Many coaches and leaders who work closely with their associates are advised to never ask a ‘why’ question. Because it gets the other person on the defensive (sometimes, right off the bat!) And it made a lot of sense to me back then, a professional coach-in-training, as I found it hard to turnaround a conversation or have the clients focus on the ‘real’ issues (or the ones that were buried underneath their psyche) once they get defensive.
So, I decided to play it safe. I began avoiding ‘why’ questions like the plague and it worked for the longest time until I realized that not asking the ‘why’ questions is getting in the way of me becoming a better coach. Think about it — I’m using psychological leverage (using ‘what’ questions, but that’s just one of them) to get deep into the ‘matter,’ while missing out on a great opportunity to hear them out. What makes us do this or suggest as a recommended practice? Does it:
- Make the conversation more efficient when it should be deep and exploratory?
- Gets us past their BS when there’s a real opportunity to know them inside out by figuring out what is all about in the first place?
- Makes sense because the International Coaching Federation (ICF) or some other governing body says so?
Let me tell you, if it’s #3, you’ve already lost the battle as a coach. Your client doesn’t care about your certifications or credentials but the results you can help them achieve. And the first step towards accomplishing any goal with your client is to let them play out their natural game. Even if its defensive by default.
I’ve come to believe that as leaders and coaches there isn’t a valid reason why we shouldn’t make the clients defensive. We should and still try to get through their defenses with empathy. That leads to deeper trust, rapport, and bond between the coach/leader and the client.
To be an effective leader and a coach, you’ve got to start with a why. Your people’s why because it helps them narrate their story and have them evaluate it themselves before they can open up to you. And once they do, they’re ready for a change or a transformation, which is where you come in.