Sure, you’ve likely heard this. But if you’re like so many managers I’ve talked to (and like I was myself), the thought of adding more to your plate is so overwhelming, it’s easier not to think about it.
There’s just no time. You already feel like you’re whirling around like a tornado, overcommitted and overworked. And you’re probably right in thinking that you cannot possibly add another task to your never-ending to-do list.
But what you might not know is that you can coach your employees without adding to your workload. In fact, if you do it correctly, you could even lessen the load.
Instead of getting stuck in one of those “my-life-is-ticking-away-while-we-chat-about-the-weather” conversations that so often take place at the start of meetings, get right down to business. The best leaders are able to get to the heart of an issue quickly. One way to do that? Ask the kick-start question: “What’s on your mind?”
You might be thinking, “Oh no, what if this person going on about this and that decides to tell me more about this and that?” But the glory of this question is that, although open-ended, it gives the person the opportunity to bring up what they want to talk about—without offering them the option to talk about just anything. You want to know what’s currently on their mind. And it’s probable that it’ll lead you straight to what actually matters.
You’ll also be empowering your employee, because you’re shifting the dynamic of power as you relinquish control of the conversation.
This approach doesn’t apply only to set meetings—you can throw out this question in most encounters. It doesn’t add more work to your plate, and I’ll bet it’ll spark some interesting moments of insight for everyone involved.
As it turns out, people don’t really learn when you tell them things or when they do things. They learn when they reflect on what has happened.
And what that means is that asking a question after a discussion will inspire new learning opportunities—more than the discussion itself did.
To finish strong and encourage learning, make things stick by asking the learning question: “What was most useful for you?”
You can wrap up your whole conversation nicely thanks to this question. Not only does it provide you with feedback, but it also encourages your employee to find value in the conversation, leaving them feeling that the interaction was useful. When both parties walk away believing that the conversation was valuable, they’re more likely to maintain a positive relationship.
There are many definitions of coaching out there, but my favorites seem to encompass one thought: Coaching is about offering less advice and providing more moments of learning. In other words, say less and ask more.
So give it a try. Start your next conversation fast with an open-ended question and finish strong with a pointed and personal one. As these types of conversations become more frequent and natural, you may not even realize that you’re on your way to becoming more coach-like, one question at a time.