To Tell Or Not To Tell - That Is The Question

  • By John Sharkey
  • 28/04/2016

Telling a colleague how to complete a task can be valuable as a means of helping someone perform to the best of their ability. Everyone knows what is expected; the job will be completed to the standard and timescale required and your colleague will not have to waste their time thinking about what, why, when or how they need to do the task. Everybody wins... or do they? Or has another great learning or development opportunity been sacrificed in the interests of short-term efficiencies?

Sometimes the direct approach to getting the job done is the best method for someone to learn. When time is tight (isn't it always?!), when your colleague's experience is limited (are you sure it is?) and when you know the best way to get the job done (be careful on this one too!), maybe telling them what to do is appropriate. But in my experience, all too often this 'tell' approach is used when a coaching style would be more beneficial for all concerned.

Coaching - how and why

Adopting more of a coaching style would entail using open and probing questions and active listening to elicit learning from your colleague. Engaging your colleague in the problem solving process in this way is much more likely to ensure they remember what they need to do and why they need to do it. It also means they start to learn to think and resolve problems for themselves which enhances learning and will save you time in the long run. Finding a solution for themselves rather than just being given the solution will also be more motivating for your colleague. The Chinese proverb, 'I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand' supports this approach to learning by doing.

A simple and yet really valuable framework for any coaching session is the GROW model, created by Sir John Whitmore in his book Coaching for Performance (1992). The Model is an acronym which highlights four key steps in helping someone learn and improve their performance.

The coach uses questions which get your colleague to consider:

Goals - what do they want to achieve?

Reality - what is the current situation?

Options - what are the alternative courses of action or strategies?

Will - what is to be done, when, by whom and is there the will to do it?

By using the GROW framework of questions, you help your colleague think through the issue facing them and together you develop a plan, even though you have only asked questions and not provided answers.

It is crucial in coaching that your colleague is allowed to experiment and make mistakes. The power of coaching lies in the fact that there are risks and the activity is challenging. If you limit the coaching activity in such a way that the experience is risk free, valuable learning will be lost. For example when asking questions about their options, one might be tempted to ask leading, closed questions to bring them round to your suggested solution; e.g. 'Do you not think doing it this way would be better?'

There needs to be plenty of active listening, hearing, watching and understanding, and you need to be self-aware enough to know which you are doing. However clear you may feel, it is worth reflecting back to your colleague from time to time and summarising points. This will ensure correct understanding and reassure them that they are being fully heard and understood.

Coaching encourages your team members to use their brain to learn and not rely on yours. By doing so you both might learn something new!

Need to improve your coaching skills?

Mercia can help managers develop their management and leadership skills. Courses can also be tailored to your needs and be delivered in-house. For further information you can contact John Sharkey via e-mail or ring 0116 2581200.

You might also be interested in these…