Before you leap into results and answers…

Many students and members of the Center for Executive Coaching, and many executive coaches, make a common mistake when they work with clients: They rush too quickly to answers and supposed results.

It is perfectly acceptable, and in fact necessary, to take as much time as you need to assess a situation with a client before jumping into solutions.

Spend a couple of sessions asking questions to understand the client’s situation, style, biases, and ways of processing information. Are they linear thinkers or more holistic? Do they emphasize the bottom line, relationships, status, technology, or tasks? Are they short-term, medium-term, or long-term focused? Take the time you need to understand what makes your client tick.

At the same time, ask the questions you need to ask in order to understand a situation fully — before jumping to conclusions.

One way to do this is through the process of inquiry, or asking a series of open-ended questions. Questions include: How would you describe the problem? What is it costing you and your organization? What have you tried to fix it? What has worked and what hasn’t? What would be an ideal outcome in this situation? What do you think are the root causes?

Even in inquiry, I find that many coaches hide suggestions with questions. For instance, “Have you tried….?” is really a veiled way to get to solutions.

Be patient. Get to know your client and the situation. Let them know you need a bit of time to do your own assessment. In my experience, clients respect coaches more when the coach insists on taking some time for their own analysis — even if the process takes a bit longer. Plus, you get deeper insights and better results.

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