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#23: Communication: Quite a Question

Coaching Hive with Dr. Moira Hanna
Coaching Hive with Dr. Moira Hanna
#23: Communication: Quite a Question
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Welcome

Hi there! I’m Dr. Moira.  Welcome to a new episode and a new week with the Coaching Hive.  If you are new, welcome, and if have been listening since the beginning or somewhere in between thank you my friend.  It is always a pleasure to have you here with me.

The Coaching Hive Podcast is entering an exciting time.  This is our 6th month in existence and it feels like a lovely and big milestone.  Back in January when I sat down to talk with my husband about starting a podcast, we were excited and not a little unsure about where it would take us.  We had no idea that 2021 would bring family challenges and loss, but stayed committed to the podcast and sharing the Coaching Hive message each week really anchored us and our mission for helping everyone to have access to health coaches by guiding you.  Health coaches.  We are being more intentional in celebrating each win and success so I hope that you will sit back and join me in celebration.  We now have a steady following and I appreciate you.  If you have gotten anything out of the previous episodes, I invite you to leave a review on your favorite podcast provider. 

Now that you have indulged me in a bit of celebration and looking back, it is probably time to get to our main topic for today.  For the past 22 episodes we have talked about mindset, efficiency, focus, mindfulness, motivation, change, and so much more.  This month I thought we might go back to the basics of our coaching toolbox and talk about our communication skills.  Not only do communication skills play a big role in our coaching conversations, they are also an integral part of our coaching business.  If you are ready to dig into communication, I invite you to grab a drink, a notepad, and pen, and play this family friendly podcast through your speakers.

Introduction

Ok, you have committed to listening to this podcast so why don’t we jump in?

Often you are faced with asking the right question of a client, fellow coach, mentor, employee, or even someone in your family.  You can feel frustrated that they misunderstand the question, you might feel nervous about asking the “right thing” in the “right way”, or even knowing what to ask to elicit the information you are seeking.  In this episode I will share ways to minimize these concerns and maximize your ability to create “quite a question”.  One without these challenges. 

Crafting powerful questions can be challenging because of so many factors.  One of the big challenges is that we all communicate in a slightly different way.  We all have our favorite word patterns, short cuts, and terms that we use.  This means that your question has the possibility of being confusing or completely misinterpreted even if it is clear as day in your mind.

Add on to that, most English words are either positively or negatively charged. One study by Garcia, Garas, and Schweitzer notes that while we tend to use more positive words, negative words have more informational value to them.  So as coaches, when we use positive language, we may actually have to use more words to explain our point or to craft our questions.

Another challenge in crafting a quality question is that your experience with the language matters.  If, for instance, English is your second language then you may craft a question or interpret a question differently from someone for whom English is their first language.  If you have ever sat through an English grammar class, you know that the English language is highly nuanced and complex.  When we add in familiarity as a component of question creation it is even more nuanced and complex in nature

As you are listening, you can probably even think about a question that you asked that elicited the listener’s head tilt of confusion.  I know I can!  Maybe you didn’t get the head tilt, but you had to repeat your question multiple times or rephrase it.  This can be frustrating for you and the recipient of the question.  In fact, we get so used to repeating our question, we begin to think it is normal to NEED to do this, but it doesn’t have to be.

Despite these challenges, you CAN craft just the question you hope to garner the results you are seeking and just ask the question ONE time.  How do I know?  Well, think back to a conversation you have had where you realized you had felt the communication was extremely clear.  If you can remember a conversation like that it is highly probable that the question asker was creating quality questions that were asked just once.  What would happen for your efficiency and efficacy if you could craft questions that only required you ask them one time?  You and your client or conversation partner would be more satisfied.

Quite a Question

You want to craft what I like to call “Quite a Question”.  You know that question you hear and you say “well, that is quite a question!”  It means that the person has to think, it is meaningful, and it will really help you both to dig into what is needed to move that conversation forward.

Crafting Quite a Question within the coaching conversation will allow you to be effective and efficient with the time you and your client have together. 

