Problem solving the coaching way means asking questions that help the coachee come up with solutions instead of merely making suggestions. Here are some tips for helping your coachees with problem solving: generating options instead of falling into the trap of doing it for them:
1. “What could you do?” Simply asking the person to solve the problem is the place to start in problem solving the coaching way. Most people think they can’t think of a solution until they stop to think.
2. “What have you done so far?” Find out what the person has already tried. Often solutions come from re-looking at what hasn’t worked or has only solved part of the problem.
3. “What has worked for you in similar situations in the past?” This is a great technique—a solution that worked once for this person will likely work again. And since it has worked before, the client will be more willing to risk trying it.
For a simple problem like getting an office organized or time-lining a project, problem solving the coaching way with these types of questions will usually be enough to generate multiple options. For problem solving larger issues (and especially in places the client has been stuck), you may need to go farther. Here are some problem solving techniques to employ when the client’s solution-well has (temporarily) run dry:
1. “What else could you do?” The first time you ask for options, your clients will tell you what they’ve already thought of. Ask again, and they’ll have to dig deeper.
2. “Give me five options.” Challenge the client to come up with a certain number of options. Don’t stop working until you reach the target. My clients and I almost never fail to reach the number of possibilities we are shooting for.
3. “Are you serious about that? What if you were?” Sometimes when you are pushing for options, the client may throw out a semi-humorous idea. If you take that idea seriously, it might contain the seed of an idea. I once had a client who joked, “I could always quit my job!” He was surprised that I took him seriously—but the eventual solution to the problem was a job change that came out of that blow-off comment.
4. “What if money (or time, energy, or any other limitation) wasn’t an issue? Identify the box or limitation the person is thinking within and ask a question that helps them step outside it.
5. “What would be the best possible outcome?” Ask the person to define the ideal future, then work backwards to see how it can be realized in the present. This works well when an individual has come up against a persistent obstacle and gotten discouraged. Reconnecting him or her with the possibility of a great future can help restore the motivation to be proactive and work at change.
Tony Stoltzfus is a best-selling author, leadership coach, master coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. For more information on Tony’s best-selling coaching books go to www.coach22.com.