CorporateCoach eNewsletter

Issue No. 30, 13th October 2003


  1. Editorial: Walk the listen
  2. Coaching notes: Powerful coaching questions

1.     Editorial: Walk the listenRichard Winfield

Richard Winfield - editor and principal consultant

In last week's issue of CorporateCoach I described how Will Carling spent time listening to rugby players rather than telling – which had been the practice in the English Rugby team.

In almost every organisation you can be confident that there is one subject about which people complain – communication. And a lot of the problem here is that people don't take the trouble to listen. Often managers do not take the trouble to ask, and some cultures resist hearing what they are told. It is not uncommon to read about large organisations in which whistleblowers have been ignored, ostracised or even sacked. And yet whistleblowing is only necessary when healthy communication of serious information is frustrated. If serious mismanagement or fraud is ignored, what is the fate of smaller and personal issues that affect the morale and effectiveness of individuals?

In the mid 1990s I wanted to move into a larger market and decided that the most exciting challenges were in the UK's National Health Service and in industry. I applied for chief executive posts in several health trusts. One, in particular, was excellently run – and had I got the post, I would have been bored within a year. But others were badly run.

In one case, there were two non-health service applicants and we asked to meet some staff before the interview in order to obtain some context. This was denied, but we were able to meet some consultants afterwards. This health trust had had three chief executives in the last year, and we were told that we would meet the most difficult consultants.

We were introduced to two consultants in geriatrics. They were not difficult at all – they were just frustrated with the bureaucracy. One of them told me that he had missed a management meeting and as a result his office had been moved into a toilet (actually a coverted bedroom with a toilet and wash basin). He said "I am concerned that if I miss another meeting I will be put into a cupboard." This was a serious statement from a senior medical practitioner. These two 'problem consultants' would have been wholly co-operative and supportive to the management if they had just been spoken to and listened to.

As it happened, I got a job in industry instead and had a roving role amongst international subsidiaries of an engineering company. Having no line management responsibility I was able to talk informally to a wide range of senior managers and directors. Same story in some cases. Creativity and enthusiasm wasted because nobody bothered to ask.

We hear about the technique of "management by walking about." I would like to propose a development. "Management by walking about – and listening." Asking questions and listening is what I do for a living. Is it really necessary to bring in a consultant to tap into the genius of your staff, or to find out why they are not performing to their potential? Better to bring us in to teach managers to listen and to review processes for two way communication.

In the last issue I talked about how to answer questions at a meeting. This week we start a series on asking questions – but even more important than the question, is genuine curiosity.



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2.     Coaching notes: Powerful coaching questions

A coach's job is to help clients stand back and take an introspective look at themselves. It is about thinking laterally, getting a confidence boost with an independent third party. It is also to teach the process so that the client can both self-coach and coach others.

A lot of coaching involves asking questions, exploring situations to understand them better or to generate another perspective.

Here are some standard questions that I have found to be very powerful. Keep this list as a reference for inspiration or for use in preparation for a meeting.

What does this mean for you?
What does this situation mean to you?
What might it mean to others?
How might other people see it?
How will it appear to you in three years' time?
How did it get to be how it is?
What are the benefits of being as it is now?
What do you get from being this way?
How does being like this help?
How does being like this hinder?
What would be better than this?
What would be even better still?
What did you do to get this way?
What causes it? What drives it?
How is it a function of the system in which I operate?
Who are the key players in this environment/system?
What other environments/systems do I operate in?
How do the environments interact?
I understand that you can?t, and, how would it be if you could?
If you did know, what would the answer be?
What would be the best question to ask now?
What would be the most useful question for me to ask you next?
If you carry on as you are, will you reach your goals in the time you've given yourself?
What do you need to change in order to get where you want to go? Paul Fairhurst

I also asked two of my associates for their suggestions. Here are those favoured by Paul Fairhurst: –

What do you want?
What will it be like?
How will you know you have got there?
What is stopping you?
What will happen if you do this?
What will happen if you don't do this?
What won't happen if you do this?
What won't happen if you don't do this?
When do you want to have achieved this?
What will you do first?
Can you do that today?
On a scale of 1-10 where are you on that today?
What really excites you?
What do you enjoy?
When did you do that previously?
Were there times when you didn't do that bad habit?
What is different between the times when you do the good thing and when you do the bad thing? Andrew Halfacre

Andrew Halfacre has grouped his suggestions under the GROW model of coaching: –

Goal – what do you want?
Reality – where are you now?
Options – what could you do?
Will – what will you do?


What is it you would like to discuss?
What would need to happen for you to walk away feeling that this is time well spent?
What do you want instead of xxxxxx?
Is that realistic?
How do you know this goal is worth achieving?
How will you know when you have achieved it?
What will you see hear feel when you have achieved it?


What is happening at the moment?
How do you know this is accurate/true?
When, where, how often does this happen?
Who is involved?
What happens to you and how do you feel?
What happens to others directly involved?
What is their perception of the situation?


What approaches have you seen in similar situations?
What would you do differently if you were able to start again?
Who might be able to help?
What if you had (more/less time power money magic wand)?
What is the right thing to do?
What is the most courageous step to take?
If the constraints were removed what would you do?


What are the next steps?
Will this address your goal?
Precisely when will you take them?
What will it cost you if you don?t take action?
What might get in the way?
Who needs to know?
What support do you need and from whom?
On 1-10 what are you going to do (your motivation)?
What do you need to do to get your commitment up to a 10?


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We hope you enjoyed this issue of CorporateCoach. If you would like to learn more about how we can work together, then please contact me, Richard Winfield