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What are your conversations like?

Our relationships truly are our most important assets… we are all far more productive in the context of a successful relationship than a strained one. And the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives and our leadership. Peter Bregman HBR March 2020

Thinking about the conversations that we have at work and at home.  I love to explore and challenge what was native to me as an emerging leader. Which was ‘Helping’ others by going into solution mode.  I wanted to help them with their problem, fast.  My first mistake was, that I didn’t take more time to learn about the problem to make sure that I had a good handle on the issue.  Our default tends to be – jump into solution mode – ‘Mentoring’ them about what they must do, i.e. telling.

Not only did I jump into solution mode, paying insufficient attention to their problem, (despite great intentions).  I would also delightedly tell them my answer to their problem. This meant that they didn’t have any input into the ‘solution’, and regardless of the best intentions, they would not feel that the solution was theirs.  So, I tended to Tell them, rather than ask about what ideas that they had about it.

Mentoring tends to be helping people find a solution, by advising them, showing our expertise with the problem that they have.

Working with clients, family members, friends indeed our own children.  When asked a question from schoolwork, I tend to pause and ask a clarifying question first.  Then, follow up with questions about what possible solutions do they see?  Guiding them, helping them explore the possible answers.  I suspect that we maybe better with our kids then our partners, peers and team members.

Working with emerging leaders – people new into their roles leading others, we tend to spend a lot of time on developing self-awareness.  In other words, what went wrong and how did others perceive our actions? i.e. Asking about the problem – Counselling.  This can be helpful as they learn to do the same with their direct reports, to investigate the problem together.

If they struggle to define their problem or get perspective on it.  Consulting can help – i.e. telling them about their problem – this can be confronting.  Like when speaking about an issue our spouse or close friend has, that they can’t recognise very well.  It is too close to them, like seeing the forest for the trees.  Or that their top is on inside out. before they leave home in the morning.  Consulting can be powerful way to get someone to ‘wake up’ to it and has be managed carefully in light of fight or flight response. Tone of voice can be important, as can body language.

Working with established leaders and experts, we ask questions about their perspective on problems and opportunities, then spend a greater about of time asking about the solution – Coaching.  So great coaching starts with great Counselling.

However, perhaps great Mentoring starts with Counselling, possibly needing Consulting, before moving to Coaching.  Finally, Mentoring, then asking is the advice is relevant.  Does it resonate, offering a few different ideas, rather than highly prescriptive solutions? That way our Mentees can think about the merits of each, modify and develop the ideas together with their own.  That way, making the solution their own.

Developing my approach in this way, over time, has given me greater humility.  Making me not only a better listener, but better equipped at helping others with their challenges and opportunities. Hope that it might help you with your chats with colleagues and family.  Thinking about where does our conversation start?


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Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash