How can managers keep coaching quick and simple?

There are many clever and complex frameworks for coaching.  A Google search for “Executive Coaching models” yields over 38 million results.  But even the best models can be hard to remember when you’re a busy executive simply trying to take a coaching approach to workplace conversation.

At its barest bones, coaching is about creating momentum towards the future.  The purpose of the past, of all those story details that already happened, is just to get us to today – to this moment in which we’re coaching together.  Momentum is created by deciding – and then doing – what happens NEXT.

A good coaching session is a dialogue that ends with both coach and coachee feeling connected and clear.  Both coach and coachee should leave the session satisfied that they showed both curiosity and courage as speaker and as listener. 
(Connection-Curiosity-Courage-Clarity constitute the 4 pillars of the Dramatic Difference C4 Dialogue Navigator©, our contribution to the world of models and the subject of a later blog). 

But the fact is that a good chat with a friend in a bar can tick the boxes of connection, curiosity, courage and clarity. That might be a good dialogue, but it’s not coaching. So how can we ensure that a good dialogue creates forward momentum – and so becomes coaching?

This was the question I sought to address in designing a Coaching Clinic for a group of team leaders in a major stock exchange. I wanted them to be able easily to access a coaching approach in any conversation. As busy managers, they needed to be able to pivot efficiently and intuitively into coaching, without having to review their notes to remember a model.

So I asked them to pair up as coach and coachee and talk about something the coachee wants to accomplish.

I stopped them at multiple points during the conversation and asked them to think about whether the questions they were asking and answering related to:

  • WHAT (information)
  • SO WHAT (insight) or
  • NOW WHAT (inspiration for action).

The group consensus was that a great deal of time was spent by the coach trying to understand the WHAT. The coachee could get into enormous detail about all the past WHAT to try and bring the coach up to today.

So I challenged them to try something that would make them really uncomfortable. They switched roles and the coach’s opening statement and question was:

“You’re in the situation you’re in. You know how you got here. You know what you want to accomplish. You have all of that information already. So What?”

Despite the blushing and fidgeting, I asked them to leave that question hanging and wait (while giving off vibes of connection, curiosity and courage!) for a response.

The effect was remarkable.  

In response to “So What?” coachees generated “Aha!” moments, “I wish I hadn’t…” moments, “I feel stuck and alone” moments, “I wonder how I could…” moments and more.

“So what?” is rude, people told me.  It’s certainly abrupt.  But used with a genuine spirit of connection and courage, it is the simplest question we can ask to provoke reflection and insight.  If coaching assumes that the coachee has the answers within them (and that is a cardinal rule of most coaching schools), then rapidly getting people out of ‘information’ and into ‘insight’ is critical.  

In many coaching schools we’re encouraged to embrace simple questions. “What else” is a popular one in many curricula.  Too often it’s misused and results in a cascade of information (that the coachee already knows and the coach doesn’t need and may not fully understand).  Coming after “so what?” or “now what?” I think it has a useful place is the coach’s lexicon of simple questions.

If you want to coach someone in your team to deal with a knotty problem, figure out priorities, or address some team dynamics challenges, consider emphasizing insight over information. It’s their brain that needs to do the processing; your job as coach is to prod, provoke and provide support.

We can all remember the everyday construct of What – So What – Now What.  No fancy models needed.  So ask permission to try it with a colleague (permission is a great way of connecting).  Summon your courage to ask, “So what?” and stay silent.  Be curious about how your coachee’s brain wrestles to come up with insights, and what it finds… Then help them find their way to clarity by simply asking, “Now What?”.


International Coaching Week is May 4-10, 2020. Dramatic Difference is delighted to play our part by sharing tools, techniques and ideas.

As workshop leaders, Dramatic Difference offers:

Coaching clinics designed to embed the skills of executive coaching into day-to-day management and leadership.  

We also specialize in teaching the techniques and tools of effective dialogue within a wide range of topics from Inclusive Leadership to Influence & Persuasion to Performance Management. We teach online, as well as in-person. We bring our highly interactive, entertaining and relevant approach to every workshop we deliver. 

Ask us about our unique approaches using theatre-led learning and corporate actors in online learning.

Dramatic Difference coaches work with business leaders and teams as:

  • a thought partner to help find clarity in complexity
  • a support partner so you can safely vent your anxieties and create choices
  • a challenge partner to help you find fresh ideas and courage to seize opportunities…

From programmatic leadership development to Coach-on-Call packages and free sessions for those in dire need, please reach out and we’ll see how we can help. 

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