Today, I want to tell you about this one time I went to the dentist.
The dentist office is playing an elevator music soundtrack, and the receptionist is wearing a necklace made of large Christmas ornaments. It’s May. Ok, whatever.
My dentist is a beautiful woman in her late thirties. She asks how I am doing, and whether I have any plans for the summer. She smiles. She asks me to open my mouth.
I hate dentists. Not like… actual people, but the idea of dentists, and the experience of dentists.
When I was little, I used to say I was allergic to dentists. It was not that far from the truth. I spent many hours in a dentist chair, most of them without anesthetic, because women – even ten year old ones – in Communist Russia were strong, and didn’t need no anesthetic, thank you very much.
My mother once had to rip me off the window sill that I clawed into with all my might, and then feed me Valerian root extract drops (which was the Russian solution to everything) to calm me down before putting me back into the dentist chair. “We are just doing one filling today”, my dentist smiles reassuringly. I am preoccupied with what is about to happen. She picks up a long needle, and plunges it deep into the soft tissue of my cheek. “How are you feeling?”. “Are you comfortable?” “Are you good?” The needle is STILL in my cheek – the anesthetic being released ever so slowly. I am feeling somewhat… ragey. Lady. You stuck a needle into my face, and you currently have both (!) hands down my throat. And now you are expecting me to describe my experience. On the list of all the adjectives I can possibly come up with describe my current experience, “good” is pretty far down the list. “Are you good?” is the wrong question. I make gurgling sounds, and raise my eyebrows meaningfully, to try and express my confusion at her question. Notice that the situation I describe probably calls for close-ended questions. I cannot exactly go into details of my experience, while my mouth is wide open. So… Yes or no. Does this hurt? Do you feel the anesthetic working? Is the pain tolerable? Do you need a break? Blink twice if you want me to stop.
Are you asking yourself and others the right questions?
Because if you are not, you will not get the information you are looking for. Want a few examples of wrong questions in the coaching setting? A client told me once of a personal trainer who opened their session with “So, how did you let yourself go?”. Um yeah. The only appropriate response is: “So, how did you become an asshole?” Try again. Another one: “Why would you want to do THAT?” in response to a new workout program, a new diet, a new supplement that a client wants to try. Notice how “why” at the beginning immediately puts us on the defensive. It’s reminiscent of “why haven’t you done the laundry?”. Here are the questions I use quite a bit (since I don’t have my hands in my clients’ mouths, you will notice these questions ARE open-ended): * How can I be helpful today? * What would that look like? * Can you help me understand a bit more about…. * And let’s say that happened, then what? * Is that a problem? Is that YOUR problem? How do you know? * What happened before x? Can you walk me through your day step by step? * Imagine you and I talk again in a week, and I ask you how you are doing, and you respond with: “Awesome, coach! This week went so well!”. What would need to happen for this scenario to come true? Have you had someone ask you a question that changed everything?