3 Tips for “Getting Out of the Habit of Telling” – Lean Talk from the Lean Transformation Summit 2018

If you didn’t get to attend LEI’s annual Lean Transformation Summit in Nashville this past March, if you missed the Lean Talks event, or if you just want a refresher on tips to get out of the habit of telling, check out my 10-minute Lean Talk “Getting out of the Habit of Telling” that was published on the Lean Post today.

As coaches and leaders with the responsibility to develop other peoples’ capability to solve problems and think more deeply for themselves, we are more effective when we show up asking effective questions rather than telling our own opinion. When we offer up our opinion or give a solution, we end up owning the problem!

Of course there are appropriate times and places for being directive and sharing our own thinking, but, as I share in this 10-minute Lean Talk:

“the problem is as leaders, as coaches, and frankly as humans, we are far too much in the habit of telling rather than truly developing people’s capability to solve problems.”

In this Lean Talk, I share three tips that I shared that have been invaluable to me personally to tell less and ask more. There are, of course, many more tips I could share, but these three tips I practice each and every day.

Getting out of the habit of telling is hard!

3 Tips for Getting out of the Habit of Telling

In this blog post, I share a few of the slides that anchored my talk, some additional commentary on each point, and some additional resources from past posts that you might find useful in your own practice.

Tip 1: Take a “clarity pause”

Take a moment to connect with your intention of how you should show up to best support that person. 

Side note, I borrowed the term “clarity pause” from Karen Martin after reading her book “Clarity First” for our interview on this blog. It’s a term that aptly describes this pause to set intention and create mindfulness that I have used as a critical technique to create better coaching habits.


The word intention is very meaningful to me.

I chose the work “intention” to be on my business cards when I moved to Japan in 2015, and later discovered the deeper meaning to the two kanji characters (that you see in these images): heart and direction.



As I wrote at the beginning of this year:

the Japanese the word “intention” comes from the characters meaning “heart”, or WHY it is important inside, and “direction”, HOW you line up your actions with WHAT is important.

Taking a moment to connect with our intention brings mindfulness to our behavior and helps align our actions with our purpose in that moment.

Tip 2: Ask a question before answering a question

If your habit is to immediately answer a question with your own thinking, as it was mine, use this technique to help uncover more of where the question asker’s thinking is at.

Asking a question such as “What is one thought you have about this?” gives you more knowledge as a coach – or even workshop facilitator – of how to best support your learner in that moment.



As my own coach Margie Hagene taught me: if someone is asking a question, more often than not, he or she has already done some thinking about the topic and has something to offer.

At the very least, you gain more information how how best to follow up to support your learner: Are they stuck? What steps have they taken so far? What is driving them to ask the question?

Tip 3: Pay attention to the quality of your questions

Don’t trick yourself into thinking you are asking good humble inquiry questions when in fact you are offering your opinion in disguise as a question.

I refer to these leading or closed ended questions as “wolves dressed up like sheep”. They are your ideas under the guise of a question.


Top Takeaway: focus on WHAT and HOW

If you ask as question that starts with WHAT or HOW, you are more likely to be asking a question of humble inquiry.

There are other humble inquiry question (Who, What, Where, Why) that we can ask, but it can be useful to repeat the mantra of “What / How” to yourself as you get in the habit of asking open-ended coaching questions.


Take a look at the coaching kata questions – they are all WHAT or HOW questions!

Other resources to help you get into the habit of asking, and out of the habit of telling

Check out my post “Resources to help you get out of the habit of telling & create a continuous improvement culture” for links to many other blog posts and articles in a post I wrote 18 months ago.

In her Lean Post article “Confessions of an Aspiring coach” last week, Cheryl Jekiel also referenced several books that I highly recommend as well:

  • The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier
  • Humble Inquiry by Edgar Schein
  • Helping by Edgar Schein

Upcoming learning experiences to practice coaching questions

I’m also leading a few upcoming public enrollment learning experiences in October focused on coaching skills such as asking more effective questions for those of you in Europe.

