Let Them Think Out Loud

Posted 07.25.2013

A few days ago, I got a call from a coaching colleague who was looking for some advice. He’s been working with the top executives of a company and has developed strong relationships with each of them. The challenge is that those executives are sorting through some disagreements with each other and each of them is confiding their points of view in my friend, the coach.

Understandably, he was growing concerned about being in the middle of a multi-party dispute. He asked me what I would do. Instead of answering, I asked him what he thought was important in this situation. He was very clear about that. I then asked him what he wanted for himself and the people involved. He was very clear that he wanted the best for everyone. Then I asked what he thought he should do. He immediately said he should talk to each of the individuals to let them know that he was getting perspectives from their colleagues as well but that all of those conversations were solely between him and the executive he was talking to. His job was to be a sounding board.

At different points in our conversation, I repeated back to my friend what I heard him saying to confirm clarity before we moved on to the next question. The entire conversation took about 10 minutes.

Yesterday, he sent me an email to let me know he had had the conversations, that they went well and that each of the execs expressed their appreciation for his support and transparent approach. He signed off by thanking me for my advice. I wrote back that all I had done was told him what I heard him saying. In response, he more or less said, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

Most of the time, your people know what to do even if they don’t realize they know. (TWEET THIS)  Most of the time, you don’t need to give them an answer, you just need to give them an opportunity to listen to themselves think out loud.

What kinds of questions would you ask to encourage a team member to answer their questions through thinking out loud?