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Business Coaching with Questions

Managers Need to Get Workers Thinking and Acting for Themselves
A smiling worker performing his tasks

One of the primary objectives of business coaching is to help employees become more autonomous in the performance of their workplace duties, so that they become much less reliant upon the manager for answering questions and queries about every little detail.

Whilst managers will need to provide some input to employees rather than letting them completely do their own thing, there will be many small queries which the employee could answer using their own initiative and judgement rather than seeking an answer to everything from the manager. Not only will this constant back and forth to the manager's office take up a lot of the manager's valuable time and prevent them from getting on with their own work, it may also get them frustrated and could eventually lead to them snapping at the employee, causing a deterioration in the relationship between worker and manager.

A Business Coach will Ask Questions to Get the Independent Thought Processes Going

Business coaching with questions is the process of getting workers to think for themselves by having to determine the solutions to problems on their own, albeit it with the support of the business coach to begin with at least.

In contrast to training, rather than telling employees what to do, by asking questions the coach will stimulate the employee to come up with solutions to problems rather than sitting back and waiting for an answer. This may be difficult for them, particularly at the outset if they have become used to simply receiving the answers and being told exactly what to do and how to do it, but as they become more accustomed to the process they should begin to start adopting it more and more as questions and small problems crop up in the workplace.

Freeing Up More Useful Time for the Manager

As employees begin to solve problems and answer queries by themselves rather than bothering the manager every single time, the manager will not only have more time to devote to their own tasks, but will also be able to go on holiday or leave the workplace without being constantly bombarded with calls as issues arise.

Question Types - Open and Closed-Ended

What is the Different Between Open-Ended Questions and Closed Questions?

Questions usually fall into one of two categories: open-ended or closed. An open-ended question is one which aims to elicit a response consisting of a few sentences rather than one or two words that would satisfy a closed question. Closed questions can be answered in a manner such as yes, no or a definitive one or two word answer. These question types will play a key role in the effectiveness of any coaching taking place.

Which Question Style is Best for Business Coaching?

When undertaking business coaching nearly all of the questions that the coach will ask a person will be open-ended ones that require them to elaborate, quantify, develop and lead them to come up with suggestions for future goals or areas in which to improve. A significant factor in successful business coaching is encouraging the person who is receiving the coaching to come up with a lot of the solutions themselves. Coaching is different to training and teaching as rather than trying to tell a person all the answers, the idea is to provide the structure and support necessary for them to work through problems largely by themselves. The asking of questions is crucial to this end; closed questions will not be conducive to the development of a meaningful discussion, whereas open-ended questions will provide the environment for effective business coaching and the development of the individual to flourish.

Encouraging Employee Participation in Business Coaching

Making Full Use of Limited Time

A business coaching session will be a much more productive one if both the business coach and the person receiving the coaching come prepared for it. A failure to prepare sufficiently by either side will likely result in a coaching session that is lacking in structure and direction, and will not make the most of the often limited time available due to the sessions having to fit in around busy working schedules.

Business Coaching Preparation

It is also often a good idea for the coach to forewarn those being coached when it comes to participation to give them sufficient time to think and prepare. The person is much more likely to come up with a comprehensive and detailed list of, say, the areas in which they feel they could improve, than if they were surprised and put on the spot and asked to come up with that list right there and then. Typically when questions are sprung upon a person, especially the personal and difficult ones which are likely to come up in a coaching session, they will often become flustered and struggle to think of a comprehensive and fulfilling answer. Only later when they have the opportunity to calmly reflect upon the question will honest and complete answers be realised. It is for this reason that asking such questions at the end of the session and letting the individual go away and think about them before the next get together will produce the most honest and useful answers.

Two-Way Interaction is Crucial
Talking and collaborating during coaching

Just as with other forms of training and development, a person will acquire skills and learn much more effectively if they are encouraged to participate rather than simply being talked at for the entire duration.

Business coaching is no exception, and it is imperative that the business coach encourages participation by using techniques such as asking questions, getting the person being coached to prepare and present a plan, get them to come up with ideas etc.

