There is a problem that I have struggled with my entire life. I’m the guy that always has to top the other person’s story. I can’t help myself. While the other person is talking, I think about which fantastic story I can pull out that will impress them. Or I cut them off and tell them what to do to solve their problem. I have gotten much better at controlling this urge over the past few years, but recently I have made significant improvements.
After about a ten-year hiatus, I have started doing executive coaching again and have worked on sharpening my questioning and listening skills. I understand that my role as a coach is not to be a “sage on the stage” but to be a “guide on the side.” It is challenging to change the habit of telling into asking. It can be frustrating not to interrupt when you think you know exactly how to fix the problem. With so many distractions, staying focused on the other person is difficult. Being quiet when you’re used to talking is hard. So how did I turn things around? Here are a few of the tools I have been using.
Before I say anything, I ask myself these questions.
- Is what I want to say going to add any real value to this conversation?
- Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?
- Is it my job to fix this problem or help the other person work through it independently?
- Do they want my advice or just to be heard?
- What question can I ask to improve this discussion?
- I wonder what makes them think/feel that way.
- I wonder what made them take or not take action on this issue.
- What outcome are they looking for?
- What can I do to help them get that outcome?
I also understand that to have an effective conversation, I must make the other person the center of my universe for the time we are together. No cell phone, no laptop, reduce all distractions and make that discussion the most important thing right now. When my mind wanders off thinking about what I want to say once they stop talking, I bring it back to them and stay intensely focused on what they are saying.
I think it comes down to three key things.
- Be insatiably curious
- Ask thoughtful questions
- Be an intense listener
Lastly, I remember I don’t have the “right” answer. In most situations, there is no exact right answer. I simply have an opinion. It is a well-reasoned opinion based on years of experience, but it is still just my opinion.
Keeping these things in mind has made me an infinitely more effective executive coach. They’ve also significantly improved my interactions with my team members and in daily life. I have learned that conversation is not a competition. It’s a chance to show the other person that they are important and that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. This shift in my thinking has made a world of difference.
Please visit my site at https://johnspence.com/contact/ if you want to get in contact with me. I’d love to hear from you.