Recently, team member Kris Thompson wrote about how Coaching Works Best in a “Loop”.
His point was “Get ahead of your client through learning and experience so you can ‘lead the way’ more powerfully and authentically”.
But it wasn’t more than 24 hours after he shared his message…
…when another coach commented “You mean TEACHING works best in a loop. A Coach doesn’t teach”:
And I thought “Oh no. Here we go.”
(See my response to this comment at the end of the email.)
Dogma permeates the coaching community.
“Don’t tell. Ask.”
“Don’t look to the past. Focus on the future.”
“Forget your own view. The client’s view is all that matters.”
And on and on.
And “A Coach doesn’t teach.” is no different.
Another righteous opinion…
…supported by coaching lore.
In fact, these cryptic commandments were chiseled long ago (Deep inside International Coach Federation’s ‘Coaching Competencies’ mythology):
- “The Coach cannot be the most significant voice in the relationship.”
- “The Coach cannot use a ‘telling methodology’.”
This comes pretty close to saying that teaching, telling, or advising…
…is a blatant NO NO.
And THAT’S from the world-recognized authority in personal and professional coaching!
A basic precept of the ICF ‘worldview of coaching’…
…is that you don’t give advice… PERIOD.
A basic precept of the ICF ‘worldview of coaching’…is that you don’t give advice… PERIOD.”
As a coach, you don’t just ‘tell people stuff’.
You can’t just direct your client.
That’s called mentoring, consulting, or advising (or teaching)…
But TELLING your client the answers can be helpful!
If your client needs to know something important…
…then TELLING could change their life for the better.
What’s wrong with telling your client the best way to solve a problem?
Coaches argue that you can simply COACH your client to find those same answers themselves.
But what if your client can’t FIND the answer themselves?
Why waste your client’s time?
Why not just give them the answer NOW?
Why not allow your client to leverage your extensive experience and knowledge?
Why not make your coaching even more valuable?
- Your client might disagree.
- Your client could argue with your point.
- Your client might feel suppressed or bossed around.
- Your client can resist your directions.
- Your client may resent you for bringing up your opinion.
Every time you tell your client what to do… you compromise the coaching relationship.
You risk losing influence with your client…
…and you risk weakening the coaching relationship.
Your advice makes a WITHDRAWAL out of your client’s ‘emotional bank account’… even if it’s a small one.
Yes, some clients want you to be the ‘all knowing guru’.
They want you to tell them what to do, so they can do it.
But what about when you’re not around?
What about when your client has to take care of themselves?
The point of coaching isn’t to make your client DEPENDENT on all of your knowledge, experience, and answers.
That’s not empowerment.
That’s mothering, smothering, and potentially turning your client into a victim.
But sometimes you NEED to give your client advice…
…because the information is so critical, valuable, and essential…
…that it would be coaching MALPRACTICE to withhold it.
How can you advise your client in such a way where you’re still a coach?
How can you ‘teach’, and still empower your client?
Without the emotional withdrawal?
Without the resentment, resistance, and arguments?
Enter the Three Question Technique.
The Three Question Technique:
- helps your client feel heard.
- puts you on your client’s side.
- assures your advice is more accurate.
- gives the best chance of your client accepting your advice.
And here’s how it works…
Never give advice, or tell your client what to do…
…until you ask them THREE QUESTIONS about their issue, goal, or problem.
You can ask whatever questions you want, as long as those three questions help you understand more:
- about the problem or goal.
- about your clients perspective.
- about your client.
- about the barriers your client is facing.
- about why your client is bringing this up in the first place.
Get the idea?
You’re asking three questions to UNDERSTAND the problem, your client, and the situation…
…BEFORE you attempt to give advice about it…
…EVEN if you think you already KNOW ‘the answer’ without asking ANY questions whatsoever.
Those three questions make sure that your advice is in the ‘helpful ballpark’…
…that your client is READY for the advice you’re about to give.
…and that your client’s feelings aren’t conflicting with your advice.