Whatever it is, it is likely to be more beneficial to them than having the manager or coach rattle off a performance review and a list of areas they feel the person could improve in, as they will either switch off or become resentful without being given the option to discuss these pronouncements.

Not asking any questions is in some ways even worse than putting people on the spot and asking without providing any time for a considered answer. Despite business coaching and executive coaching sessions normally being provided on a one-to-one basis, it can still lead to a certain degree of switching off and concentration loss when that coach is engaged in a one-sided conversation by talking away and not allowing or inviting any input from the individual.

Success in business coaching and mentoring depends upon the willingness and determination of the person to make the difficult changes which are necessary. Only by having them fully-involved in the planning and preparations will they get fully onboard with what needs to be achieved. If they are being dictated to and always told what they are doing wrong and what they need to do better, they will soon lose interest or become openly resentful.

Questioning Technique to Make Improvements

Involving Employees and Learning from Mistakes

When things go wrong in a business or particular department there can be a tremendous temptation to either completely gloss over what happened and try and forget it, or alternatively indulge in the blame game where accusatory fingers are pointed and people are blamed instead of actually embarking upon the much more useful process of determining exactly why events turned out the way that they did.

It is well-known that asking questions and letting employees come up with answers and suggestions is a powerful tool in business coaching and the development of individuals. It can also be used in this way to work with employees to not only find out what happened and why they took a particular course of action, but also to determine what they have learnt from it and what they believe they should do in the future to ensure that a similar outcome is avoided. Instead of providing all of the ideas or telling the employee what they should be doing, a manager who engages in this technique to make improvements will normally find the employee is much less likely to go on the defensive, allowing for a more constructive and much more productive meeting which should prove beneficial for the business going forward.

Playing The Blame Game Can Damage Future Business Performance

By blaming employees rather than working with them to determine the facts and future course of action, it is likely to kill any future attempts by employees to show initiative. This will result in more work and time taken up for the manager as workers will come to them with every little problem they have to avoid making a mistake again.

Starting Open-Ended Questions with Why

Handshake meeting and communication discussion

Open-ended questions encourage the two-way dialogue which is so important in successful business coaching sessions to take place. Whereas closed-ended questions more often than not bring about simple one word answers, an open-ended question will require a person to provide an explanation or opinion on a certain matter, which forms the basis upon which to start and expand discussion to determine action plans for overcoming certain barriers.

One type of question which the coach needs to be extremely careful with, particularly if they are a manager providing business coaching to one of their employees, are those questions that begin with "why". Although having a person explain their reasoning or actions can be particularly insightful and eye-opening for a manager, questions that start with why can usually be misconstrued as accusatory which can put the employee on the defensive. If this happens it can not only lead to arguments and a shouting match, but can also result in the person putting the metaphorical barriers down and 'clamming up' and reverting to short, sharp answers comprising of a few words. Neither of these scenarios is conducive for a meaningful discussion.

Along with avoiding words which sound like the person is on trial, the tone of the coach's voice also has a significant impact upon the success or failure of the session. This is again because a condescending or accusatory tone can put the employee on the defensive, even if questions do not start with why.

The most successful business coaches will have developed and refined their technique for facilitating discussions with an individual to get the maximum benefit out of the often time-limited sessions that they have with them. Communication skills and questioning techniques are so important that they are covered in many business coaching courses such as the ILM Level 5 Coaching Certificate qualification.

Discuss Problems Calmly and Objectively to Achieve Solutions

Arguments Can Quickly Eliminate Chances of Positive Outcomes
Two male colleagues arguing in the office

One of the worse things that can happen when there are issues to sort out is an argument breaking out.

Once this happens, any hope of a reasonable and productive debate goes out of the window and the session quickly descends into a shouting match where nothing is achieved. Even worse, the meeting will probably cause even deeper rifts between the two sides if personal insults are hurled about. Defensive walls will be put up and neither side will want to consider anything the other has to say... if they are still in the room and have not stormed off by this point of course!

For a business this can cause serious problems if two people, departments or sites fail to communicate with each other; whether at all or only the basic necessities, it will significantly hamper productivity and the level of success that can be enjoyed by the company. There is also a very real risk of this lack of collaboration and communication endangering the health and safety of everyone on site. This is because effective communication is vital for health and safety in the workplace, as it is needed to successfully devise and implement policies and safeguards for keeping everyone on and near the premises safe from harm.

