COACHING QUESTIONS: POPPING CORN OR PULLING TAFFY?
By Betsy Corley Pickren, M.Ed., Professional Certified Coach
Do you like popcorn? I do. I especially like it with salt at the movie theater. When my husband and I watch a movie at home, we often pull out the Admiral Rickenbacker package.
I’ve been thinking about popcorn as it relates to my role as an Executive Coach. It’s true that I am naturally curious about people. I want to know their stories. When I “officially” started coaching 20 years ago, I fell all over myself like a happy puppy in my excitement about learning as much as I could about a person. Coaching was such fun, and I grabbed it like a hand full of popcorn.
Picture a popcorn machine that has reached the temperature to let popping begin. Now imagine that each kernel has a question attached to it.
The questions might look like this:
Where were you born? What is the name of your cat? How many people report to you?
Who is your best friend at work? How do you like your work environment?
What are your hobbies?
What’s wrong with these questions? Nothing. They just come from a bit of self-absorbed curiosity that’s more about me than about the client’s agenda. I take those opened kernels, string them together, put them on a Christmas Tree and look at my handiwork. It’s glowing with information that the client already knows. Now we both have similar pictures, yet, what have we accomplished together?
I’m not saying that curiosity is a bad trait in a coach – quite the opposite. If we aren’t curious, we’re in the wrong field. I believe that the hardest skill for a coach to master is self-management. We rein in our curiosity and slow it down to help clients dive deep enough to tell their own stories fully. Effective use of curiosity causes the clients to be curious about themselves, so that they fill in the gaps. As a result, we create insights that neither of us saw before we linked arms in our engagement.
Consider the Johari Window. It is not a Japanese word, as some would have you believe. It was named for the two guys from California who created it in 1955, Joe and Harry, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingram. It consists of four windows that we can choose to make bigger or smaller. 1. Information known by others and self (OPEN) 2. Information known by others, not by self (BLIND AREA) 3. Information unknown by others, known by self (HIDDEN AREA) 4. Information unknown by others and unknown by self (UNKNOWN AREA – Place for true discovery)
We are helping our clients broaden the Open/Free area. If they already know and share information, we’re plowing old ground. When we make it safe for them to disclose and expose some hidden parts (not all, for goodness sake!), illuminate blind spots and sink into the fertile ground of discovery, they grow and become more fully alive. Getting out of comfort zones and going for the gold makes the investment in coaching worthwhile.
How do we manage ourselves so that we keep the coachees’ learning foremost in our minds? One trick I use is to picture of a different way of questioning – pulling taffy. While I have never attended a taffy pull party, the image works for me.
PULLING TAFFY – A Coaching Tool
Taffy is made by stretching or pulling a sticky mass of boiled sugar, butter or vegetable oil, flavorings, and colorings until it becomes aerated (meaning that the tiny air bubbles produced result in a light, fluffy and chewy candy)
The final important step in making taffy is pulling it: Stretching it out and folding it in half, then stretching and folding again, over and over, until you may reach the point of exhaustion. As it turns out, pulling taffy aerates it, or incorporates many tiny air bubbles throughout the candy. Aerating makes it lighter and chewier.
Instructions for a Laffy Taffy pull:
Purchase 1 Wonka’s Laffy Taffy for every 2 (children) people. Break them into teams of 2. Each team will tug on opposite ends until the taffy rips. The team with the longest stretched out piece of taffy wins the prize.
Great coaching is just a mass of sticky stuff – at first. Then the coachee begins to take that mass and wrap it in a way that produces bubbles of awareness, acceptance and action.
In our world, the two “pullers” are the coachee and the coach. Instead of rips, we look for breakthroughs. We expect to stretch both of our comfort zones for optimal growth. In this way, we make life and career and relationships lighter, chewier, yummier.
Bubbles?? You might ask? And, if you did ask that, you are right smack in the middle of pulling taffy. The EXACT science of how taffy came about is still a mystery. We do know the ingredients, however.
In the children’s story, The Taffy Pull By Johnny Gruelle, Raggedy Ann makes an important observation while teaching the other dolls about making taffy:
“While waiting for the candy to cool, Raggedy Andy said, “We must rub butter upon our hands before we pull the candy, or else it will stick to our hands as it has done to Henny’s hands and have to wear off!”
As coaches we butter our minds instead of our hands so that we don’t get attached to the thoughts triggered in our heads as they are working out their new viewpoint.
Tips for pulling taffy in coaching.
- Latch on to one word the coachee says and saying it back to them. Example: “bubbles?”
Wait for the deeper explanation of what that word means.
- Ask, “What is important about what you just said…?”
- “What was your feeling or emotion when xxx happened?”
- “What impact is that experience having on you today?”
- “What didn’t you see then that you do see now?”
- “What are you seeing after you received the feedback that you did not see before?”
- “Your face is lighting up. What’s going on?”
- “What have you learned that you did not know before?”
Pulling taffy invites the coachee to pull at the edges of their self-space, enlarge, ponder, imagine, examine, discover, discern, decide, do, be, improve, let go, move toward.
Aerating can introduce the coachee to the Saboteurs** masquerading as helpers, when, in reality, they create barriers to growth. They make us believe the worst about ourselves rather than the best. They show up as Judges and their accomplices such as Pleaser, Avoider, Victim, etc. While they are always a part of us, we are able to turn their volume down while appreciating their part in making us who we are. When they show up, we listen to them as cues to think before we react rather than as the masters of our actions.
The results manifest in our clients as an invigorated interest in being the most excellent version of themselves. Client and coach reach another rung of trusting of the higher and wiser self. We become the beacon of leadership we aspire to be.
** Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential AND HOW YOU CAN ACHIEVE YOURS by Shirzad Chamine