How To Work Less & Accomplish More

The book did seem very practical and dense with strategies and tactics. If you could boil all of the strategies and techniques down to a few of the most important points, what would it look like?

I’ll give you my idea on the three most practical tips that come from this. The first is, how to begin a conversation. This is not just in a coaching conversation. You can do this with any conversation. And you don’t have to be a manager to do this either. The first step is, how do you get into a more interesting and deeper conversation quickly? Start by asking this question: What’s on your mind? And what you’ll find is, it cuts through the small talk, it cuts through the preset agendas, it cuts through the meandering, ‘Are we ever going to get to something that’s important and get there really fast?’

The second part is how do you finish a conversation? Typically when we wrap up a conversation we’re rushing off and have another meeting to go to or something else to do. And what can make it more effective is before everyone rushes off, you simply ask what was most useful and valuable about this conversation? What happens then? First of all, the person you’re asking extracts the value from the conversation they might otherwise miss. The second thing is that the person asking the question gets feedback.

And the third habit is to use question number two from the book, which I call the best coaching question in the world. The question is simply, and what else? What’s so powerful about that? What you need to know is the first answer somebody gives you is almost never the answer and it’s rarely the best answer. So if you ask a question and you can resist as soon as you here there answer, leaping into action, solution and offering an opinion, that’s great. What else could you do? What else are you thinking over? What else is on your mind? It will deepen the conversation again more powerfully for them and you actually get to do a little less work.

Where does the value of instant deep conversations in the workplace or management style show up the most?

In my experience, most people and organizations are feeling a little overwhelmed. They’re permanently attached to the gadget and expected to be on-call every waking hour. Very few people are saying, ‘This is awesome, it’s Friday afternoon and I’m just playing Tetris to pass the hours away because I’ve got nothing else to do.’ Everybody’s got a little too much on their plate.

The challenge is there is always more you can do. When most people think about coaching, quite often they say, ‘Coaching takes too long.’ I’ve seen executive coaches take managers into a room and spend an hour in deep conversations and after an hour, they come out and say, ‘I don’t have time for that. I’ve got a team of five or seven, I can’t take the time to have this type of deep, long conversation with everybody once a week, that’s ridiculous.’ And it is ridiculous. But what’s cool is you don’t need that. The power of this is the fundamental belief that if you can’t coach somebody in 10 minutes or less, you don’t have time to coach them. You only have 10 minutes, you can’t spend the first eight minutes chit-chatting away. You have to get to the interesting part of the conversation fast.

What are some challenges you see people running into when using these questions and techniques?

One of the deepest challenges around this is a subtle one. It’s about understanding what power and control looks like and feels like. But here’s the thing. When you offer up people advice–and that’s the default behavior of many managers and leaders–a conversation starts and after a few seconds the manager thinks they know what advice to give and stop listening and just wait for them to be quiet so they can inject the solution. When you’re telling them your advice, you feel in control. You feel like you’re the smart person. You know where the conversation is going. You feel safe. It feels like you’re adding value. The irony is, quite often, when you look at instinct to give advice, yours isn’t being listened to, it isn’t that good, it’s never really going to be implemented and even if it was, it would likely be solving the wrong problem. But it feels nice.

When you ask a question, you step into a place of a lot more ambiguity. As soon as you ask a question, subtly, you’re going, well wait, I’ve waited for half a second and they haven’t answered, maybe it was a terrible question. What answer will they give you? Is it going to be a good answer or a bad answer or an embarrassing answer? What if I can’t handle the answer that comes from them? Where is this conversation going? I’ve lost control of it. And you know what? You have in some ways lost control of it. You’ve given up the power and the autonomy to manage the conversation. You’ve shared it with that other person. Even though asking the questions and staying curious can be a much more powerful way of managing and leadership–not always, but often–it takes a little practice to get used to the discomfort of being in that place of ambiguity. But in some ways, it’s the classic servant leadership, which means you’re doing this for the sake of the people you’re managing and leading.

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