Newton’s Third Law suggests that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Whilst this may apply specifically to the physical world we can see it too in a similar way within coaching conversations and it is something that you need to be aware of.
Push and Pull
When a coach is helping a client, the questions they ask provide a gentle “push” which encourages the client to consider the challenge they are looking to overcome or the thinking that needs further reflection time. The question provides a push and the client pushes back with a considered reply.
When such an answer fails to resolve an issue or provide a robust enough answer the coach may repeat a question or ask another question about the same topic, increasing the “force” being applied to the issue and the client can reply in kind, through deeper exploration of the issue with a fuller, more honest or clearer response. An increased focus through a stronger question is met with an “equally” strong response in return.
Breaking the Law
There is an instance in coaching situations where you see this Law broken: when the coach offers a solution instead of asking a question. Breaking of the Law is achieved with all the more certainty if the coach also happens to be the manager of the person being coached (the client).
How does this supposedly immutable Law get broken? Well, in the thousands of coaching conversations I have been a part of or witnessed on our coach development programmes, instead of a solution (force) being met with an equal an opposite reaction, you see no reaction in the opposite direction at all: you get submission. Well intentioned and even subtle forms of “Have you thought about trying …” are met with the merest hint of reaction in the form of hesitation or perhaps a “Mmmm, I could do that” but that is it.
The solution provided (especially when offered by the Boss) has so much force that it stops deep thinking happening. It has a tendency to be adopted wholesale and uncritically.
Resistance (thinking) stops, the force of the suggestion is too strong. At least it does whilst both parties are still within the coaching situation. I have always wondered if the force of a suggested solution actually dissipates pretty quickly when both parties move out of each others gravitational pull (OK I’ll stop the metaphor now!)?
Be aware of the Force
The point is this: if you can continue to promote thinking, creativity and sustainable learning through effective questions then you have done a good job as a coach. As soon as you weaken that element of a coaching-style conversation by providing a solution into the mix – especially before you have explored fully what the client can generate themselves – you have affected the dynamic interplay between the two of you. Restrain your suggestion-giving for significantly improved coaching results.
Glenn Wallis is an experienced Executive Coach and Coach Developer who will help you improve your own results and those of your organisation. When you are ready to raise your performance to the next level, find out more here