A common complaint that I hear from managers is ‘they (the staff) say they are going to do something and then they don’t!’ followed by an exasperated question ‘what do you do about that?’  I can hear the frustration and most resort to just telling the person what to do and more recently exercising performance discussions and putting staff on performance plans.

It does come as a shock to some managers that they can do more, actually, from a coaching point of view, to influence a higher likelihood that when their staff say ‘yes’ to something that they are actually committed and follow through.  And it’s rather simple actually – watch out for wiggle words!

Actually a funny side bar is that I’ve realized that the word really should be ‘wriggle words’ but since I’ve been using the word ‘wiggle’ for so many years, let’s stick with that!

Now most managers, when seeking commitment from their staff, will ask closed questions like ‘it that clear?’ and get back the answer ‘yes’.  They then take the ‘yes’ as meaning that the staff member is going to go an implement whatever was discussed.

Here’s some other example questions and the answers:

  • So you’re right with that? Yes
  • Does that make sense? Yes
  • How does that sound? Yep, fine.

The better question is simple:

So what will you do?

Now you have to listen closely to the answer.  What I am wanting to hear is:

I will ….

Anything else, other than WILL, is a WIGGLE word!

For example:

  • I will probably go and take a look at it.
  • I might be able to get onto it by the end of the week.
  • I’ll see how I go.

None of these examples gives me confidence that the person is actually going to go and do something.

Famous wiggle words that you will hear often are:

  • Might
  • Probably
  • Possibly
  • See how I go
  • I’ll try
  • I’ll do my best
  • I need to
  • I should
  • I could
  • We’ll see
  • Depends…
  • If time permits
  • Should be able to if…
  • I have to

You see, I know you have to, and you really should and possibly, probably you might, if time permits, you’ll do you best and really try….what I am wanting to know is actually what you WILL do!  And by when?

It’s those two simple questions that make all the difference: What will you do? And by when?

And if you are really needing to influence and almost ensure that the person is committed, I would simple ask:

On a scale of 1 to 10, how committed are you to doing what you say you will do?

The rule of thumb is anything below a seven out of ten is doubtful.

So watch out for wiggle words and wriggling out of commitments this week and ask some better questions to influence the results that you are looking for in your staff.

Enjoy your coaching!