by Brenda Chand
One of the most refreshing things about coaching is that we are tour guides on the person’s “journey of self-discovery.” The solution to the problem area is actually resolved by the friend or client. You are simply assisting in the discovery that their answers lie within themselves, so you never even have to let your opinions or feelings become involved in the process. By asking the right questions, you steer them in the direction they need to go to reach their goals.
Powerful questions are the key to successful coaching. However, many inexperienced coaches struggle to formulate them. Great questions are like gold: incredibly valuable but very rare. Many of us go through our days asking questions that require very little reflection. People only respond, “Yes,” “No,” or “Fine.” We live at such a fast pace that we don’t want to take time to know more than we have to!
In coaching, however, the ability to ask penetrating questions is essential to uncover hidden desires, clarify goals, and build relationships of trust and respect. Like all skills, learning to ask powerful questions takes time, training, and practice. Instead of asking, “How much weight did you lose this week?” we learn to invite deeper reflection: “Tell me what happened with your weight loss goals for the week.”
Don’t ask closed-ended questions like these:
Have you made any progress this week?
Have you improved your relationship with your coworker this week?
Are there obstacles blocking your goal?
Would you like to give this a try?
Do you need someone to hold you accountable for this decision? Are you willing to take the next step?
Would you like to talk?
Do you have other options?
Do you see this going anywhere?
Is this decision congruent with your values?
Instead, ask open-ended questions:
Tell me about your progress this week.
What steps have you taken to improve your relationship with
your coworker this week?
What obstacles are blocking your goal?
What steps can you take to get started?
Who can hold you accountable for this decision?
What are the next steps you are willing to take?
Say more about that.
What other options can you think of?
Where do you see this going?
How is this decision congruent with your values?
To reiterate, our role as coaches isn’t to tell people how to run their
lives. Our task is to facilitate self-understanding and self-discovery. This is accomplished by asking great questions, listening carefully, asking follow-up questions, and affirming the person’s sense of direction. German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a leader of the resistance against the Nazis in World War II, and he was a gifted leader of his church. He noted, “It is the nature, and the advantage, of strong people that they can bring out the crucial questions and form a clear opinion about them. The weak always have to decide between alternatives that are not their own.” Let’s be strong people, and let’s help the people we coach become stronger.