Tag Archives: help

Helpful coaching questions


I recently listened to an excellent conversation between Michael Bungay Stanier and David Stachowiak on the Coaching for Leaders podcast. The theme of the episode was “These coaching questions get results” and, at the end, Michael invited listeners to reflect on how they might use the information. I’m taking him up on the invitation.

As you might know from reading some of my previous posts, I am keenly interested in exploring the ‘helping role’ of educational developers.  Michael talked about coaching as helping people learn versus teaching them. I liked that distinction. I recognize, however, that as an educational developer, I do both; yet, when in ‘coaching’ mode, I need to remind myself where to focus.

Bungay Stanier also talked about the power of questions and the importance of asking good questions (remember to wait, he reminds us). These are some questions I especially liked and will use/continue using:

  • “what is on your mind?”
    • I like this one because it leaves the response open and doesn’t assume the conversation is going to be focussed on topic A/problem B.
  • “and what else?”
    • I like this question because it allows the conversation partners to go deeper, but doesn’t assume a particular direction

And I chuckled when Bungay Stanier said :

A statement that starts with “Have you considered….?” is really just ‘advice disguised as a question’!

Yikes! That is one change I’m going to make!

Finally, he suggested incorporating the following into a coaching conversation:

  • What was most valuable about our conversation?

I haven’t been using that question when I coach/help because I feel some discomfort about doing so (mainly around worrying that I’m looking for compliments). But others have used it ‘on me’ and I’ve typically appreciated the opportunity to reflect on–and solidify–what has been most useful. I’m going to try it out.


Teamwork: Reciprocal helping relationships


“The essence of teamwork is the development and maintenance of reciprocal helping relationships among all the members”*

In my third post on the topic of helping, I consider teamwork as a helping relationship (see here for my first and second posts). Below are  some notes/quotes/ideas on teamwork from Chapter 7 of Schein’s book ““Helping: How to offer, give and receive help”.

Teamwork as perpetual reciprocal helping (title of Chapter 7)

Early on in his book, Schein refers to teamwork as ‘perpetual reciprocal helping’ and the phrase stuck with me because it offered an interesting perspective on this word and concept. Traditional definitions of teamwork, such as the one found at Merriam-Webster online, go something like this: “work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole.” Unlike this definition, Schein’s emphasizes trust and exchange, which I believe are important.


About subordination, Schein notes that teams work best when the higher status person exhibits some humility, and “acknowledges that others are crucial to good outcomes”. Thus, for effective team functioning, the higher status team member should create space for other members to develop identities and roles that feel equitable within the context of that group.  One way of doing this is by taking on the process consultant role and helping members figure out responses to the following issues:

  1. Who am I to be? What is my role in this group?
  2. How much control/influence will I have in this group?
  3. Will my goals/need be met in this group?
  4. What will be the level of intimacy in this group? (p.109)

He rightly notes that members should not strive for equal status and rank within the group. Rather, teammates should strive to be comfortable with the status that corresponds with their role.  The goal is mutual acceptance because that is essential to the development of the trust, which is needed to sustain group performance. “Effective teams do not have to be love-ins, but members must know each other well enough as fellow team members to be able to trust them to play their roles in the accomplishment of the group’s task.” (Schein, 2009, p.111).

The previous quote resonated with me because I used to think that even workload distribution was an essential feature of good teamwork. However, as I think back to my experiences of teamwork and collaboration, clarity of role expectations has been a much more important factor. Effective teamwork happens when people understand, agree upon, and stick to, their roles.  

Clearly, good teamwork needs more than clarity around role expectation; however, this is a piece I plan to pay more attention to  in future collaborations.

*(Schein, 2009, p.107)

Reference: Schein, E. (2009). Helping: How to offer, give and receive help.  San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Photo credit: “Teamwork” by Kim S. Creative Commons Licensed.

Helper roles: Process consultant, expert, doctor


This is a continuation of my thoughts and notes on “helping” in the context of educational development (see here for my first blog post on this topic). I have been reading Schein’s “Helping: How to offer, give and receive help” and am finding it very relevant to my work (and beyond).

 In Chapter 3, Schein describes three helper roles that we can potentially adopt:

  • Expert resource who provides information or services
  • Doctor who diagnoses and prescribes (extension and enlargement of above)
  • Process consultant who focuses on building an equitable relationship and clarifies what kind of help is needed.

Though we often go between all three roles, we should begin any helping relationship in the role of process consultant. By engaging in humble inquiry, the process consultant establishes trust between the client (the word Schein uses for any individual who is receiving help) and herself; this minimizes the imbalance between the two individuals.

Adopting the process consultant role does the following:

  1. Reduces the ignorance inherent in the situation
  2. Minimizes the initial status differential
  3. Identifies what other role(s) may be most suitable for the identified problem.

Fundamental to the process consultant role “is the assumption that clients must be encouraged to remain proactive, in the sense of retaining both the diagnostic and remedial initiative because only they own the problem identified, only they know the true complexity of their situation, and only they know what will work for them in the culture in which they live” (Schein, 2009, p.62)

The above has prompted me to think about the role(s) I adopt in my educational development work. Though I strive to be/stay curious and ask questions, I wonder if I do so to the extent that is necessary to be truly helpful, especially when I am first approached for help.  I will pay more attention to this and to how I switch between roles.


Reference: Schein, E. (2009). Helping: How to offer, give and receive help.  San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.


Photo credit: Eva the Weaver “Help” (Creative Commons Licensed)

Helping: What it means in educational development


This table is taken from Schein, 2009 (p.7).

Educational development: “The profession dedicated to helping colleges and universities function effectively as teaching and learning communities” (from Felten, Kalish, Pingree, & Plank, 2007, p.93)

As an educational developer, helping is important.  Whether I am program planning, consulting, or facilitating, my ultimate aim is to help (to enhance teaching and learning in some way). Schein (2009) notes that there is helpful help and unhelpful help. I know I have done both.

In order to better understand what it means to help, I am reading Schein’s book  “Helping: How to offer, give and receive help”.  Below are some sense-making notes I have taken and quotes I find particularly useful from the first three chapters (future blog posts will explore the other chapters).

Schein begins by describing two cultural principles that are fundamental to understanding the helping relationship:

  • “….all communication between two parties is a reciprocal process that must be, or at least must seem to be, fair and equitable” (p.11)
  • “… all relationships in human cultures are to a large degree based on scripted roles that we learn to play early in life and which become so automatic that we are often not even conscious of them” (p.11-12)

He applies the notions of “social theatrics” and “social economics to describe communication within a cultural context.

According to Schein, “every helping relationship is in a state of imbalance” in the beginning (p.35). That imbalance exists largely because of the unequal power dynamics; the client (the term he uses for anyone seeking or being offered help) is “down” and the helper is “up”. “Being thrust into the role of help is immediately a gain in status and power…” (p.33),  Schein notes. The helping process is often impeded because the people involved fail to recognize the initial imbalance. Consequently, neither the helper or client initially knows what to expect and what to give the relationship.  So that our help may be helpful, we must address and deal with the imbalance.

Doing so, however, can be difficult because the helper and client may fall into traps.

Traps the helper may fall into Traps the client may fall into
  • dispensing wisdom prematurely
  • meeting defensiveness with more pressure
  • accepting the problem and over-reacting to the dependence
  • initial mistrust
  • relief
  • looking for attention, reassurance and/or validation instead of help

A successful helping relationship requires that the helper intervene in ways that “build up the client’s status” (p.47). By addressing the imbalance of power, the helping relationship may further develop and become productive.

Reference: Schein, E. (2009). Helping: How to offer, give and receive help.  San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.