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breadcrumb trail

In a recent workshop, one of my creative participants created the verb “breadcrumbing.” I love it! It’s a great description of how we work to get someone to follow our train of thought and come to our conclusion.

When participants practice coaching in workshops, everyone uses a real-life challenge. We all coach each other on something that’s been on our to-do list or New Year’s resolution list for a while.

The coaching discussion goes through several stages. It follows the Discussion Process that I also use for effective communication and conflict workshops. We spend a long time asking questions in the Discover and Share step of the process.

And! – not just any questions. In the Discover and Share stage, we ask big-picture questions about how the person sees and feels about the situation. The first goal of coaching is to raise awareness, and we do that by getting the person being coached to try out different perspectives.

Here are some sample questions for the Discover and Share stage:

  • What obstacles are you facing?
  • What feelings are present?
  • Have you faced a challenge like this before? If so, how did you deal with it?
  • Do you see any patterns here?
  • If circumstances were perfect, what would the situation look like? Is there a way to create those circumstances?

If the person is really stuck, it’s time to get the creative juices flowing. We can ask them to look at their challenge from the eagle, ant, gold, flowing, sparkly, or dirt perspective. Just look around the room you are in and pick something. There aren’t any right answers or wrong questions. We just want to get them thinking creatively.

We do not want to lead them down a specific path. After we hear someone’s challenge, we sometimes feel that we know exactly what he or she needs to do. We aren’t supposed to tell people what to do in a coaching session, so we try and lead them to our solutions. We ask questions that begin with  “Don’t you think it would be a good idea to…” or “Have you thought about…” When I listen in on coaching sessions in workshops, I hear these types of questions a lot.

In one workshop, I stopped the group and reiterated how important it was to ask open-ended questions to help the coachees get unstuck from one single way of looking at the challenge. I told them that when they used leading questions, they were laying down a trail of breadcrumbs for the coachee to follow that led to their own solution. I reminded them that our goal is to let them wander around until they find their own path and solution.

When I checked in on one partnership, my creative participant said, “She was breadcrumbing me.” I knew exactly what she meant. Her partner had a solution to the challenge in mind and was trying to get her to find the same solution by asking leading questions.

It’s difficult not to breadcrumb someone. We have an idea and we want to help. The problem is that our solutions won’t usually work for other people. The solution is custom-designed for us and our lives. More importantly, the person being coached doesn’t feel any ownership of that particular answer.

My sister (who has given me permission to use her story) told me that she was due to see her therapist, but didn’t want to go because she hadn’t done her homework. She was supposed to write a list of something. I asked her why she hadn’t done it, and she said that she didn’t want to. As it turns out, it was the therapist’s solution to my sister’s problem.

“No wonder you haven’t done it!” I exclaimed. “It wasn’t your idea, and it doesn’t solve the problem as you see it.”

“You’re right,” she said. “I don’t see the point is taking time to make the list.”

The people we coach feel the same way. We just need to hang in there and have faith that with a little nudging and some curious questions that they will find the answers that make sense to them.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 (Two-Minute) Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.