During the early days of my career, I had this habit of solving people’s problems, especially those close to my influence area. This was a habit I developed while growing up, thinking this was the best way to support friends, colleagues, and subordinates who asked for my help.
I always felt that helping people get better at doing their job was a great thing to do until I was proved wrong.
I realized that this habit of mine was making me extremely tired in the long run because I was always racking my brain to come up with solutions and ideas. Besides, I wasn’t creating the best possible space for other people to think effectively about their problems.
One day, one of my colleagues came to discuss an urgent issue.
And for the first time, instead of trying to fix the problem for him, I tried to shut my mouth, put a pause on my judgmental mind, and let him talk without interruption.
I can’t recall the last time when I actually shut my mouth for more than five minutes. As a result, my colleague had a great time sharing his train of thought.
After five minutes of talking, he literally managed to find a workable solution for his problem by himself. I had absolutely no role in that – and we both had a great laugh at that. The conversation worked in a way I never imagined it could.
Later on, I discovered a name for the approach I used – it’s called “extreme listening,” a term coined by educationalist Nancy Kline¹. It works by doing two things:
- It boosts the other person’s feelings of autonomy and competence, which helps them keep their brain in discovery mode.
- It encourages them to step back a little and reflect.
Autonomy & GROW Framework
Even psychologists² have shown that autonomy is one of the most fundamental motivating forces in life. Give someone space and responsibility, and they feel competent and respected – take it away, and their enthusiasm goes on a vacation.
Research³ confirms that this can make all the difference to people’s performance, especially when tackling challenging tasks that require perseverance.
So if we’re trying to equip other people to do their best work, we should try to find a sweet spot between total micromanagement and total delegation.
This is possible when we respect people’s autonomy and ensure that they have the guidance they need to get the job done.
One of the best ways to strike this balance is to ask a simple set of relevant questions that help the other person reach their own insights. They’re based on something known as the “GROW⁴ Framework” – because they walk people through steps called theGoal, Reality, Options, and Way Forward.
This framework was developed in the 1980s by Sir John Whitmore and his colleagues at Performance Consultants International.
An excellent example of using the GROW Framework is to think about how you’d plan a vacation.
First of all, you decide where you’re heading (the goal) — it seems easy but turns out to be the most challenging part of the framework.
After that, establish where you currently are (your current reality).
You then explore various routes (the available options) to your destination.
In the final step, establishing the will, you ensure that you’re committed to making the journey and are prepared for all the possible obstacles that you might encounter on the way.
GROW Framework in Action
Once a colleague of mine came to me with a problem — an all-day seminar she was planning for the coming week. The seminar was supposed to be attended by people belonging to different organizational verticles located at various locations. Several technical people attending the seminar were unhappy about the inclusion of some proposals in the seminar. And she was worried that their concerns would end up derailing the whole thing.
So I reminded myself to take a back seat and started with this goal focussed question —
“What exactly is your vision of the ideal outcome for this seminar?”
From her reaction, it was quite evident that she wasn’t expecting this question. She was looking for some quick advice. And here I was engaging her in a stupid looking conversation. She took some time to relax and started thinking about my question.
After that, I walked her through the four steps of the GROW framework —
G — Goal (aspirations)
R — Reality (current obstacles or situations) — What is the biggest obstacle you are currently facing?
O — Options (strengths, resources) — If someone else came to you with your obstacle, what would you tell them?
W — Way Forward (accountability and course of actions) — Who do you need to include in your journey to that goal?
At the end of this small little deliberate exercise, my colleague came up with solutions I would have never come up with myself.
She decided to take technical people’s legitimate concerns into account.
Besides, inviting them to have an open session at the very beginning of the seminar — where they could raise all their questions as attendees.
When someone mentions that they have something on their mind, we need to display the courage to redefine what it means to be helpful.
Unfortunately, for most of us, the highest form of helpfulness is to step in and offer suggestions.
But when someone is telling us about a problem, and we leap in to offer advice, we leave the other person feeling bombarded rather than reassuring.
If that happens, their brain is likely to register our well-intentioned help as a kind of threat — which makes them less creative in their own thinking about the problem.
The GROW Model is a simple yet powerful framework is to guide your people to do their best.
By doing this, you’ll help them make better decisions, solve problems holding them back, learn a new set of skills, and make progress in their careers.
Originally published on Medium.