Listen for, and connect through, the values that come out.

Coaching Approach

You could use five types of questions to advance a coaching conversation …

1. What’s happening?
2. What do you want to happen?
3. What are the next steps?
4. When will you take those steps?
5. How can I help?

Every leader should have a coach and be a coach.

Bonus: If you’d like to enhance your coaching skills, consider “Coaching for Engagement.”

What coaching questions have you found most useful?

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