European Lean Healthcare Transformation Summit – Amsterdam – October 2018

I’ll be in Amsterdam October 8-10 at the European Lean Healthcare Summit in the Netherlands. Mr. Yoshino and I are co-leading a breakout session about asking coaching questions as a fundamental leadership skill. I’m also teaching a pre-summit workshop on Coaching for Development using the Personal Improvement A3 framework. Click here to learn more about the event and to register.

HAN University – Nijmegen – October 2018

Following the Healthcare Summit, I will go to Nijmegen with the HAN University for a special conference on Thursday October 11, 2018,followed by a 1-day workshop on A3 Problem-Solving Thinking and Coaching on Friday October 12. Register via the links above.

What do you think? What practices have been helpful for you?

Check out my Lean Talk and let me know what you think.

What practices have you found helpful in getting out of the habit of telling?

Please share your comments either here or on the Lean Post link to the talk itself.

Be Part of My Chain of Learning

If you enjoyed this post and want to continue your learning journey with me, sign up for my periodic newsletter below where you’ll be the first to know about new articles on leadership, coaching, and continuous improvement, more author interviews and giveaways, and other opportunities to deepen your learning.

If you are already a subscriber, thank you!

Get The Latest Updates

Join my Chain of LearningÂŽ!

Register below for my newsletter and be the first to know about new articles, podcast episodes, and other inspiration to deepen your learning and leadership impact.

Let's grow our Chain of Learning -- together!

Related Posts



Get my free guide 3 Tips to Break The Telling Habit & learn how to ask better questions with intention.

3 Tips to Break the Telling Habit

Take my FREE Change Katalyst™ self-assessment now!

Sign up today to get a free copy of the Take my FREE Change Katalyst™ self-assessment.

Get your own copy of the 4-Box Problem-Solving Tool

Sign up today to get a free copy of the 4-box problem-solving tool.

Download My Plan-Do-Check-Adjust Framework

I want the "Leading to Learn: People Centered Practices to Develop a Culture of Learning" webinar slides!

In addition to the webinar slides, you will also be signed up for Katie’s periodic newsletter, which you can opt out of at any time.

Get the Create a Life Tapestry Art Project Instructions

Enter your email to get access to the life tapestry instructions.

How to Ask Effective Questions

All newsletter subscribers get a copy of Isao Yoshino’s tips on “How to Ask Effective Questions” from our joint session on asking effective questions. Sign up here!

Download Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn Book Sample

Dive into Isao Yoshino’s Letter to the Reader and learn from his first mistake at Toyota. By sharing your information, you will also be subscribed to Katie’s periodic newsletter to be the first to know about new articles, events, and other learning experiences!

Download a PDF of the article "If You Think Lean is Inherently Japanese, Think Again"

Sign up below and receive a PDF of the article I wrote for Planet Lean “If You Think Lean is Inherently Japanese, Think Again”!

Get Personal Improvement A3 Coaching Tips!

Develop your coaching skills to develop others. Download the Personal Improvement A3 Coaching guide!

Start living and leading with intention today!

Do you want improve yourself as a leader, coach or learner? Getting started with an intentional practice of daily reflection can accelerate your learning. Enter your email address below to download the Daily Reflection Template.

Isao Yoshino’s Leadership Credo

Sign up here and get your copy of Isao Yoshino’s leadership credo!

Learning to Lead Leading to Learn Book

Top 10 Toyota Leadership Lessons

Receive a PDF of the first top 10 leadership lessons and insights that I learned from Mr. Isao Yoshino, a leader at Toyota for over 40 years. These lessons and more inspired us to create the bestselling book “Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn.”

Learning to Lead Leading to Learn Book

Access the Book Bonus Resources

Get the downloadable bonus material and additional resources referenced throughout the book. By sharing your information, you will receive access to all the bonus resources — as well as new resources as they become available.