Small changes can have a big impact.
We know this is true with eating, working, exercising, praying, whatever the area of improvement.
It’s also true with conversation.
I recently read part of a book called The Coaching Habit. It’s primarily focused on helping managers and bosses invest in, and improve, their team members through effective coaching.
But the questions the book suggests for short, immediate, focused improvement are very insightful as well as useful regardless with whom you use them.
The starting question the book recommends is: What’s on your mind?
Now, if you’re married to my husband, you might not get much of an answer (he’s not a fan of “penny for your thoughts” type questions). But with a lot of people, it will give you a window into where to start the conversation. You can find out whether they’re focused on a particular project at work, whether they’re concerned about a relationship, or whether there is something in their own behavior that has them concerned.
If you’re like me, sometimes I use those starting off questions, but then immediately offer advice or suggestions.
What if, instead, you continued to press with further questions?
The author recommends following this broad question up with: And what else?
Don’t you love that? Instead of offering up your perspective, you show you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say and you probe deeper into possible issues or areas underlying the “top of mind” concern.
There were several other questions suggested to help focus and tailor the conversation to coach an employee into a productive resolution, but I had two favorites.
How can I help?
This is the far superior alternative to “what do you want from me?” The latter comes off aggressive and as if they are imposing, but by asking how you can help, you show you are genuinely invested in the outcome and want them to succeed.
If you are saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?
This simple question can help your friend/colleague/family/employee know what’s on the line by saying yes to something, or no. Think of the success or opportunity you might miss with a no. Or a commitment or project which could flounder if you said yes.
Now play this out in real life. With your husband. With your friend debating a professional change. With your kids after school. With your staff.
What’s on your mind?
And what else?
What’s the real challenge?
How can I help?
Small changes can have a big impact. When you talk less and ask more, you get to the heart of what’s on someone’s mind, you make sure they feel heard, and you’re better positioned to offer helpful advice when you know more about what’s truly going on.