As a manager, employee performance and coaching conversations can be scary. In addition to providing constructive criticism and feedback (which is tough enough), you must also be prepared to provide guidance and direction -- your employees expect it.
The fear of not knowing what to say or of giving poor advice can deter many managers away from having coaching conversations. The pressure to have an answer and solution for everything is paralyzing.
I'm here to tell you that you don't have to have all the answers. Sometimes, asking a great followup question can be just as powerful as giving a great response.
Here are three types of questions that every manager should have in their tool belt.
1. Open-ended questions.
As opposed to a close-ended question (one that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no"), an open-ended question elicits a longer, more thoughtful response. Quick examples include, "What's going well?", or "What's not going well?"
Longer responses give managers the ability to look for themes, better understand their employee's viewpoint, and time to collect themselves to craft a response.
Also, it puts the employee in the driver seat of the conversation. Especially in performance-based meetings, it's important for employees to voice their thoughts and feelings and come to their own conclusions. Great managers use questions to lead employees to mutually agreed-upon solutions -- it significantly increases the likelihood of success.
2. Probing questions.
Probing questions help you uncover the root cause of employee issues. They are the grownup version of asking "why" a hundred times. A couple of examples are "To what extent?" and "What do you mean?"
Probing questions force employees to dig deeper, often revealing the true cause of their stress, lack of performance, or thoughts on certain issues. It's easy to take employees' answers at face value and quickly move on to different topics. However, if you can be disciplined, and ask great follow-up probing questions, you'll be in a much better position to give great advice.
3. Hypothetical questions.
Managers are managers for a reason. For the most part, you've proven your capabilities as a decision maker. In coaching conversations, you have to fight the urge to quickly throw out answers based on your own experiences. Don't get me wrong, they are valuable, but they may not be relevant to your employee's situation.
Instead, use hypothetical questions to test their knowledge and understanding. A simple example of a hypothetical question is "Tell me what you would do if "X" happened?"
When you use questions like this to test their knowledge, you learn the limits of their capabilities, for better or worse, and know exactly where they could benefit from advice.
As managers help employees navigate problems through questioning techniques, they teach them how to think rather than what to think. They create problem solvers rather than dependents.
You don't have to have all the answers. Sometimes, you just need to ask a question and sit back and listen. Giving great advice starts with being a great listener. These three question types will help you uncover vital information for employee growth and development, and enhance your competency as a coach.