By Jennifer Turvey,

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, and reduces their agency and responsibility.

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

Telling is Counterproductive

It’s the Thought That Counts

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’d have been forgiven for giving up on the conversation, even getting pissed off, and walking away. I call that being talked at, and it doesn’t create much but frustration.

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

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

The Power of Asking

Instead, of telling, coaches ask questions, and 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, indicating the coach is along for the journey as they address an issue or problem that belongs to them.

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 and buy-in by putting them in charge of finding the answers and giving them ownership of ideas and answers they discover themselves.

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

The Power of Asking

The Problem with Telling

The Problem with Telling

In coaching, it makes sense intuitively that telling can shut down a conversation. But how does that work?

Telling sends the message it’s not necessary for the problem-solver to bother trying to discover information and come up with answers.

Giving answers, information, and advice makes the coaching relationship unequal, turning the coach into an expert instead of a partner and advocate.

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Further, 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.

And they loses connection with ideas and answers that don’t belong to them, making their follow-through challenging.

When another person is struggling and doesn’t have the answer, it can be especially difficult for the coach to resist the urge to try and fix things. By becoming aware of these natural impulses and habits, a person who is new to coaching can learn to ask instead of tell.

Summary

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. And it often doesn’t work well in everyday life. In coaching telling by advising and giving instructions and answers, sends the message the client 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
Jenn Turvey

About Jennifer Turvey

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