Self-Coaching: Power of Questioning for Connecting

“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think…true knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing. Socrates

Have you ever experienced the Socratic way of learning–and self-discovery? You begin by asking your inner-self questions to challenge your present thinking and behaving. This produces more self-awareness and understanding of who you are and what you want to become in living a life of making difference. It also can support your teaching and presentation style by challenging learners to think and discover questions that can then make your communication or presentation more relevant to their life.

This method of Socratic questioning illuminates the importance of questioning in self-awareness and clear thinking.  Socrates stated that questioning was the only defensible form of teaching. It illuminates the difference between systematic and fragmented thinking. It teaches us to dig beneath the surface of our ideas and not just memorize stuff for a presentation or interpersonal communication. It teaches us the value of developing questioning minds to cultivate deep learning. The Art of Socratic questioning is intimately connected with learning because  questioning is important to the excellence of thought.

The word “Socratic” adds to the art of questioning because it signals depth and interest in assessing the truth or information about our self and others in the situations they are confronting. Many people are afraid that by asking questions they will look weak, ignorant, or unsure. They like to give the impression that they are decisive and in command of the relevant issues. They fear that asking questions might introduce uncertainty or show them as uninformed or incompetent. They like being perceived as the expert. In fact, asking questions is a sign of strength and intelligence – not a sign of weakness or uncertainty. Great leaders constantly ask questions of themselves and many different people to show they are aware of different points of view and that they do not have all the answers. Some people are in such a hurry to get things done that they do not stop to ask questions because it might slow them down. They risk rushing headlong into making poor decisions and then taking the wrong actions in complex situations.

As politicians, peers, friends, family members, colleagues, or managers how do we avoid making these split second  decisions? One technique is to stop and check assumptions, weigh the alternatives and potential consequences by first asking questions. Start with very basic, broad questions then move to more specific areas to clarify your understanding. Open questions are excellent – they give the other people a chance to weigh-in and open up the discussion, so as to arrive at a better decision. Examples, of open questions are: • What obstacles keep the government from bailing out home owners? •  What are the factors that caused our recent economic melt down? • How can we reduce a further melt down of the economy? • Where does an individual or bank’s authority and responsibility end and government authority through regulation begin to override risky individual choices• Tell me more about your personal experiences in securing a business loan? Questions for a meaningful conversation need not be scripted because as we actively listen and tune-in to responses we can spontaneously formulate more in-depth or probing questions. Be patient in your responses and never interrupt the speaker. The desire to state our ideas, insights, points of view and wisdom is hard to resist. The method of asking questions to deepen our understanding and provides more clarity of the issues before identifying the root issue in making critical decisions and taking action.

Asking questions is a very effective method to build trust and shows your interest in getting other people’s viewpoint of the problem and finding the best alternative for constructive action. A word of caution-questions maybe be perceived as an interrogation and threatening rather than as a friendly way to connect unless you show interest in the responses. Try to pose each question in a calm way so that the learning climate is experienced as positive by all those involved in the discussion. Be especially cognizant of your non-verbal symbols such as, finger pointing or  jab your index finger like the “critical parent”. Try to speak and use positive and welcoming hand jesters, such as open palms.

Try to practice asking more opened questions in conversations will make a person feel understood and indicate that you care what they have to say. Instead of telling someone what you think or immediately providing advise – ask them a question and you will be perceived as caring, open, and engaging person.

Questions help us to teach as well as to learn. If you are open too new thinking and renewal the lesson’s life offers will enhance your ability to develop and grow your decision-making processes and effectiveness. If it is obvious that asking questions is such a powerful way of learning why do we stop and asking questions? For some people the reason is that they think that they have learned all there is to know on a subject–the “know-it-all style or they see it as a WAY OF SUCCEEDING STATUS TO OTHERS THUS TAKING AWAY THEIR INFLUENCE OR CONTROL OF THE SITUATION. Others like to hear themselves talk or thinking leading is dominating the conversation. Some people become bored, lazy or worn down by fighting the same battles for change year in and year out. They want to maintain their comfort level by holding onto old and tried and true “mental maps”, assumptions and solution or ideas which they believe are correct and unchanging. For example, cutting taxes leads to a strong economy. They try old solutions that might or might not fit the new circumstances.This approach leads them to be stuck in the past. And many times they end up failing by trying to maintain the status quo and their comfort level.

Self-Coaching Challenge: This week spend time with your team in reviewing the importance of questioning and practicing it when discussing an important issue. Ask yourself about how this changed the discussion? What went differently? Did asking questions improve your team’s collaborative behavior? Was the outcome of the decision-making process better or about the same before you institutes and rewarded more questioning?  Remember–Being able to ask yourself or your team tough questions and then to forge an answer everyone can live with increases self-awareness, personal growth and team effectiveness.


