The Grand Coaching Fundamentals

August 9, 2023

There are two fundamental coaching skills that we want our coaches, and eventually everyone in our community to master.

The two fundamental coaching tools in our toolkit are: (1)ย empathetic listening and (2)ย asking open and honest questions

Empathetic Listening

We believe that listening is a core (and often neglected) leadership skill. Through The Grand, this is a skill that you will continue to hone.

Empathetic listening means listening to answer the question: "What's going on for this person?"

Itโ€™s important to clarify that empathetic listening is not feeling the same feelings as someone else โ€” this can lead to taking on other people's distress, a significant cause of burnout. Nor is it comparing the other person's experience to your own.

๐Ÿ‘‚ Empathetic Listening

  • โ€โ€Listen to understand
  • Feel the experience of another (see through their eyes)
  • Opportunity to gain a new perspective

The opposite of empathetic listening is self-focused listening, where we are listening to other people in order to decide what we should do next ourselves. Weโ€™re thinking: What should I say next? What conclusion should I draw? How should I interpret this? What does this person need from me? How do I help them figure this out?

It can be hard to even notice that we are listening in this way, because it is a very normal human reaction. Our brains are designed for pattern matching and problem solving, and we often start unconsciously brewing thoughts like this. It is a behavior that is quite useful in many parts of our lives. But when working with others, especially in a leadership capacity, we believe empathetic listening is more effective.

Asking Open and Honest Questions

An honest question is one you can ask without possibly being able to say to yourself, โ€œI know the right answer to this question, and I sure hope you give it to me.โ€ Itโ€™s not an open and honest question if you:

  • Know the answer to the question
  • Have a preferred answer
  • Are trying to steer the focus person in a particular direction

During your coaching sessions, you will practice asking open and honest questions. This is an art and a science.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

โœŒ๐Ÿฟ Ask Who, What, When, and How Questions.

This helps the focus person explore his/her concern. Try to avoid Why questions because they tend to make the focus person defensive or feel the need to rationalize.

๐Ÿšซ "Why did you make that choice?"

โ€โœ… "How might that choice play out in your life?"

๐Ÿ‘‚๐Ÿฝ Help the person explore his/her concern.

Keep it focused on the person sharing, not you.

๐Ÿšซ โ€Hereโ€™s what I do when that happens. Would that work for you?โ€

โ€โœ… โ€When youโ€™ve experienced this in the past, what strategies have been helpful for you?โ€

๐Ÿƒ๐Ÿพ Watch for tone and pacing.

Watch your tone and body language when asking questions. Even an appropriately phrased question, if not asked from an open and honest spirit, can cause a person to shut down and/or retreat.

Pacing is also important.

๐Ÿšซ Asking several questions too quickly. This can feel aggressive, cutting off the deep reflection that can help the focus person.

โ€โœ… Allow some silence between the last answer and the next question. If you have asked one question and heard an answer, you may feel a need to ask a follow-up question. Then, give the other participants a chance to ask a question.

๐Ÿ—ฃ๏ธ Try not to anticipate or lead to the answer.

๐Ÿšซ โ€Donโ€™t you think itโ€™d be a good idea to involve more people in the project?โ€

โ€โœ… โ€What ideas do you have about getting all this work done?โ€

๐Ÿ—’๏ธ Keep it brief and to the point.

๐Ÿšซ โ€I know you have strong feelings about this, and I remember how weโ€™ve worked on other issues pretty well before. How can we find our way to some common ground on this?โ€

โ€โœ… โ€How can we find our way to some common ground on this?โ€

๐Ÿง˜๐Ÿป Stay with the language the person is using.

๐Ÿšซ โ€Wow. You said you felt unheard, didnโ€™t you also feel disrespected the way they did that?โ€โ€

โœ… โ€How does feeling unheard change things for you?โ€

Examples of Open & Honest Questions:

  • How do past experiences inform your current situation?
  • What image comes to mind as you think about this situation? How are you feeling as you relate to this story?
  • What would the opposite be?
  • How would this be different if...?
  • Will you say more about (a particular word, phrase, image)...
  • Is there another aspect...?
  • What advice might a wise friend give...?
  • What metaphor describes what you are feeling or experiencing? What led you to say what you just said?

It helps to continually remind ourselves that our purpose in this exercise is not to show what good problem-solvers we are, but simply to support another person in listening to his or her inner teacher.


For more information & examples on empathetic listening and open & honest questions, check out Anitaโ€™s article in the First Round Review!