The first step to crafting quite a question is to stop and be quiet for a moment.  It seems counter intuitive, but think about the times when you have been clearest in your communications.  You stopped and thought before you spoke.  In fact, our parents and teachers have been encouraging us since grade school to stop and think before speaking.  This gives your brain time to catch up and form an appropriate, and meaningful response.

As you are silently contemplating how to phrase your questions, the next step is taking place. Step 2 is to figure out what the purpose of the question is.  Do you want to gain facts, create a timeline of events, explore feelings, needs, or requests?  When you know what the purpose of the question is, you are better able to choose the words that will lead to “Quite a Question”.  For example, if you are exploring a client’s feeling about their plan for the week, you might ask a scaling question, “On a scale from 1 to 10 how confident are you about completing your plan this week?” or you could branch out and ask, “When you look at the plan in front of you, how do you feel today knowing what is ahead?” or you could keep it simple and ask, “With your completed plan in front of you, what is your favorite part of the plan?”  Each of these questions explores something a little different, but encourages the client to think about the plan they have created.  Based on their response you can gauge if adjustments need to be made.  If you were simply to ask, “Is there anything else you want to talk about with your plan?” the client would likely say no.

Step 3 is to craft a question that is direct.  You don’t want the client to have to wade through any double meanings, try to figure out what you are really asking or get lost in a compound question that requires more than one answer.  Be simple.  Be direct.  For example if you are meeting with a long-time client you might ask them where they see the coaching partnership going in the next 3 months by simply asking, “In the next three months of our coaching agreement, what do you want to achieve for your health?”  This is much simpler than saying, “We have about three months remaining in our coaching agreement and I’ve been thinking about what we might do and I bet you have as well.  I’m wondering if we could talk about that today?”  One of the benefits of being direct is that the client doesn’t have to guess what you are asking and you can make changes quickly if the question isn’t working as you anticipated.

Step 4 is to keep the language positively focused.  Although our brains can process negative words effectively and efficiently when structured in a specific way, negatively worded questions can lead the client or conversation down a rabbit trail that may even move the client backward instead of forward.  If we want to encourage forward momentum with our clients, we want to shape our question in a way that reminds you of a slide.  The slant of a slide naturally pulls you forward.  It takes a LOT more effort to up the slide than down.  Our questions should naturally and easily guide the client forward.  Positive questions all for this momentum.  For example, if you are exploring a client’s perceived failure on their weekly goal, instead of asking why it didn’t work, you can instead ask, “What changes would make you more successful if you were to try this goal again?”

So far, we have 4 steps.  These are happening fairly simultaneously inside your head where Step 1 is holding space in the silence for you to think.  In step 5, the question finally see the light of day.  Step 5 is to be sure that you make eye contact and your tone of voice matches the question that you are asking.  You might have crafted an Emmy award winning question, but if you fail to look at your client or use the right inflection and tone of voice, the question may be a box office flop.  It is similar to putting the em-PHA-sis on the wrong sy-LAB-ble.  Leaning slightly forward, making eye contact, smiling, a moderate pace and tone can all be signs that you are engaged and confident in the conversation.  This in turn invites the client to feel the same way and be open in their response to your question.

Summary

Although there are many ways to go about crafting “quite a question” questions, these 5 steps will help you refine your personal approach and technique.  As a reminder, you are going to stay silent, get clear on the purpose of your question, make sure the question is direct and positive, and finally deliver the question with intentional eye contact and tone of voice.  

The beauty of refining your approach to crafting “quite a question” questions is that you can practice in everyday conversations.  You don’t have to wait for a coaching conversation or that perfect moment that may not come very often.  Each and every time you craft a question, you can do so with these ideas in mind.  So even though questions may not come naturally to you, it is easy to get practice. 

Conclusions

Hopefully this quick how to craft “quite a question” guide will help you to continually enhance the questions you ask in your coaching conversations.  Not only will your coaching conversations benefit, but your business conversations and personal conversations will also benefit.

It is always a pleasure to hear how these podcasts are influencing your coaching business and process and if you found this episode helpful, I’d love to see your thoughts in the reviews on Apple Podcasts.  I hope your week of full of “quite a question” questions and as always, thank you so much for listening and I’ll see you back here next week for another episode of the Coaching Hive podcast.

~Moira

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