Agile Coaching Sense and Sensibility...

Collaborative Leadership Team’s Dee Rhoda, Certified Scrum Professional, shares her perspectives on asking “does this make sense”?

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone, described a situation or made a statement and then asked; “Does that make sense?”

Not so long ago, I was having a conversation with a colleague about an Agile team that I was coaching.  I was describing my observations and thoughts about the team’s dynamic and why this was causing stress for them.  I then asked my colleague, “Does that make sense?”. I had hoped for insight, inspiration or a “coach the coach” moment.   The response I got was not what I expected.  I received a 10-minute soliloquy on the difference between the questions, “Does that make sense?” vs. “Do youunderstand?”

At first I was put off by this nonsense answer.  What is so important about the two different questions and how was this distinction going to help the team?  Honestly, it took me months to get past my annoyance.  But as I sat down to write this blog – with the intention of lampooning the need for distinction – I realized, there is an important difference for coaches between those two questions.

You may understand what the speaker is saying.  However, is what the speaker is saying making sense to you?  When someone points to the sky and says; “What a beautiful shade of green”.  You understand that the person sees a green sky but, does that make sense to you?  In order to have the person’s statement make sense to you, you need to continue the conversation. Ask more questions and take in the contextual environment to help you understand and be able to effectively coach.

Coaches are challenged on a regular basis with ensuring their clients that they understand and authentically empathize.  Of course, language plays a key role in reinsuring the client that they are being heard.   Therefore, the point is not necessarily proper grammar use or debating semantics.  It is that the coach is present with the client.  Hearing them, understanding them and helping everyone make sense of what is going on – and what is not going on.

When I am coaching, I have started using a technique introduced to me through Lyssa Adkins called level two listening.  It’s a style of listening where the coach does NOT say: “I hear you. I have some things to add about what you just said”.  Instead they say “I hear you.  I accept you.  Hmmm…. I’m curious about what you just said.” In this way, the coach accepts what the person is saying to them and the words the person chooses to use.  (2016 Agile Coaching Institute).  I want to hear the person and know their perspectives.  In this way, I can understand and make sense of the information the person is giving me.

The next time you are asked, “does that make sense?” stop and think. Does it?  If the answer is no, tell them so.  Then ask; “Help me to understand so that it does make sense to me.”  Maybe the sky was a beautiful shade of green because the person who stated this is color blind and this is how it appears to them.  You won’t know until you take the time to listen and understand.