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Andy Murray wins the match
Andy Murray wins the match

So shouted Andy Murray to himself last night as he prevailed in a tough five-setter at Wimbledon.

‘Tis a funny old thing focus; hard to gain in the first palce and hard to keep once we’ve found it.

During my talk at the Training Journal conference last week I ran an exercise I like to use around finding focus using ball catching as a metaphor.

We might conclude that keeping your eye on the ball would be a useful quality to bring to the task of ball catching. Let’s consider four ways I might try to help you do that.

1.    “Watch the ball!”
2.    “Are you watching the ball?”
3.    “Why aren’t you watching the ball?”
4.    “What do you notice about the ball as it comes towards you?

Find the right focus and performance takes care of itself
Find the right focus and performance takes care of itself

Let’s consider the impact of these. 1 is a command. It does not actually give you anything to try in an effort to focus on the ball and if you don’t like me or feel under pressure, you’ll probably elect to look at something else. 2 is a closed question. You will probably answer, yes, but I won’t know if you were truly watching the ball or not. 3 is an interrogative question and likely to be met with a defensive, justifying response. Only 4 is a focus generating, coaching question because you cannot answer it without paying attention to the ball.

Now imagine I was coaching you on something complex like selling. We might conclude that asking your customers open questions would be a useful quality to bring to the task. Again, here are four ways I could try to help.

1.    “Use open questions!”
2.    “Are you using open questions?”
3.    “Why aren’t you using open questions?”
4.    “How would you rate the quality of the open questions that you ask?”

Contrast approaches 1 and 4. 1 will create anxiety and tension or fatigue and resentment. 4 will have me thinking about the questions I’m asking and deciding on what basis I would rate their quality. I really have to think about my questions to do this and so I’m going to be learning about questions to a much higher degree than normal and in my own unique way. Powerful stuff.

Which approach will promote best focus on the qualities you’re seeking to develop? In the same way that the ball can teach us how to catch, our customers can teach us all we need to know about selling our products and services. Similarly, our staff can teach us all we need to know about how to get the best from them. We just need to become keen and attentive students. We need, in other words, to focus on the right things. Using coaching questions creates focus infinitely better than commands and instructions, we’ve just become used to a command and control world. Time to develop some new habits I think, Andy Murray included.

For more on using coaching questions to create focus go to

Matt Somers

Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

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