The other day I was chatting with with my friend Tom, who like me happens to be a coach. At one point he asked my opinion about something with the oh-so temptingly innocent, ‘What do you think?’

I hesitated, having learned over the years that an opinion may not be what someone is really looking for when they ask a question like this.

So for example, if someone asks, ‘How do I get to the local post office from here?’ they are asking for a factual response. When someone asks, ‘does my bum look big in this?’ well even instinctively we know this is a very different kind of question!

On this occasion my friend was not asking a ‘directions to the post office’ type question and I thought (at least twice) before answering it but in the end I did share my opinion.

I shared, knowing the answer may not be what he wanted to hear and after a rather pregnant pause there followed a somewhat frosty response.

We talked a bit more and I was able to gently remind him that he had asked for my opinion and of course if he’d asked for some coaching, it would have been a completely different conversation. He asked in what way it would have been different, and with that we moved into a coaching interaction.

A coaching conversation (with a skilled coach) can seem much the same as an everyday chat, the difference is that you are likely to leave the chat with a degree of clarity you didn’t have before.

When Tom and I moved into a coaching conversation he fairly quickly found his own answers, and when he did, he accepted them immediately, and without any without hesitation or resistance, and with a clear sense of knowing what was right for him in that moment.

In fact, while Tom’s answers were a bit different from mine, they weren’t that different. The real difference was in his clarity of thinking, and his relationship to his own personal truth, and in that sense our answers were worlds apart.

For me it was a funny and humbling reminder of just how tempting it can be to offer our opinion when we are asked, or even when we’re not! And how it is often more helpful for someone to find their own answers – even if it is with the help of a friend, who also just happens to be a coach.