Director Clarity Learning and Development
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Why coaching questions are a powerful tool during the coronavirus pandemic

The current Covid-19 outbreak is creating a number of challenges and new issues for us to navigate. In order to find the right way forward, we need to step away from our ‘fight or flight’ responses and instead use coaching wisdom to think more clearly about problems.

20th Apr 2020
Director Clarity Learning and Development
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woman talking to coach about her problems
iStock/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Back in 2002, my colleague Sara Thorpe, and I were invited to write The coaching handbook: an action kit for trainers and managers, but little did we know how much the coaching field would expand in the years since then.

In these turbulent times, many of us are feeling anxious and in some cases panicked. Feeling as if we can take a breath in a safe and supportive environment where we are exploring practical steps for ways forward could be just what we need.

There are now a number of accrediting bodies for coaches, multitudes of coach training programmes and thousands of people using coaching skills to support the development of others. It is tempting for me to talk here about how to find a credible and competent coach, but I’m going to leave that to others. In fact, what I’d like to focus on in this article are some of the benefits of coaching during turbulent times – and most of us have never experienced turmoil in ways that we are now, in the midst of the current coronavirus pandemic.

I don’t want to focus on the pandemic and its impact. Instead, what I’d like to consider is how we can use coaching and coaching skills to support others to move from a noisy, panicked, chaotic mind towards a calm, creative and focused one.

What coaching offers

I have experienced many coaching sessions – both as coach and coachee – and I know how challenging it is to understand what coaching can do for you until you’ve actually experienced it. Coaching has offered me:

  • Time away from the pressing daily issues, which has enabled me to take a breath, reflect, gather my thoughts and take a step back.
  • The opportunity to explore what is happening in my world with someone whose only interest has been to help me to move from where I was to where I wanted to be.
  • Space to challenge myself and my thinking so that I was able to access ideas and creativity that I simply didn’t know was there.
  • A clear focus on my agenda and my own unique situation.
  • Heightened clarity, increased confidence and a plan for next steps.

At its very core, a coaching conversation simply consists of questions and answers, with a whole lot of space in between. Of course, there are many techniques, activities and schools of thought around coaching, as with any discipline, and a good training programme will equip you with those. Whatever techniques are used, the power of the process is limitless when used well.

A coaching conversation helps the coachee to settle. An effective coach will build rapport early in the conversation and demonstrate to the coachee that they are the focus and the agenda is theirs. They will help the coachee to feel as if there is all the time in the world and that it is safe to explore uncharted territory.

To be clear, coaching is NOT counselling. It is not therapy. Coaching is future focused. It starts where we are, right now and helps us to decide where we are going to go next.

Asking the right questions

In these turbulent times, many of us are feeling anxious and in some cases panicked. Feeling as if we can take a breath in a safe and supportive environment where we are exploring practical steps for ways forward could be just what we need.

Coaching questions can build our resourcefulness and if we are all doing that, who knows what we can create together during the coming weeks and months.

When we are in our ‘freeze-flee-fight’ response, there are a number of hormones coursing around our bodies that are preparing us to deal with danger. Our higher reasoning is turned off and it is hard to think beyond the moment and our feelings within it. A coaching question can help bring us back and re-engage the logical parts of our brains. (If you want to read more about the stress response there are many articles available, here is just one.

Here are some coaching questions that we can use to self-coach or to help those around us as they navigate through unfamiliar and unknown terrain:

  • What is happening right now?
  • What are your current responses?
  • What actions have you taken already? What were the results?
  • In this current situation, what areas would you like to remain the same?
  • In this current situation, what areas would you like to change?
  • Even though it feels as if everything is different, what can you see that has remained the same (or similar)?
  • When have you experienced major change and uncertainty in the past? How did you move through it to where you are today? What did you learn that might be useful here?
  • What would your ideal outcome be?
  • What actions could you take?
  • What is within your purview or area of responsibility?
  • In the current situation, what can you control?
  • What would you like to do? What will you do?
  • What barriers might you face as you take action? How might you work around these barriers?
  • What is the first thing that you will do? When will you do it?

If you are facilitating a coaching style conversation, whether with yourself or with another person, you may hear ‘I don’t know’ and that’s perfectly fine. At this point it’s helpful to reflect back what you do know.

If you’re self-coaching, you could do this by writing down your answers or even recording them on your phone and playing them back. If you are working with another person, this is the time to use some supportive silence and to play back what you’ve heard the other person say and share some of the thoughts that came up for you as they said it.

All the way through the conversation, it is important to remember to breathe as slowly, calmly and deeply as possible. This will take much needed oxygen to your brain and help you to think more clearly. If you’re working with another person, as you calm your breathing, so will they.

Building trust and community

It is becoming abundantly clear that we need to maintain contact with others even when we can’t be in the same location with them. Some coaching style questions during this contact could be much more helpful to your colleagues and friends than endless discussions about the lack of toilet rolls and cans of beans.

Coaching questions can build our resourcefulness and if we are all doing that, who knows what we can create together during the coming weeks and months.

I wish health and wellbeing for you, your colleagues, friends and family. Let’s keep in touch and use the TrainingZone community to support each other and learn from this experience.

Interested in this topic? Read Panic and the coronavirus pandemic: how L&D can coach leaders to think beneath the surface.

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