Business Coaching to Assist in Overcoming Issues

No matter if it is productivity, health and safety or any other aspect of a successful business, in order to be effective a company depends upon high levels of communication and teamworking between everyone. A failure or breakdown in this area needs rectifying urgently and is why business coaching is often quickly utilised in order to overcome the issues which are causing the problems.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph of this article, two sides who openly argue during an attempt to resolve their troubles will achieve little in the way of resolution. By engaging the services of an experienced business coach, the likelihood of the discussions being conducted calmly and objectively are increased, which ultimately leads to a greater chance of solutions being achieved. Two sides which may have very different perspectives on the problem, but can understand the other side's point of view, are far more likely to have a rational discussion and come up with an amicable solution which can satisfy both parties than those who argue virtually from the outset.

Part of the constituent of a calm and productive discussion will be collaboration in the form of working together to devise the plan of action. This can be followed to change from the current way of working and the inherent problems that exist, to one which is more acceptable and beneficial for both employees and the business as a whole.

Asking Employees What Motivates Them

Managers Frequently Try and Do Everything Themselves

A common mistake which many managers make is trying to come up with all the answers themselves without seeking help and advice from their employees. This can also be the case when it comes to determining what motivates their workers. Often the best way will be simply to ask what their various needs are which they would like to see realised from coming to work that need to be fulfilled in order to keep them motivated and productive. However many managers would much rather assume or try and work it out for themselves rather than take this time to have business coaching meetings or informal chats with their employees.

Delegating and Asking for Advice is Not Weakness

This can sometimes be put down to a manager feeling that it is somehow a show of weakness to ask for ideas or suggestions. They feel it is their responsibility and an expectation that they should come up with all of the strategies and ways to proceed, and that by asking others for assistance it will be perceived by "the troops" that they are incapable of coming up with what needs to be done.

Learning What Motivates Employees Can Be Essential Knowledge for a Manager

A manager who takes this attitude will soon find that they miss out on valuable ideas and suggestions for improvements that their employees are capable of coming up with if they are given the opportunity and a little encouragement to do so. They will also get a much clearer picture of what their various employees with their differing individual characteristics desire most from their work, and consequently what will have the greatest influence on their motivation and productivity. This can include many potential needs such as more job diversification, more training, increased authority, or greater financial rewards.

Allow People to Respond in Business Coaching

A Manager May Need to Change in Order to Provide Effective Business Coaching

We have already explored, at the beginning of this article, the issue of how important effective questioning is when it comes to business coaching. A manager who is providing business coaching to an employee will need to get out of the role of being someone who issues orders and expects workers to simply do what they say, if this is how they act usually. The ability to listen and communicate effectively is such an important component for effective coaching sessions that it is covered on the syllabus of business coaching courses such as the ILM Level 5 Certificate and Diploma in Coaching and Mentoring.

The Business Coach Needs to Give the Employee Time to Come up With Their Own Answers
A businessman sat thinking

For business coaching to be effective there needs to be two-way dialogue taking place to allow the person to come up with suggestions and their own ideas, rather than relying on the coach to provide all the answers for them.

As well as asking open-ended questions which prompt the person to speak, the coach must also give them time to respond instead of jumping in when they hesitate or are unsure. If the person is unsure and cannot come up with something after a reasonable length of time and is starting to become flustered or embarrassed, the coach can then attempt to subtly simplify the question by altering it slightly, perhaps asking for one example or idea as a start rather than asking and waiting for a complete analysis of a situation.

By actively promoting the fact that there are no real 'wrong' answers, and that coaching sessions are intended largely for idea generation and the evaluation of each idea with the objective of developing action plans for the future, the person receiving the coaching will begin to offer their own opinions and suggestions for improvement.

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The BCF Group have evolved from the Business Coaching Foundation, which was established in 2001. We have leadership development and business coaching at our core. Having representation from global learning leads, executive coaches and talent development specialists, we deliver accredited people development programs.

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