Ask, Don’t Tell – Coaching through Facilitation

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How many times has somebody come to you with a problem at work, and you just tell them the answer? Win-Win! Right? … Until they come back tomorrow. And the next day. Again and again until all you do is solve their problems. History has taught us that one of the main responsibilities of a manager is to answer employees’ questions. Of course, this seems like a noble gesture. And it could be necessary when employees don’t have the needed information. But in reality, true empowerment comes from helping employees learn where to find or figure out what they need. And that comes from facilitation. When you provide a quick answer, you solve one problem. When you facilitate a discovery process, you create problem solvers!

Imagine this scenario:

You are the customer service manager for a parts store. Your team has the responsibility of taking customer orders and making sure the parts get ordered correctly and shipped out to where they need to be. You just hired a new customer service representative. During training, every time this person comes across a part number he does not know, he asks you (his manager) for the information. And when this happens, you dutifully reply with the correct code.

Facilitation: Asking the right questions to help employees answer their own questions.


What would happen if each representative had a laminated copy of part numbers given to them when they start? Would that make it easier for the reps to answer their own questions? Then, reps could answer their own questions, leading to greater efficiency, better customer service, and fewer interruptions. When asked for a code, you could ask the employee if they had their part number sheet. Eventually, they stop asking and believe they have what is needed to complete the order…without your help. Problem solved! While this is just a small example, this one action could save countless hours over the years.

What is facilitation?

The skill of facilitation uses a Socratic approach to problem-solving. This method engages the employee in critical thinking through a series of open and closed questions. The result is the employee solving his or her problem with guidance from the manager or trainer.

There are all different types of questions and opening statements that can be used in facilitation.

Some of these types include:

  • Clarifying: “So what you’re saying is…” or “Help me understand…”
  • Probing: “What would happen if…” or “Do you agree or disagree with…”
  • Perspective: “Is that the only way to look at this?” or “What is your reaction to…”
  • Consequences: “What would the result be?”

The facilitative line of questioning and opening statements leads to other questions. This method takes the conversation to conclusion using logic and deduction. The discussion can take many forms and proceeds down a funnel from the larger initial problem to a rational conclusion. In the end, the employee or trainee discovers his or her own solution. You can use this same process with groups.

Facilitation isn’t easy at first. It requires practice and tenacity to become natural. Once employees understand the method, they become willing participants and can develop their own skill to use with others. Although answering questions and solving problems can seem more efficient and satisfying, facilitation is directed toward empowerment and is ultimately more considerate.

Updated January 10, 2021

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