When we’re in the position of trying to help someone find a solution, we want to set the right parameters before the conversation starts. Since most professionals are just consultants with fancier job titles, having a framework to stick to is essential.
We want our framework to encourage the person across the table to be realistic but not hold back feelings or emotions. We want them to see their role, the roles of others around them, and what’s changeable relative to what’s not. Our job in the conversation is to ring-fence the space and help them safely explore it from multiple perspectives.
With so many important points to keep in mind and communicate, we need a shortcut. Enter executive coach Steve Schlafman and his three rules for coaching conversations. Here’s how he explained them to Ari Lewis on the Mastering The Attention Economy Podcast ep. 43:
1. The conversation is confidential
2. It’s a judgment-free zone
3. It’s about helping the client get where they want to go
These are written to give his personal perspective, but he articulates them time to the client too. With three simple rules, he lets them know they’re in a safe space, that anything they say won’t be judged, and that everything will be done in the name of helping them achieve what they want to achieve. It sets up an area to explore and a North Star for reference.
The act of framing the ground rules and designating the space doesn’t ensure progress, but it does ensure proactive investigation. If our job is to help get them where they want to go, these rules help us to define the process for progress.
Personally, hearing this was a lightbulb moment. I think heading conversations off with a reminder that what we discuss is confidential, that they won’t be judged for any ideas or questions, and that our joint goal is helping them make progress is an excellent way to set the table. I’m already planning to incorporate a version of this more regularly, especially in first meetings.
My version so far looks like this:
1. Our conversation is confidential. What is said here stays here.
2. You will not be judged for anything you say or ask. Blurt it out, anything goes.
3. The goal of this conversation is to move you closer to where you want to go. Everything we do will be in service to that goal.