Self-Coaching: “First Things First” Ideas on Time and Energy management

Part 1–In this post I am presenting an important concept for your Self-Coaching experience– Identifying what are the important but not urgent activities in your life that provide the biggest payoff in managing an a limited resource “time” and how time impacts an important quality of life resource–your daily energy. Time is a fixed amount for all of us–168 hours per week. So energy is our currency for life and without this energy, we can`t perform or enjoy doing much in our life, even as we try to manage extend time. Learn more at: Natural News webpage article on Energy and Life Balance. 

Questions and Reflection: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff that life is made of.” – Benjamin Franklin

“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” Henry David Thoreau


Here are some ideas on time and energy management that I think will help you to see that at its essence  time management means choice, prioritizing, decision making on what’s important to you. It is a critical building block in becoming more emotionally intelligent and increasing self-management expertise for living a more satisfying and meaningful life.

What are the most important things in your life? Do they get as much care, emphasis, and time as you’d like to give them? Far from the traditional “be-more-efficient” time-management book with shortcut techniques, First Things First shows you how to look at your use of time totally differently. Using this book will help you create balance between your personal and professional responsibilities by putting first things first and acting on them. Covey and Merrill try to convey an organizing process that helps you reflect on what is important. You achieve this by structuring and making decisions about what tasks in life are important to focus on to achieve your goals and mission in life. You focus on what is important, not merely what is urgent. First you divide tasks into 4 quadrants:

  1. Important and Urgent (crises, deadline-driven projects, revenue collected policies in force, quotas etc).
  2. Important, Not Urgent (preparation, prevention, planning, relationships like teeth cleaning to prevent cavities; planning the yearly budget and building trusted and long-term relationships. 
  3. Urgent, Not Important (interruptions, many pressing matters like ringing cell phone
  4. Not Urgent, Not Important (trivia, time wasters, like watching TV)

Most people spend most of their time in quadrants 1 and 3, while quadrant 2 is where quality of life and work happens. The authors point out that “Doing more things faster (efficiency) is no substitute for doing the right things (effectivness). They points you toward the real meaningful human needs–“to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy”–and how to balance your time to achieve a meaningful life, not just get things done.

Time management is good. Setting goals is good. But all of these things are only good if your goals are actually meaningful and important for you in living a productive and satisfying life. If you spend all your time creating to-do lists, and carefully plotting out weekly goals … but your goal is to get a “bigger house or a Porsche ” while your children are struggling to find their way at school or life and you’re miserable at work, something is out of sync.

This book is all about making sure that what you do is what you really want to do. It’s about a higher level of time and self-management called living a Meaningful and Constructive life. So they’re not saying the other time management systems are bad. They explicitly say that each has its place in life! However, if you work very hard every day to climb a ladder, and find after many years that the ladder you’ve climbed was against the wrong wall, then you’ll be very disappointed. You should always make sure you are working for a goal that you really feel is important at a basic moral level.

This isn’t a book to just plow through in a few hours or days and see what you remember. It’s asking you to really think about why you do things in life. Is it because your parents harassed you when you were young, and you want to get a flashy car to prove you’re something? Do you try to out-do your co-workers even if it hurts your home life? Sometimes these answers don’t come easily. If they did, I imagine we wouldn’t need a book to help us sort them out.

This is a good book to read slowly and reflect on. I often use this book as a resource when things seem to be getting hectic or out of control. The basic concept is easy enough to understand. Divide your “to do list” based on what category they fall into – Quadrant  1, 2, 3,or 4; then execute against these priorities. 

Sounds easy, yes? But how many of us get sucked into a ton of “urgent” but really not important tasks for all sorts of reasons? It’s the planning – the Quadrant II time – that can help fix those issues. But we have to make time to plan. If your life is full of urgent demands, it may seem impossible to do this. But it can be done.

I know, I know this is a hard idea to wrap your mind around because  we all only have 24 hrs a day. You might say “Well but I have 3 kids at home”. True! So in your life, you made children your priority. You wanted kids! So embrace that, and accept that as your personal mission and long-term commitment. Put aside other less important things like the Porsche car you want. We all make choices in life about what is important to us. When we make those choices, we should accept that, be happy with that, and find ways to emphasize our time in those areas. You have to choose to spend the time on things that are important and you love – not to divide your time up among various things urgent and pressing. 

This is the main lesson in managing time. If you say you do not have time for something; like call your mother  then it is important to realize you are making a decision that she is not part of what you decided is important in life. You have chosen to focus on what is most important – don’t try to do or be all things to all people. That is living your with all urgent and not necessarily important  and meaningful activities. Trust me it doesn’t work and the stress will burn you out.

In Part 2 of this paper I will provide more ideas about the importance of energy vs time management in this hectic world we are all trying to navigate.

Stop Making Bad or Impulsive Decisions: Use the Power of Small Dose Learning


 Often we get stuck when it comes to making decisions. We may make decisions impulsively, don’t gather enough information, data or knowledge, feel over whelmed with too many choices or don’t use a process or structure to make them.