Asking three questions FIRST can help hone your advice into a laser focused, highly accurate, precision KNOWLEDGE BOMB.
Here’s an example:
A client was having panic attacks over seemingly ordinary events.
I happened to know that her worries were likely about ‘control issues’ as she approached her upcoming wedding.
(Panic, fear, etc., is usually based in uncertainty, which can stem from lack of control.)
So, I was just about to tell her all that…
…when I remembered the Three Question Technique.
FIRST QUESTION: “Were you having this much anxiety a year ago? Five years ago?”
(I knew that her life has gotten better and better, so that would help me understand if this is a novel challenge or just more of the same.)
She answered that she had always had struggles with anxiety, but never this intensely.
SECOND QUESTION: “When do these panic attacks emerge? What are the triggers?”
(I wanted to see if there was any obvious pattern, as I already suspected that her increasing anxiety was revolving around her upcoming wedding.)
She gave me the context of each of the most recent attacks, and they all involved her relationship.
THIRD QUESTION: “What’s the common thread between all these panic attacks? Is there a unifying theme that they all seem to revolve around?”
(I could have just told her: “You’re having control issues around your relationship transition… going from single to married, etc.”…
…but I FORCED MYSELF to ask question 3, prior to jumping on the ‘teaching’ bandwagon.)
She thought for a moment.
“They are ALL around CONTROL.”
ME: “Yes. And what could be threatening your control more NOW than ever?”
HER: “I don’t know (Other than just overwhelm)?”
I had asked my three questions.
I knew that my ‘advice’ was going to be spot on…
…and I knew she was ready to hear it.
So I told her:
“You’re about to get married to a ‘take charge’ man.”
“You’ve been the ‘boss’ in your life for over a decade.”
“You’ve had to be 100% in control of your work, your family, and your finances.”
“No one else has taken charge…
“So you’re about to relinquish control of a big part of your life…
…to a man that you love and trust (and he adores you).”
HER: “But I LOVE the idea of him taking charge and taking care of me. That’s everything I’ve been dreaming of!”
ME: “But that also scares the shit out of you.”
“Not because you don’t WANT it…
…but because you’re no longer in charge.”
“That’s going to take some adjustment…
…but it’ll also take faith, courage, and LETTING GO.”
“So THANK GOD this is happening!”
We discussed the details… what to do…
…and how to appreciate the freedom, the relief, and the ecstasy…
…that comes with LETTING GO.
I could’ve given that same advice without asking those questions…
…but the questions helped pave the way for her ACCEPTING the advice…
…UNDERSTANDING the advice…
…and FEELING the advice.
Those questions also helped CONFIRM my suspicions…
…about what was REALLY going on…
…underneath her anxiety.
Once you’ve asked those three questions, go ahead… give your client advice.
But package the advice the best way possible…
…considering all the answers your client just gave you.
- Ask the three questions.
- Listen to, and consider their answers.
- Tell them “Here’s the coaching… “
- Then, go ahead with the advice…
Tell them what to do.
Tell them what’s right.
Tell him what you think.
Tell them where they’re deluded (if you have to).
Those three questions will lead a journey of exploration with your client…
- You’ll discover what’s going on with them.
- You’ll create awareness around their situation.
- You’ll offer the most supportive, accepted, understood, and powerful advice you can.
But you also might find that those three questions are all you need to transform your client.
When you’re chomping at the bit to give your client ‘the answer’…
…but you use the Three Question Technique…
…you’ll discover that you don’t need to give the ‘advice’.
Because… by the time you’re done asking the third question…
…your client already finds the answer themselves…
…WITHOUT YOU TELLING THEM.
They will have an ‘aha’ moment.
They will start asking THEMSELVES new questions.
They will come up with new answers.
They will discover a different perspective on the issue.
And they’ll spontaneously transform…
…right before your eyes.
All because you
And, ideally, THOSE QUESTIONS ALONE will cause the transformation…
…as a loyal ICF coach would hope…
…no advice needed.
Jeffrey “Ask Before Advice” Sooey