In the business world, everyone is always encouraging others to find someone whom you can learn from–a mentor, they say–but rarely do people actually go about doing this the right way. Let me share a conversation I had with my project manager to use as an example.
When my project manager, Alex, was in town to work on The PTDC’s upcoming Online Trainer Academy, he told me:
“I’m going to speak with a professor I had years ago next week.”
Alex further shared that all throughout college he would meet biweekly with almost all of his professors for coffee. As you know, all educators in an academic setting hold “office hours” for students to go in and ask questions about the lecture or course material. I never went to any of mine. On the other hand, my project manager visited frequently. “Just to chat,” he told me.
Over time, his relationship with his professors evolved into a solid friendship. Even now he keeps in touch by emailing them to ask how they are. Alex simply saw office hours as an opportunity to learn life skills from accomplished people. All it took was the ability to ask good questions. This is a skill that applies to everything in life, including interacting with your clients.
The First Step is Learning to Listen
Someone once said, “You have two ears and one mouth.” If majority ruled, then by default the ears, which are made for listening, are far more important than your mouth, which is made for speaking. However, most people don’t realize the power of listening and its impact on others.
Julian Treasure is one of my favourite researchers. He’s also given some of popular TED talks of all time. In all of his popular talks, he discusses how to speak or present. What’s interesting is that his least popular TED talk is perhaps his most important and most applicable to us as coaches. In his least popular talk, by contrast, he teaches us how to listen.
Treasure explains that to listen better you can follow the mnemonic, R.A.S.A. Here’s what each letter represents:
- Receive: You must pay attention to the person.
- Appreciate: Show the person that you’re listening by making little noises (“hmm…”, “Okay.”, etc.)
- Summarize: Paraphrase what the person is saying to show that you understand.
- Ask: Ask a question that is related to the conversation at hand.
While a client is speaking, follow R.A.S.A. Once the client has finished speaking, wait for a count of two seconds before responding. This small “break” oftentimes makes things very awkward for the client, making them desperate to fill the silence with more talk. This isn’t malicious, but simply a way to encourage them to open up and provide even more important information to their biggest worries, concerns, and pain points.
The result is that you learn more about their purpose for wanting to exercise and work with you. And you also build trust because they’ve confided in you.
Asking the “right” questions is as much a skill as listening is. It’s probably the most important skill in a coach’s toolbox.
But most of us are losing our ability to ask good questions because answers are just too easy to attain, thanks to Google.
It used to be that if I wanted to know something I would have to travel to a library, or seek out somebody who knew the answer. In order to get the proper answer, I would need to consider how I’m formulating my question so that I knew who to approach or what book to read, and could begin to figure out a plan for finding the information I sought.
With Google’s fancy search algorithms, any piece of knowledge is so easy to come by that we’re not forced to develop our “question-asking muscles.” As long as you type something that’s sort of relevant in the search box, you’ll get your answer one way or another.
That takes less than a minute and your back to shooting pigs with birds on your phone. But you need to be careful because you’re a coach, and great coaches ask great questions.
Bad coaches tell their clients what to do. Great coaches ask the right questions to guide a client to make their own decision on what they will actually do.
Jonathan Goodman is the founder of both the Personal Trainer Development Center (the PTDC) and the Online Trainer Academy. Click the link for an article Jon has written showing you how to start building an online training business.