I’ve tried everything and they just don’t get it!

This week I have been delivering a number of introduction to coaching for leaders and managers programs (a one day program that introduces coaching fundamentals in a really practical and ‘let’s implement immediately back into the workplace’ kind of way).  And a with one particular group a really strong theme emerged, when I was asked the question ‘what do you do when you’ve tried everything with a certain employee and they are not just getting it and they say they do, and coaching doesn’t work, so obviously I have to tell that person what to do’.  This half question and half strings of statements was backed up with a lot of murmuring and agreement from the rest of the group.

I admit I was a bit confused so I simply asked, what’s happening?

(Now if you’ve been in a session with me you’ll know that in all my examples, my characters are Betty and Bob!  So I will carry this theme through here!)

The participant, let’s call her Betty, explained that on several occasions a person (let’s call him Bob) had asked the same question, she had given him the same answer each time, stating it in different ways and asked him ‘do you understand?’  Bob’s response had been ‘yes’ each time, but each time he came back wanting the same information. It was clear the information was not getting through and Betty had tried everything!!!

So just in reading this article so far, what can you hear going on?

Did you hear like, me lot of telling and directing from Betty and ‘yes’ from Bob and not a lot of good coaching questions?

You might have also think that there is skills gap, a language or learning difference, a communication difference or the Bob saying ‘yes’ because he doesn’t want to look stupid. There could be a number of different things happening.

So sticking with the coaching question theme, whilst Betty had really tried to help, some extra good coaching questions, I feel, would really make the difference.

What question would you have asked Betty in the session if you were me?

So I pointed out that I noticed that the Betty was asking Bob ‘do you understand?’ and I asked her and the group ‘what is a better question that you can ask?’

The group responded with:

  • Do you understand?
  • Is that clear?
  • Did you understand that?
  • Do you see how we got to that conclustion?
  • Did you look at….?
  • Are you following me?

And a few other mostly CLOSED questions and that’s were the problem was laying.

By just adding ONE WORD to the start of each of those closed questions, the question would be so much better and would elicit a different response from Bob.

By just adding WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE or HOW to the front of any closed question, Bob know has to think about his answer, rather than auto-responding with a yes.

For example:

  • What do you understand?
  • How clear is that? And you can add ‘on a scale of 1 to 10?’
  • How do you understand that?
  • Where did you look?
  • When did you look?
  • What have you looked at so far?
  • What are you following so far?

It was lovely to see the group respond to the open questions, and to watch the light bulbs go off around something so simple, yet they had not been doing.

Most importantly they realized that in actual fact, they hadn’t ‘tried everything’ and Betty committed to giving it a go next time Bob came knocking on her door!

Enjoy your coaching!