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The Top Asking Mistakes Coaches Make (And How to Correct Them) – PART TWO

This is Part 2 of our excerpt from the book, Coaching Questions by Tony Stoltzfus sharing the top “asking” mistakes coaches make. 

Missed Part One? Click here to read Part one of The Top Asking Mistakes Coaches Make

Seeking the "One True Question"
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for beginning coaches is the quest for the Holy Grail: the question that will unlock the secrets of the universe for the client. Before each question there is a long, awkward pause while we search our mind for just the right thing to say—and meanwhile the momentum of the conversation is lost.

It's not the perfect question that makes the difference: you just need to help the person you are coaching think a little farther down the road than they can on their own. Trust the process to help the person, not the greatness of your insight. One excellent technique when you are starting out as a coach is to lean on a very simple question, like, "Tell me more," or "What else?" The benefit of these short-and-sweet queries is that they don't interrupt the person's thought process at all. Another great tool is the Observation and Question technique. Pick out the most significant thing the person said, repeat their exact words, and ask them to expand on it, like this:
  • "You mentioned that ___________. Tell me more about that."
By varying the question (instead of "Tell me more…", try "Say more," or "Expand on that," or "What's going on there?") you can use this technique over and over without sounding stilted. It's a great way to keep the focus on the client and not on your greatness as a coach.
Rambling Questions
A variant of the "One True Question" problem is the rambling question. Some coaches can't stop themselves from asking the same question in three different ways, while stringing together five different nuances or potential answers along the way. By the time the coach has finally articulated the question, the client is confused about what to answer and any conversational flow is lost.

The propensity to ramble can usually be overcome in one of two ways. First, some coaches do this because they are still figuring out what they want to ask while they are asking. The solution is simple: allow it to be silent for a moment or two while you formulate the question. Our uncomfortableness with silence is leading us to jump in before we are ready to ask. When you start doing this, you'll often find that a little silence will lead the client to continue to process without you asking any question at all.

The second common cause of rambling is that we are overly concerned that our question be fully grasped. Our need to be understood comes from unconsciously trying to lead the person down a particular path we want them to go on. In other words, we are in telling mode. Let go, stop ask the question once and stop, and see where the person chooses to take it. Often the most exciting coaching moments come when the client doesn't understand what you were asking for!
Interpretive Questions (Not Using Their Own Words)
Sometimes just by asking a question we put a spin on what the client is saying. For instance, a client says, "I'm finding it tough lately to want to get up on Monday mornings. I'm frustrated with my current project, I'm not getting the support I need, and I keep finding myself looking at the clock and wishing the day was over."  A response like, "How long have you hated your job?" is likely to get a reaction from the client ("Wait a minute—I never said I hated my job…!") The reason? Our coaching question reveals our interpretation of what the client said. We don't know yet whether this person hates his job, dislikes it, or even loves it. We only know what the client says. Interpretive questions erode trust (because they put something on the client) and block the conversational flow  as the person responds to our analysis.

Interpretative questions are easy to correct: simply make a habit of incorporating the client's own words in your questions. For the example above, we might ask, "How long have you been frustrated with your current project?" or "What kind of support do you need that you aren't getting?" or "What triggers you looking at the clock and wishing the day was over?" Each underlined section in these questions comes directly from the client's own statements. Asking in this way prevents the client from reacting to your spin and keeps the conversation moving in a productive direction.

The Top Asking Mistakes Coaches Make (And How to Correct Them) – PART ONE

A common challenge that many new coaches have with clients is the art of asking questions. I can hear you say, “I do, I do” and don’t worry, we have all been in a position at some time when we find ourselves prescribing to our clients. 

This week we will be sharing with you a great excerpt from the book, Coaching Questions by Tony Stoltzfus sharing the top “asking” mistakes coaches make and also some tips on how to correct these.

Closed Questions
Our #1 offender is—closed questions! Open questions have two important benefits: they let the coachee direct the conversation (you can answer in many different ways) and they make the coachee think by eliciting more than one-word answers. While most people will answer the occasional closed question as if it were open, too many will shut people down.

