Romeo and Juliet are lying on the floor, dead. There is a puddle of water and some broken glass. What happened? I use this little riddle in my seminars, encouraging participants to ask open questions to find the solution. Those who don't know it usually offer the wildest theories, but hardly anyone ever asks the most important question: Who are Rome and Juliet?
Better not ask too much ...
It’s quite simple, actually: Romeo and Juliet are goldfish and their bowl has fallen to the ground. But the two names are so inextricably linked to Shakespeare's drama that no one ever figures it out. Would you? And even if the idea did cross someone’s mind, they probably wouldn’t dare to ask. They’d be afraid people might think they were illiterate and didn’t know Shakespeare. So they'd rather not ask and, instead, try to connect the dots on their own. Well, in coaching it doesn’t work like that.
“It’s actually very simple”
Asking questions – worse even: lots of questions – is often considered a no-go. People think it’s intrusive and exposing, and it can be perceived that way. So we'd rather not ask because we want to avoid the embarrassment. Instead, we ponder alone, then act on our personal beliefs. But the consequences can be unpleasant – as I experienced myself, years ago in Switzerland. I was driving to the Zurich airport to return my rental car and board a plane. Navigation systems weren't so reliable back then and I didn’t know the way, so I stopped to ask someone for directions. "It's actually very simple,” he said, “just follow the signs to the highway." So I followed the blue signs – and it took me a whole hour for what would have normally taken ten minutes, because I kept going around in circles. It wasn’t that man's fault, it was my own: I hadn't realized that highway signs in Switzerland are green, not blue like in Austria and Germany. I had taken my experience for granted and hadn't thought of asking. Well, I was lucky not to miss my plane that day. This example can be extended to many areas of life – including coaching. Failing to ask questions (appropriate and respectful ones) can seriously limit your impact.
Don't try to figure things out on your own – ask questions!
To adopt an attitude conducive to coaching, besides trust and rapport you need clarity. You achieve it by asking questions and listening empathetically – not by conjecture and imagination. In coaching, it is almost impossible to ask too many questions. Try not to take anything for granted – and you will soon recognize your own tacit assumptions and projections and see what’s real. Just think of Rome and Juliet every once in a while.