Lynn Schoener 
September 19th, 2013 
Lynn Schoener
As a coach and consultant to organizations in transition, I work with leaders to develop coaching cultures and  improve employee satisfaction, team performance, and engagement.  My coaching work with individuals is designed to help them through...Read More 
The Assault of Solutions
If you make just one permanent shift in your approach to people as a result of your coach training, let it be this one: Stop putting every difficulty shared through your problem-solving filter, and let loose the power of questions to unlock a person's inner wisdom. Here's a recent illustration from the learning laboratory that is my life:

After dinner last night, I was describing a difficult decision I had to make regarding a commitment I got bullied into by a relentlessly persuasive client. The three men at the table--my darling husband and our two beloved contractors--were unsettled by my anxiety, and the anxiety my situation stirred in them.

At first, they reacted to my story with compassion and valiant attempts to rescue this damsel in distress, although the damsel had not asked for anything but their attentive interest. Each one tripped over the other to offer a different, yet equally useless solution to fix my problem and quash my fears.

"You can't let him control you--stand your ground, girl!" 

"Just cancel. He'll get over it."

"You should be...You should say...You shouldn't worry..."

As I "Yes, butted" their advice, irritation replaced their compassion. The voices got louder, the selling of "shoulds" became more insistent, and the cheerleading took on a tough-love tone. I felt my appreciation of their good intentions wash away in a surge of anger and shame. Their simple solutions to a complex issue made me feel stupid, incompetent, and, come to think of it, bullied--just like the controlling client makes me feel. When I finally called "time out," it was too late--the tears had already taken over.

Why so much telling and so little asking? Where were the questions? Buried beneath a need to protect me--and themselves--from a sense of powerlessness. Instead of defending myself from an assault of solutions, their questions could have allied us in a search together for options. Options that spring from my answers to their questions will be in alignment with who I am. What they would do is precisely right for them, but when those options are projected onto my problem as the solution, the walls go up.

Questions don't have to be perfect "coaching" questions to be effective; even clumsy questions would have invited more of my story to surface, opened doors to a deeper look, helped me breathe into a recognition of my own part in creating this dilemma. Questions could have confirmed their confidence in me to find my way through. Any version of these questions, asked with an open, curious mind and heart, could have given us the space to think together:

"Can you tell us more about what's bugging you?" 

"Are you more upset with him or with yourself?"

"What have you considered doing? What have you ruled out?"

"What are the up sides/down sides to canceling?"

"What would he say to us about the way he interacts with  you?

I have to give my guy a little credit. As soon as he recognized the meltdown in progress, he put his best coachy hat on. My answers to his caring questions made these big-hearted, well-meaning, wonderful guys realize they had spun solutions based on woefully incomplete data. When they gave me space to fill in the blanks, they had a clear sense of the complicating factors. The concerns of mine that they tried to dismiss became real to them. They validated me by saying that had it been a simple matter, I would have slam-dunked it by now. Ahhhh, thank you!

Here's the good news, for you born-and-bred advice givers: Once I felt heard and fully understood, we had a very productive conversation. To their delight, I then had more available bandwidth for a little advice giving, better informed by the full story. If you lead with questions, others will eventually seek your answers.     


Copyright 2013 by Lynn Schoener



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