To convert closed questions to open ones, first become aware of what you are asking. If you catch yourself before you've finished asking, you can simply restate the question. You'll know it’s a closed question if it can be answered with a simply "yes" or "no", like these examples:
  • "Is there a way to do that and still keep evenings for family?"
  • "Can you realistically take that on too?"
  • "Could there be any other ways to approach that?"
  • "Do you have any other options?"
If you catch yourself in the act of asking a closed question, here's a quick technique for readjusting: just start again with the word "what" or "how". Here are the closed questions above, made open:
  • "What could you do to still keep evenings for family?"
  • "How would your life change if you take that on, too?"
  • "How else could you approach that?"
  • "What other options do you have?"
Solution Oriented Questions
A special kind of closed question is the solution oriented question. SOQs are pieces of advice with a question mark pasted on. We want to tell the client the answer, but we remember we are supposed to be coaching, so we give our solution in the form of a question:
  • "Shouldn't you check in with your boss before you act on this?"
  • "Could you do your jogging with your spouse?"
  • "Do you think that affirming the person would give you a better result?"
  • "Can you give her the benefit of the doubt on this one?"
"Should you, could you, will you, don't you, can you, are you"—if the second word in the question is "you", you're in trouble. First, let go of fixing, reaffirm to yourself that you believe in this person, and begin again by asking the coachee for a solution. On a practical level, SOQs usually originate in an intuitive insight: something the person says makes us curious, so (all in our own heads) we proceed to identify what we think the underlying problem is, create a solution, and then offer it to the person. The trick is to go back to the thing that made you curious in the first place, and ask about that. Often this involves broadening our SOQ (which focused on one potential solution) into an open question with many possible solutions. For instance:
  • Our insight on the first question listed above was wondering what the channels of authority in this organization are. So we might ask, "In your company, what kind of channels do you need to go through before you act on this?" (Notice how this question allows for other answers than just talking to the boss.
  • On the second question, our intuition noticed that the client is an extrovert, yet all the potential exercise options were done alone. So you might say, "I noticed that all your exercise options involved you doing it alone. How could you involve other people in your exercise routine?" What would happen if you mentioned that to the boss?
Click here to read Part Two of The Top Asking Mistakes Coaches Make

The Power of Habit

In order to create a better life for ourselves, we often have to make changes in habitual behaviour - i.e. those behaviours that have become so automatic we don't even think about them. But creating, or changing habits is complex stuff. 

In his new book "The Power of Habit", Charles Duhigg draws on extensive research to show that a habit is made up of three things. 

One - a cue must be present.  
Two - a routine is established (this may be a simple action, or a group of actions).  
Three - a reward must exist. Not a reward in the traditional external way of thinking, but something as subtle as a feeling. 

So an example would be - a sign for a McDonalds outlet is the cue (a strong cue in its clever branding). A routine would be pulling over and popping in for a burger and fries. The reward would be the immediate feeling of satiety (if short-lived).  

But a fourth element comes into play. 
Duhigg states that there must be a "craving" for the reward. In other words, the pleasure that comes with the reward must be strong and as sensory as possible.  

These are the challenges we face. How to make exercise, or healthy food choices fit this pattern so that the old habit can be replaced by a new routine. The cue might be the same and the reward the same, but a new routine needs to be established.  

Duhigg's book is fascinating in that neuroscience once again is used in this incredibly important field of human behaviour. Once we understand what happens in the brain that drives people's automatic behaviours we can then begin the work of helping them create a new pattern of behaviour. One that also becomes automatic.  Habits can be changed. We just need to know how.

Can you identify a habit in your life where Duhigg’s 3 elements of making a habit are now glaringly obvious to you? We would love to hear.

Does control = happiness?

Did you ever stop to wonder why cowlicks were invented? Those crazy, wavy curls in the front of your hair? So you’d have something in your life you could try to control, of course! The tantalising nirvana of control is the goal of many – we want control over our bodies, our eating, our behaviour, our pets, children and partners.

This begs the question – what IS control, and how does it really benefit us?
Dictionary definitions range from ‘restraint’, ‘manipulation’ and ‘skill’, to ‘influence’ and ‘discipline’. 

Why do we want control?
Is it to gain security and manage fears, or to achieve perfection? Perhaps it’s simply the ability and right to choose or to decide. It could be the desire for power or authority over someone or something.
It’s interesting to consider how important these aspects are in our lives and what sorts of benefits they offer. And, how do they bring us happiness?

But beyond that, it is also quite liberating to realise that it’s the situations and events we can’t control – the things that blindside us on a Thursday afternoon - that often offer the greatest opportunities for growth, learning and joy.

Barriers to Change - Achieving good health and wellness

I have always maintained that nearly everyone values good health and would love to have an increased sense of well being in their life.  Health is easy to define – perhaps absence of disease is the base level but adequate fitness and optimal energy are possibly the most representative of good health.  Simplistic I realise but indisputable.  

Wellness, however is something else.  For the purpose of this short article, let’s call it high life satisfaction on a daily basis, and good resilience, or the ability to deal with and bounce back from inevitable setbacks.  We also know that meaningful relationships, engagement in our work, positive emotions and a sense of achievement contribute greatly to this ideal of “wellness”.  Much of my work focuses on helping coaches to work with people to create a “vision” of what they want.  Ie to help them with the first step of imagining what their life could be like if they were to make changes.  This is valuable work and really the first step towards positive change. 

