What Happens Before And Beyond Questions
I still have my very first coaching cards. The ones that I visited so often that the corners curled and the pages got coffee stains on them. Those questions were rather magical and we often sat in our class enchanted with those powerful questions as we practiced. It seemed so easy and brilliant that anyone could coach if they had those cards. I learned it and taught it as a question-based model, and many class exercises were based on practicing with those questions.
Then one day in the masterclass with nearly twenty learners doing a live demo as their final exam, it happened. The first student started his coaching session with a real client, "how might you know that this was useful for you as you leave this office?" I had a big encouraging grin, 'brilliant!', I thought. After about twenty minutes, he ended the session with his last line, "what are some next steps you might consider?" And as the client mumbled a few things, I was already getting ready to applaud and even Peter (De Jong) leaned over and whispered, "that was one of the best student sessions I have seen."
Next person up. Setting up the video and checking the sound. Then she began her session. "How might you know that this was useful for you as you...", hm, something is strangely familiar... wait, it's actually exactly the same line the other asked earlier. After a few other similar sounding questions, she ended her session with... yes, you guessed it, exactly the same line as the previous learner: the next steps they might consider. And one after another, all the learners went through their demo starting with "how might you know that this was useful for you" and ending it with "what are some next steps you might consider?" In between those two lines, same questions were recycled in different orders. Clients said that they found it useful, and learners seemed quite happy with passing the exam. End of Day 1.
On our way back to the hotel, Peter asked gently, "so, how do you think it went?" "Well, they memorized their lines alright", I said with a bit of grump. Peter chuckled lightheartedly, "well, you must be a good teacher."
That day still remains to be one of my defining moments of learning to teach Solution-Focused dialogue. I realized that I had to change something dramatically so that I don't get in the way of people learning to listen. Probably getting rid of the question cards might be a good start, I thought. With Peter's ever so gentle reminder that Solution Focused dialogue is not just about questions but more so about how we respond, I started on a quest to look for what works in teaching it.
Coaching, especially Solution Focused coaching, requires one to listen. Listening without rehearsing the next "powerful" question in our mouth. Solution Focused listening with the respectful filter of what she or he cares about in our mind. How do we train our habit of mind to listen differently? How do we teach so that learners don't memorize the lines but remember the intentions behind each line we utter?
In search of getting the students to build their listening muscles, there have been several experiments and collective reflections we've tried along the way. We videotaped the sessions and watched them over and over again to see how learners progressed through their program (how they learn to coach). We asked them to collect what they did in between classes that helped them learn. We invited their feedback on what was useful about what we did in class. Many of our learners' feedback not only informed but transformed the way we teach Solution Focused dialogue, and a simple (and possibly easy) model, Dialogic Orientation Quadrant was born in hopes of assisting us becoming observers of our own good work.