The Right Way To Problem Solve

Be A Coach

How do we help people solve their problems?  This was the topic of my last post.  The last thing we should do is take over their problem.  It takes away their accountability, deprives them of an opportunity to learn and increases your workload.  None of these is a good outcome.

Coaching is an effective alternative

The alternative is coaching them.  This may sound obvious, but let’s start by defining what coaching is.  The International Coaches Federation describes coaching as

‘Partnering with another person in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.’

It doesn’t talk about telling them what to do.  Instead it describes engaging another person in a thought-provoking process.  Inspiring them to maximize their potential.  This is the essence of coaching, it is all about the other person.  Inspiring and guiding them to maximize their talents.

Key coaching distinctions

The following table illustrates what coaching is and what it is not:

Coaching Is Coaching Is Not
Asking powerful questions Telling others what to do
Being empathetic Sympathizing
Separating facts and assessments Falling for their story
Being curious Giving advice
Supportive Punishing
Exploring new possibilities Teaching
Maintaining accountability Taking over responsibility
Not knowing the answer Relying on our experience


Although many of these distinctions are obvious, I will go into more depth on several key ones.  Asking questions is critical and the best way to do this is developing a set of questions that work for you.  There are many books and articles providing lists of possible questions.  Practice them and figure out what works for you.

Another one is not knowing the answer.  This is difficult, especially when we are trained problem solvers.  We usually have an inkling of what the solution is.  When you coach, try to suspend that and be curious.  What is really going on and what other possible solutions exist?

And finally, coaching is not teaching.  By this I mean teaching in the sense of telling them what to do.  Coaching involves learning, the key is how that learning is generated.

The best way to learn to coach is to practice.  You can start when you are faced with the first request to help solve a problem.  Be the coach they need instead of taking away their accountability.