In the coaching class I teach, one of the most common questions students tell me that they most want to work on is the ability to stay present and not provide solutions.
Consulting or Coaching?
The concept here is to move away from being in consultant mode to that of being in coach mode.
In consulting, we are expected to offer solutions and best practices to help others move a project forward or overcome an obstacle. The consultant has skin in the game and is responsible to deliver.
In coaching, we ask thoughtful questions that help the other person find the answers within themselves. We do not attach ourselves to the outcomes or own their solution. We explore the problem together through our questions, active listening, and the ability to evoke awareness in the other person.
The concept of a coaching mindset seems simple enough – don’t try to fix the other person’s problem(s). It is not about the problem, but about the person and how they think, how they view the situation, and what resources and support they believe they have available to them.
Fighting Our Discomfort
The challenge is that we internally fight our own discomfort when someone is struggling with a situation. It often is a blind spot that we don’t realize we have.
Have you ever heard yourself say, “Have you tried this…?” or “What I would do if I were you is…” or “I think your problem is this…and here’s how to solve it.” Or “I bet if you did this, it would make the situation better.”
Our Brain Wants to Problem Solve
Our brain is wired to find the most expeditious solution and it immediately (and unconconsiously) moves into problem-solving mode. In its’ efficiency, the brain doesn’t stop to consider if the person needs or wants our help. It also doesn’t address what other alternatives might be available. It lands on the first solution it finds as it works itself through the problem.
Now, our thinking may be correct. Conversely, it may wrong. More importantly, it may not be warranted or appreciated.
It’s Not About the Nail
A 1-minute video I share with my class is called It’s Not About the Nail. It is a reminder that even though the problem and the solution seemed painfully obvious, it wasn’t what the person needed or wanted to hear in the moment.
Only when the person in the video (who offered the immediate solution then suddently stopped and switched gears) demonstrates that they were listening for understanding did the tension in the conversation ease up.
In a 2017 TED Talk with Sophie Andrews, you'll learn of the value of listening, yes, just listening, as a transformative way to potentially save a life.
Whether you are eager to try coaching or just want to develop better communication skills to enhance relationships in your life, please consider the following tips (if you wish, are interested, and it makes sense to you…not that I’m trying to go into solution-mode here, but it is a blog post to offer tips and resources, after all. )
Five Steps to Avoid Fix-it Mode
- Ask if the other person wants advice or just needs you to listen
- If they want you to just listen, practice active listening which means, you offer eye contact while they are speaking, you avoid distractions (like checking or answering your phone), you offer minimal encouragers (nod, say, “h-mm, yes, right” or whatever comes to mind that demonstrates you’re listening, but not trying to interrupt with a response).
- Don’t interrupt. Let them finish speaking and then rephrase what you heard them say. Do this in your own words and try to dig deep for the meaning behind their words.
- Then, check in to ensure you have understood what they said. Ask, "Do I have this right?"
- Finally, acknowledge them for what they have shared and ask an open-ended question that might enhance their thinking on the subject.
This 5-step process will require you to really listen and it is a communication skill we can all work on improving.
It will take some of your energy and a big dash of discipline to listen even when you feel emotionally triggered or when what they share has your mind racing with comments or opinions that you’d like to offer in response. Avoid this temptation.
Suggested Reading: What to do when someone emotionally triggers you.
Take baby steps.
First, test out these five steps with someone with whom you have an easy time conversing.
Then, work your way up to more challenging relationships.
The more you practice keeping out of fix it mode and are able to stay in active listening mode, the better others will perceive your listening and communication skills.