Ask Instead of Tell: Systematize Your Business Coach

ask instead of tell

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When we think of a coach, our opinions vary! We might have had a coach during our sports years that inspired us and got us (literally) moving in the right direction.

Or we may have a had a coach that blew the whistle, barked, yelled and although she got us moving in the right direction — it wasn’t exactly coaching.

By coaching our employees, we can not only get them moving in the direction, we can help them perform better. 

Also, we can ensure they enjoy their job much more, knowing they are being actively developed.

But what is the secret to being a great coach? Is it good to explicitly tell your employees what to do? Or is it better to ask instead of tell?

Let us find out together!

Ask the Right Questions

When we are talking to our employees, we want them to behave in a certain way. We want them to know things!

And we are tempted to tell instead of ask, not be a coach, but to be a trainer, a teacher or just someone who can work some PowerPoint slides.

We’re telling them what to do and expect all the information to be absorbed.

By asking great questions, you can not only gauge where your employee is at, but you can find that they know the answer.

When they know the answer, when they discover that they have knowledge about the topic already, they are more open to learn more. 

But what questions are most effective? Here are some examples.

When your employee has a challenge with a client, these questions can be effective:

  • What did the client want? What do you think was behind that need? (We want to get to the root of the problem.)
  • How did we, as an organization, contribute to this situation? (Identify any missing or broken systems that can be fixed in the future.)
  • What are the steps you could take today to support resolving this challenge? (We want to give action steps so your employee doesn’t feel stuck.)
  • If this was a coworker of yours, what would you advise? (Sometimes your employee doesn’t feel qualified to get the job done, but from the perspective of giving advice or counsel, your employee might know the answer.)
  • What situation is this similar to? How did you resolve that? (Your employee might not see the similarities with previous client. Also, she does not know she has a bank of information to work with.)

Make sure your questions are open-ended. They do not have a “yes or no” choice or even a multiple choice. The answers to the question can literally be anything.

Usually the Learner’s Answer Is What Is Leading to What They Need to Do Next

Now, if your employee is stuck, not knowing an answer or a reference to go from, having their own “file not found” moment, that is the time to add your counsel.

This is important because the employee realizes he needs to know the answer and is ready for learning!

As the business owner you will know now that you have either missing documentation, a lack of effective training or you may need to re-think the way things are done related to this challenge.

Our knee jerk response to coaching is to go into detail about how we saved the day or read this great book on the topic.

We as the “boss” want to be right and we want to show off all of the knowledge we have (that’s how we got to be the boss!). But our employee won’t learn that way.

Ask Instead of Tell

It is better to ask questions instead of telling them what to do. So, make sure to ask instead of tell!

By using their self-discovery— they are not only motivated to learn, they retain much more information than simply cueing up a TED talk or getting a mini-lecture.

By coaching, we tap into others brain power and experience. We then have a variety of solutions that are based on what our employees say, using their knowledge to get to the best solution. (We didn’t hire robots!)

And coaching is a practice. It is rarely perfect and sometimes we will coach continually about the same topic!

Coaching is a powerful leadership tool that creates expertise, productivity and most importantly success.



Until next week, enjoy your Entrepreneurial Journey!



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