By Jennifer Turvey, Improvement Practitioner and Coach

Telling is Counterproductive

Coaches support others in coming up with solutions themselves instead of giving them information, telling them what to do, or giving them the answers.

In short, coaches ask instead of tell.

Telling by offering answers and solutions is a natural impulse for humans. And it often doesn’t work well in everyday life.

For coaches, telling is counterproductive because it discourages the problem solver from taking action independently. It reduces their importance and responsibility.

Asking motivates, develops confidence, generates trust, and builds a relationship.

Telling is Counterproductive

“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” – Doug Larson

It’s the Thought That Counts

Humans are used to telling.

At its most extreme, telling can be a habit or even a vice.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who’s delivering a one-sided diatribe without noticing that you’re trying to respond? How about the person who talks about themselves without asking a single question?

In either situation you would be forgiven for giving up on the conversation, getting angry, and walking away. I call that being talked at – it doesn’t create any value and is a waste of time.

But telling is common even in healthier communication. It’s human nature to switch into problem solving mode when an issue arises which needs a solution. In these situations, instead of walking away, we can reach for that timeworn maxim for forgiving human shortcomings – it’s the thought that counts.

It's the Thought That Counts

The Power of Asking

Coaches ask questions. That’s not just because coaching is about helping the other person respond to an issue or problem on their own.

It’s because asking is magical.

Asking questions supports the problem solver with a two way exchange. It indicates the issue belongs to the problem solver and their coach will be with them on the journey to discover a solution.

Asking builds confidence. Asking their opinion in a genuine way, about courses of action, sends the message that you take them seriously and believe in them.

Asking instills responsibility by putting the problem solver in charge of finding the answers and giving them ownership of the ideas they discover.

Asking builds trust. Signifying with questions that you genuinely value their answers. It establishes your authenticity and builds a bond of trust and partnership with the person you are coaching.

The Power of Asking

“Asking questions is one of the best ways to grow as a human being.” – Michael Hyatt

The Problem with Telling

In coaching, it’s easy to see how telling can shut down a conversation. But how does that work?

A few problems with telling:

  • The problem solver is tempted to turn to the coach for answers, which is the opposite of gaining confidence in their own ability to take action
  • Telling sends the message it’s not necessary for the problem solver to discover information and come up with answers on their own
  • Giving answers, information, and advice makes the coaching relationship unequal – turning the coach into an expert instead of a partner and advocate
  • The problem solver loses connection with their ideas and solutions which don’t belong to them – making follow-through more challenging

When another person is struggling and doesn’t have the answer, it can be especially difficult for anyone to resist the urge provide immediate help. By becoming aware of this natural impulse, a person who is new to coaching will step back and learn to ask instead of tell.

The Problem with Telling


Coaches ask instead of tell. Asking motivates, builds confidence, generates trust, and builds a relationship.

“Telling” by offering answers and solutions is a natural impulse for humans.

Most of the time – it doesn’t work!

In coaching, providing answers sends a message that the problem solver can’t or doesn’t need to think for themselves.

By becoming aware of these natural impulses and habits, a person who is new to coaching can learn to ask instead of tell.

Ask Instead of Tell

About Jennifer Turvey

Jenn is completing a one-year professional coaching certification. She currently coaches clients and works as a freelance writer and instructional designer.

She has her Lean and Six Sigma Green Belt and previously worked as an improvement and operational planning practitioner for the State of Colorado.

Jenn studied spiritual and religious experience in her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and is a perpetual student of human development and personal growth.

She enjoys snowshoeing, eating, homebrewing, and drinking a good beer while reading a good book.

Jenn Turvey

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