Even the best athletes have coaches. They help you hone in on where you can get better, give actionable feedback, and hold you accountable. As professionals though, it’s hard to get effective coaching, and harder still to coach others.

In the Coaching Habit, Stanier makes coaching accessible through 7 questions:

  1. What’s on your mind?
  2. And what else?
  3. What’s the real challenge for you?
  4. What do you want?
  5. How can I help?
  6. If you say yes to do this, what else will you say no to?
  7. What was most useful to you in this discussion?

1. Kickstarter question – What’s on your mind?

  • Categorize issues either into “project”, “people” or “pattern”. There are three facets that you can look into for any issue that is raised.
    • Project —challenges around the actual content.
    • People —issues with relationships with team members/colleagues/bosses/customers etc., and specifically, your role in the relationship that isn’t ideal.
    • Patterns—if you’re getting in your own way, and not showing up in the best possible way.
  • Start on any of those, and then probe further on the other two. Once they have done discussing that issue, pick up another category and ask if this was an issue, what would the challenge be here for you.
  • Move away from coaching for just “performances” to “development”. Coaching for performance is about addressing and fixing a specific problem or challenge. It’s putting out the fire or building up the fire or banking the fire. It’s everyday stuff, and it’s important and necessary. Coaching for development is about turning the focus from the issue to the person dealing with the issue.

2. AWE question – And what else?

  • Keep probing. The first answer you get is never the best answer. As a coach, this helps you pause even more before activating your advice monster. Your advice is not as good as you think it is.
  • Stop offering advice hidden in questions, stick to “And what else?”. Asking “Did you consider..?”, “have you thought of..?” etc. is just another way of offering advice.

3. Focus question – What’s the real challenge for you?

  • Focus on the right problem to solve. Narrow down from everything that could be going wrong to the key thing that matters, by asking people if they had to choose one, which one would be the real challenge for them.
  • Make it personal by adding “for you”. Asking “what is the challenge” makes it too easy for people to pontificate about the high-level or abstract challenges in a situation. Adding for you, forces the person to talk about what they need to figure out.
  • Don’t coach a ghost. If the person being discussed is not in the room, steer the conversation back to the real challenge for them.
  • Avoid asking why. It puts people on the defensive. Instead, frame it as a what question, for example, What were you hoping for? What made you choose this option? What options did you explore?

4. Foundation question – What do you want?

  • Get to the ‘need’.
  • Help people feel safe by asking them what they want. This helps avoid a fight or flight response. The goal is to make people feel safe by helping them feel like you are with them, that they understand where things are going, by feeling like they are in control, and that they get a say. A good way to think of this is as a TERA quotient. Tribe, Expectation, Rank, Autonomy.
    • Tribe. The brain is asking, “Are you with me, or are you against me?” If it believes that you’re on its side, it increases the TERA Quotient. If you’re seen as the opposition, the TERA Quotient goes down.
    • Expectation. The brain is figuring out, “Do I know the future or don’t I?” If what’s going to happen next is clear, the situation feels safe. If not, it feels dangerous.
    • Rank. People want to feel like they are smart and in control. When you make people feel less secure you have reduced how comfortable they are opening up to you.
    • Autonomy. People are trying to gauge if they get a say. If they believe they have a choice, then this environment is more likely to be a place of reward and therefore engagement.
  • Get comfortable with silence.

5. Lazy question – How can I help?

  • Avoid the common trap of being the rescuer. When you play the rescue, the other personas are victim, where people feel a sense of helplessness, and persecutor, where people feel like they are doing all the work.
    • Ironically, Rescuer creates Victims by constantly leaping in to solve problems, jumping in to offer advice, taking over responsibilities that others should rightfully keep for themselves.
  • Be blunt if you don’t get a direct answer. Ask what do you need from me? You have a range of options on how you respond
    • Yes
    • No, I can’t do that, but I could do [insert your counter-offer]
    • Let me think about that.” “I’m not sure—I’ll need to check a few things out.”
  • If asked about how to handle a particular situation, continue asking. As a coach, how you handle or have handled the situation may not be the best solution. Push the question back, “I have some ideas but what are your first thoughts?”

6. Strategy question – If I say yes to this, what will I say no to?

  • The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. This question helps ensure you sign up for the right priority request. Dig into what else will be impacted so people understand both the explicit and implicit impact of their no.
    • Projects. What projects do you need to abandon or postpone? What meetings will you no longer attend? What resources do you need to divert to the Yes?
    • People. What expectations do you need to manage? What relationships will you let wither?
    • Patterns. What habits do you need to break? What old stories or dated ambitions do you need to update? What beliefs about yourself do you need to let go of?
  • Understand urgency & thoughtfulness of the ask

7. Learning question – what was most useful to you in this discussion?

  • People learn when they have a chance to recall and reflect on what just happened to remember things.
  • Create space for learning moments in every activity.

You don’t need to wait to build this habit with anyone else, you can get started by coaching yourself.