When I’m conducting coaching workshops for leaders, one of my favorite exercises is to ask a participant to share a concern she has with the rest of the participants. The other participants are invited to give advice to the “coachee” and each piece of advice is recorded. I then ask the group to rate each one on a scale of 1-10, 1 meaning the advice is terrible and 10 meaning it’s really great. Once the group decides which piece of advice is a 10, I ask the “coachee” to rate on a scale of 1-10 how committed he is to following the advice. What happens next is fascinating because the person will often say they only have a low to moderate level of commitment to following this excellent advice!
How could this be? Often, the person has already tried the suggestion that was made, or maybe they know of certain circumstances in their case that make the suggestion less useful than it first appears. Participants giving advice don’t have all the information.
It’s only an exercise, yet how often does exactly the same thing happen in offices all over the country? Someone comes to his boss (who is already very busy) with a problem. The boss’s problem solving instincts and experience kick in and she offers a solution. Problem solved!
But here’s the interesting thing. When we repeat the exercise a second time and the participants ask the “coachee” questions instead of giving advice, a lot more information comes out. After this give and take, the “coachee” is invited to pick a solution he wants to try. The “coachee” often picks a solution that was initially rated in the lower than the best solution (say a 6 or 7) but when she rate the likelihood she will follow through on a solution, the rating goes up to a 9 or 10.
An easy way to think about this is using the following formula developed by John Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett in their book, The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow:
Quality x Commitment = Behavior
In our first example, the quality of the solution was a 10 but let’s say the level of commitment was a 4. The total behavior (likelihood of follow through) score is a 40—not too bad but not great either. In the second example when the participants asked questions rather than giving advice, the quality of the solution is lower (7) but the commitment to acting on it is much higher (10) so the behavior score is a 70—and the person is much more likely to follow through.
Recent research on brain science shows that people actually get a hit of dopamine, a powerful chemical messenger that produces pleasurable sensations, every time they are right about something. That makes the temptation to give advice much stronger. Yet developing people, encouraging employees to think for themselves and to take responsibility requires asking questions that help them think through their own solutions to problems.
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