As an agile project leader, a big part of Mark Grassman’s job is coaching. A big part of coaching (as opposed to managing) is helping individuals and teams change, and change starts with feedback. But sometimes when I give feedback says Mark Grassman that does not validate what someone wants to do or, even worse, straight-up shoots it down as they fight the feedback. The person is looking for validation, but when you’re trying to improve, you don’t need validation. You need truth. Mark Grassman says “My job as a coach is to speak the truth.”
To initiate change you have to admit that what you are doing is not working. This can be challenging when our convictions are strong. As powerful as the ego is, it is also easily bruised and skilled at protecting itself. So rather than challenge the ego head-on, inspect what you’re getting from what you’re doing. Mark says we must always try what works best for us. When someone is explaining their situation and asks for your opinion, Mark Grassman argues, “I suggest you first consider asking, “How’s that working for you?” I have found that this simple question is a powerful tool for unfreezing current behaviors and safely inviting alternative actions.”
It’s an invitation to curiosity. Asking how something is working is an invitation to engage in a deeper conversation. If I just provide a quick response with my opinion on the situation, the other person might simply accept my response as somehow being authoritative, right or wrong, which might end the discussion. Mark Grassman believes that inviting important information with this question promotes a deeper conversation.
It’s empirically focused. This question tests feelings, thoughts, and biases against cold, hard reality. You’re not asking what they imagine or what they think. You’re asking about their observation and awareness of what’s really happening. Reality can be cruel, so it is not unusual to want to ignore it, but it is what it is. Deal with it according to Mark.
Mark says that the task of a team leader is non-judgmental. Asking how its working asks them to self-evaluate. You don’t have to judge anything. It does, however, force intellectual honesty. Mark Grassman once they examine their own situation and collect factual data, they are likely to reach that uncomfortable moment of truth. They are forced to decide whether to accept what is or continue to deny it. By itself, the question does not provide the solution, but at least you know the answer is not to continue doing the same thing as before.