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Coaching Skills: The Art of Questioning

This lesson is a part of an audio course Coaching Skills for Managers by Karina Margole

Another fundamental coaching skill is asking questions. And, like the listening skill before, it's easy to think that asking questions is simple. After all, we do it every day. However, for questions to help get a person moving forward towards their goals, there are some nuances that need to be thought about.

First, let's talk about some of the different types of questions that can be used during coaching.

Information gathering question. These questions are there to help you understand what is happening for the person you are coaching. They allow the person being coached to explain the situation and give you the context to what is happening. Examples – what happened? What did you do?

Clarifying questions. These questions are there to help you and, sometimes the coachee, to clarify particular details. For example – what do you mean when you say X? These questions are useful to both you and the coachee as it can help the coachee really understand themselves and the problems they are faced with.

Forward moving questions. These questions can help the person get unstuck from their present situation and thinking and help them move forward. For example, what is the next step you can take in order to solve your problem?

Powerful questions. These questions can create real breakthroughs for your client. They can help shift a client's perspective and really unlock their thinking. For example – How could you work on achieving your career ambitions and spend more time with your family?

When having a coaching conversation, you will tend to ask more Information gathering and clarifying questions in the beginning and more powerful and forward-moving questions towards the end.

There are also helpful and unhelpful questions. Questions that allow the person to delve deeper into their thinking are helpful. And so are ones that move a person forward. Unhelpful questions are closed questions that don't allow the person to expand. questions that narrow down choices should be avoided. "Are you going to have a personal conversation, or are you going to send an email?". In this case, it's much better to ask, "What are you going to do" or "How are you going to have that conversation." This gives the person a sense of choice and ownership over their actions. And they can also come up with a solution that you might not have thought of or presented them with. As mentioned in a previous lesson, a person is much more likely to follow through on an action if they are the ones who came up with it.

Another unhelpful question is "Why?". We are very used to asking why, but within a coaching context, and, arguably, in life in general, it's actually not a very useful question. It puts the person on the defensive, and it asks the person to dive into the past. Both of those things aren't helpful, as we want the person to be open and honest, not being defensive. And within a coaching context, we want the person to move forward, not dwell on past mistakes.

When thinking about a question to ask the person you are coaching, keep the following tips in mind.

  • Ask only one question at a time.

  • Give the person the time to answer the question, even if they are silent for a long time. That is usually when the deepest thinking is happening.

  • Keep your questions short and simple.

  • Make sure the question you are asking is for the benefit of the person being coached, not for your own curiosity.

  • Avoid giving your own opinion masked as a question. "Do you really think you should do it this way?"

In this lesson, we have talked about the art of asking questions. We covered some main types of questions as well as what are helpful and unhelpful questions. In the next lesson, we'll talk about the self-awareness and self-management you need in order to do coaching well.

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Written by

Karina Margole