For example, take this client of mine named Ted, an 18-year-old student who has recently made the choice to go to college and major in Forestry. What led him to reach that decision? Dad who is a rancher, a favorite Biology teacher, life experiences, childhood dreams etc. Well it probably was all of that and more, but one thing lacking was a coherent structure or approach to decision-making. Let’s explore, Ted’s case to see how many of us go about making important life decisions just like he did to select like a major in college which leads us to a certain career path and maybe disappointment or success.

Well, Ted spent one month exploring other possibilities—basketball coach, law school and psychologist—and he eventually decided on Forestry as a best fit. He’s always enjoyed the outdoors, camping and hiking were his avocation, climate change was an issue he thought was a field he could make a difference in and he likes the idea of working  with others that have the same values about the importance of nature and the environment. He feels like the lifestyle of a Forester, would provide the freedom from bosses and the authoritarian structure of big corporate organizations and yet would provide a reasonable salary and secure benefits now and in the future. And there was the plus of probably a great lifestyle in a wonderful geographic area, and if he was to marry and have children a wonderful environment to raise them in.

He thought this was pretty good information to base a career decision on.  Yet he had an unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach about this decision. Steve is contemplating a minimum time commitment of 4 years for undergraduate and possibly two more years for graduate school, not to mention tens of thousands of dollars in loans that he would have to payback. He’s placing a huge bet on really limited personal experience. His situation makes  him a prime candidate for a “real-life” sampling through a small-dose learning experiment. Instead he moves to settle this decision by using as most of us do a pro/con decision-making process. The only tools needed are a blank piece of paper and pen or pencil. In one column he lists the positive reasons to go with this decision to become a Forest Ranger. In the other, column he list the negative things pushing for a different decision. Within about four hours of research and one night to sleep on his decision he decides to go for his dream. A high risk decision which puts at risk his future. Continue reading “Stop Making Bad or Impulsive Decisions: Use the Power of Small Dose Learning”

Make Better Choices and then Never…Never…Give-up

Daily Quote: ”

“No matter how far life pushes you down, no matter how much you hurt, you can always bounce back. – Sheryl Swoopes

 Never Never…Give-up”  Steve Jobs

Reflection: In order to live a less stressful and more productive life we need to take control of our negative self-talk by monitoring our thinking and emotions. We can put ourselves more in control of these “inner demons” by eliminating words that trigger negativity. You ask what are these words well the ones I struggle with are  the “shoulds…have to’s… that I tell myself. By being more attuned to these inner triggers you can replace them and focused on things we Want to do…in doing this you are ” playing to win”  in life rather than just “sleep walking” or being “stuck” in your daily routines and activities.  

What is it that motivates or drives us to do what we do? We tend to give more thought to our grocery list or shopping trips to the mall than we do to these important questions—of why we do what we do. Seldom do we reflect on what is the generating force behind our daily living itself—what fuels our movement toward personal development and growth?

Some might think this question is too obvious to be worth asking. Others might think it a silly topic or too deep to worry about. Perhaps it is all three of these things. In any case, it is not an easy topic, but I know of no other one that is more important because we all have to make choices and decisions that shape who we are and our quality of life.  I believe that making choices  is the core driver for creating a meaningful and fulfilling life. It is often said that “where there is a choice, there are consequences.” And yet most of us spend most of our time reacting to what comes at us and very little time trying to understand the consequences of our choices and the why we do what we do.

Take the Values Inventory to identify Priorities for Living a Meaningful and Constructive Life

Identifying Your Personal Values

Your understanding of important priorities and values is critical to Your Development and Personal Commitment as a leader.

  • What are your priority values?
  • What are your reasons for these choices?
  • Are you clear on what’s important in your life?
  • Is it easy or difficult to make based on your values?
  • Are your values aligned with your Personal Vision Quest?

Not everything can be equally important.  Decisions require awareness of priorities for taking action and resolving conflicts. By completing the Values worksheet below, you’ll gain insight into what drives your daily decisions and discover better answers to these crucial questions.

Values and Reflection Exercise : Below identify the top values that drive your daily decisions and interactions with others. Once you have decided on your 8-10 priority values transfer them to your Daily Learning Journal and during the next week refer to these values after and sometimes before you interact with others or have to make decisions in your life. Check to see if you are really living your values. If the answer to these reflections is “yes” great if the answer is “sometimes” or “no” try to identify why your behavior is not aligned with your values when making these daily decisions.

Read, Review and then choose from the list of values below select 8-10 values that are of high importance, medium importance or low importance for living a life based on values.

Remember: To print out the list of values and then select the 8-10 Most Important, 8-10 of Medium importance and 8-10 of Low importance to you. This forces you to better define your priorities for making decisions in your day to day living. Continue reading “Take the Values Inventory to identify Priorities for Living a Meaningful and Constructive Life”