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How To Help People Talk

Sometimes I am certain that leadership is service. That it is about helping people to get the best out of themselves. One way to do that is to help them to talk.


One of the greatest tools a coach has is silence.

Too often in conversations we're not really listening, we are just waiting for our turn to speak, because we want to get our point across.

Coaching conversations don't work like that. They start from the assumption that the coachee has the solution they seek (or the answer they want) within them. So it is the role of the coach to draw that out, not to add more ideas.

The same approach can be taken by managers. It is much more powerful and sustainable to help your staff to solve problems for themselves than for them to rely on you all the time.

It isn't easy though is it? When you know the answer, or you have an opinion on the answer, it is tempting just to explain. But if you do that repeatedly you create a dependence on you for answers that isn't sustainable.

Rather than do that, next time someone comes to you for advice, try asking questions like:

  • What do you think?

  • What have you already tried?

And then follow-up questions like:

  • Are you confident about it?

  • Is there some way you could test it out safely?

  • Who else needs to be consulted?

Finally, encourage them to keep talking with connecting phrases like:

  • Go on...

  • And so...

  • Could you summarise that...

If this is a new approach you might find the person you are working with struggles to answer. That might be simply because they are expecting you to do it for them. In this case you might find they sit in silence, or only half answer the questions.

Which is where you need to use the silence.

It'll feel uncomfortable at first. And you'll notice how unusual it is not to fill a pause in a conversation. But, don't fill it, hold it.

Holding the silence, with a smile or a nod of the head is a wonderful gift to people. It allows them time to order their thoughts and recognise what they really think.

And when they do that, they start to come up with answers all on their own.

Oh, and they'll probably say something like, "thanks for the conversation. You really helped." Even though you said hardly anything at all 😎

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