When you coach others to describe a problem or opportunity, ask them to include how they are experiencing the problem personally. When I suggest that, I am assuming you have a cordial relationship with them. If your relationship with them is antagonistic, they may feel threatened by the following approach so it may not work well.
Naturally, you will ask about their view of the causes of the problem. See if they believe they lack anything such as knowledge, skills, resources, contacts, cooperation, etc. They may point out that they lack experience to handle this. Or on the other side, they may assert that they are quite able to handle this if something would stop blocking them. You can ask about the way an organizational or systems problem is hindering them.
Coach them to describe how the problem is impacting them. Keep asking for specifics such as “How are you coping with this? When they answer vaguely, follow up with more questions to get the specifics. Here are some good things to ask about.
Let’s presume the individual tells you that this problem makes them feel overwhelmed a common feeling nowadays in these stressful times. Ask, “What exactly triggers this sense of overwhelm?” Let them talk about the specific things that stress them. Knowing what the triggers are can give a person some ability to avoid the triggers or be prepared to cope with them.
You can help them improve their coping skills by encouraging them to reflect on what is going on inside them too. Ask, “How do you feel about this?” If they say, “frustrated or mad,” etc., draw them out. Make it OK to talk about feelings.
Ask them, “What do you need in this situation?” Do they need objective resources, cooperation, or more personal items such as respect, recognition, appreciation? Draw them out. Get them to reflect more.
Similarly, ask them, “What is important for you in this situation?” Draw out why it matters to them. You can also coach them into greater strategic thinking by asking about their long-range goals, values, and sense of purpose. Then help them notice how this problem is contradicting their values. Encourage them to hold tightly to their appropriate values and persist in solving this problem.
In this way you can get off to a good start at problem solving by first clarifying the personal experience an individual is having with a problem. In all these coaching questions, you are assisting a person to increase their self-awareness which will eventually empower them to increase their self-management skills and cope better.
You can improve your ability to solve problems through our individual and Group Executive Coaching – performance management is an entire Module (http://www.EmotionallyIntelligentLeadership.com ),
and Self-Study Program (http://www.EagleAlliance.com/services/gec/ssinfo ).
Copyright © 2009, by William R. Murray, President of Eagle Alliance Executive Coaching, LLC. Reprint rights granted to all venues so long as this article and by-line are printed intact with all links made live.