In an effort to maintain friendships and connections I’ve built throughout the years, I intentionally check-in with my friends and former colleagues by sending a quick, simple, “how are you?” text to 2-3 different people every week. The goal is to let them know I am thinking of them and to keep connections strong. I know I appreciate it when people check-in on me, so it’s important for me to pay it forward. 

So, last week, my friend responded to my “how are you?” text sharing some struggles and anxieties she’s experiencing as a current leader in an elementary building. My question to you: when people share something they are struggling with or feeling anxious about, how do you respond? Prior to being an instructional coach, I probably would have responded with some advice. I would have immediately jumped in and shared some strategies my friend can do to make her situation better. It’s the “fixer” nature of many of us.

After going through coaching training with Jim Knight, reading Better Conversations by Jim Knight, and reading The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier, I have learned how to tame that little “advice monster” that urges me to immediately give advice when someone shares a situation. It’s important to pause and control the urge to tell someone what they should do in a situation in order to build the other person’s autonomy, confidence, and self-efficacy. Also, when we tame our “advice monster,” we honor the expertise of the other person and create a situation where they feel empowered to make their own decisions. The best part? Controlling your “advice monster” is relatively simple (didn’t say easy…). It requires you to pause and ask questions first instead of jumping in with your solutions.

According to Michael Bungay Stanier (2016) in The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, tame your “advice monster” by remaining curious and asking these questions:

  • What is the real challenge here for you?
  • And what else?
  • How can I help?

When you ask someone to identify the “real challenge for them,” they have to evaluate the situation and decide what is truly the most challenging for them. The key here is “for them.” This is why it’s important to remain curious because after listening to their situation, you could offer them advice on an aspect that you feel is most challenging, but it might not be the most challenging for them. The second question, “and what else,” gives the other person time to deepen their thoughts. Finally, ending the conversation asking how you can help gives you as the support person clarity on your role in the situation.

You can empower people through asking these questions because the questions help the person find an answer that works best for them while acknowledging their expertise and competence. Although the questions are simple in nature, it can be difficult to tame your “advice monster” because providing advice is a habitual practice. So, I challenge you this week when someone pops into your office or sends you an email to share something they are struggling with, pause, remain curious, and use the three questions above. Let us know how the conversation goes through email, in the comment section, or on social.

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