But then we have to look closely at the things that stop people from getting what they want.  The obstacles or barriers to change which come in all shapes and sizes but often are described as a “lack” of something.  So the next step is to work out how we can get more of the element that is missing – be it time, money, knowledge, motivation.  And this is where the work of coaching comes in.  I love the energy that comes out of bringing a group of people together and discussing the “Things that get in the Way” and watching their ability to brainstorm solutions.  A great coach or facilitator can witness this process and know that - provided the person who wishes to make the change is still in the driving seat – the support of others can spur that person on to action and positive belief in themselves.  I believe that addressing the barriers to change is the crucial and sometimes difficult part of any change journey.

I would love to hear what you feel are your barriers to positive change in your life?

Wellness and Wellbeing - What is this all about?

I frequently quote Dr Martin Seligman as his work is so closely aligned with that of wellness coaches, even though we approach our clients' well being often from a physical perspective. We are all trying to help them achieve the same thing - ultimately life satisfaction. 

If a client of ours managed to regain physical health, or achieve great fitness, although this would be a sign of progress, we would not feel that our real work was over if that person was dissatisfied with their life. So we cross from physical to mental to emotional all the time which often makes reflection on the new definition that Seligman has developed for Well being, or shall we say optional "flourishing". He refers to the five constituents of well being: positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and accomplishment/achievement (PERMA). Each one, he says, can be increased and improved on; each one is measurable and all can be taught.

PERMA is the acronym that is used. I would like to respectfully propose that this acronym be extended to PERMAP with the P representing the physical dimension. Now this is not to say that everyone needs to be in perfect health to be happy. This would be unrealistic. It is more about the need to focus on improving our health (and fitness) to be the best it can be under our given circumstances so that our energy is optimised. This would be more representative of what Wellness Coaches set out to support their clients in attaining. And at the same time, knowing the five constituents that Seligman has proposed are equally as important.

Am I perhaps stepping out of line and confusing the issue?  We'd love to hear anyone else's view.

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Why would a Coach need a Coach?

When we become skilled in a profession, or way of working, it is tempting to adopt the attitude. "Well I don't need the services of …… - after all, I am one". This argument is a bit weak when we are talking about a service provider such as massage therapist, dentist, physio or anyone who physically performs a treatment that requires an outside party to "administer" it - pretty hard to give yourself a shoulder rub! However, I have found that the best counsellors, coaches and other health professionals are the first to seek out the services of someone who works in their field, as they truly believe in the value of their profession. The best salespeople I know will buy from someone who has shown that they know how to persuade.

A coach cannot ever be a good coach until they have been on the receiving end of good coaching.
If coaching is "the art of creating an environment, through conversation and a way of being, that facilitates the processes by which a person can move toward desired goals in a fulfilling manner” (Tim Gallwey, 2000), then how can we create that environment without knowing what it feels like for the client? When we sit in the client's chair we can experience not only the feelings they go through, but also the results that can occur from working with a coach. Until we have gone through this process, we cannot share the enthusiasm that inevitably comes from being on the other side.

How does coaching and mentoring differ? 
Some new coaches feel they need to learn from someone who has more experience than they do, get feedback and at times direction from a mentor who has trained and excelled in their particular field. This will take more the form of a training session rather than a coaching session and be equally as valuable.

However, if the issue is more around helping you create a vision for where you want to go as a coach, or as an individual, to work out how this can fit into your current life and value system and design a plan for getting there, you might just need a good coach yourself.

If you see yourself nodding your head while reading this, our team at Wellness Coaching Australia provides a unique Coach Mentoring service that can be personalised on your needs. Whether you are:
• Hoping to gain a better understanding of any of the concepts taught in wellness coaching,
• Are seeking mentoring around your options as to future employment or life direction, or
• Need help with creating a business model, we can assist.

To find out more, register your interest with us and we’ll contact you to discuss your needs.

Inspiration or Coaching in social media?

Have you noticed the Facebook surge in ‘inspirational’ quotes and posts?  You know the ones, telling us we are strong, that we can do it, that abs are made in the kitchen or that guts and determination win every time. It’s certainly great to see these ‘feel good’ messages, but I have started to wonder how effective they really are. 

Can you actually remember any of the inspirational quotes you read on Facebook yesterday? Have they caused you to change your opinions or beliefs? The point is, while someone else can inspire you, it’s actually a good, thought-provoking question that gets you really engaged and thinking about change. 

People who post thought-provoking questions seem to get a stream of well-thought responses, ‘aha’ moments and alternative views. In comparison, people who post inspirational quotes tend to get more of the ‘this is cool’ or ‘I agree’ type of response – appreciation without any real depth.
If we want people to engage with us (and our Facebook pages), it’s clear that the writing is on the Facebook wall. 

Inspiration is great, but a good ‘coaching question’ is more powerful

The McGurck Effect - hearing with your eyes

How much do the visual cues (what we see) that we get from the face of a speaker influence what we hear? Quite a bit, in some cases. The McGurk effect, named after Harry McGurk of McGurk & McDonald, 1976, is a compelling demonstration of how we all use visual speech information.

See the McGurck Effect in action in the BBC2 video below "Horizon: Is Seeing Believing?


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