My ‘Favourite’ Coaching Questions
I guess all coaches will have their favourite questions, or at least ones they ask more often than others. This could be because of models introduced in training, their coaching experience, or preferably both.
The longer I’ve been a coach the less I’ve relied on using a ‘set of good coaching questions’ and trusted my own instincts to know the best question to ask, at the most appropriate time during the coaching conversation. I also now have a feel for what a great coaching question is. I like Julie Starr’s take on this: a great coaching question is simple, has a purpose and is influencing without being controlling.
Nevertheless, I still find myself asking some questions more than others. I’ve been reflecting on this, as part of my own continuous coaching CPD, and split these ‘favourites’ into 2 different lists:
A) Questions I tend to ask more than others
B) Types of questions I tend to ask more than others
Below are examples of both. As you go through them – see if any of them are on your list. They are in approximate order to where in a coaching session I might use them, but this isn’t set in stone, it’s more about providing context for this blog. I also wouldn’t ask all these questions in the same session, particularly the ‘wrap up’ questions, as they’re all quite similar.
A) Questions I ask more than others
At the start of the coaching session …
- What topic are you bringing to today’s coaching session?
- And how are you defining ‘X’?
- What specifically do you mean by ‘X’?
- What would achieving ‘X’ look / feel / sound like?
During the session …
- What’s the most important/relevant thing you can say about ‘X’?
- What else?
- Given that you came to this session with ‘X’ as your focus area, where are you now with that?
- If you had no fear, what would you do?
During the wrap-up phase …
- What are you taking away from today’s session?
- What new learning or insight have you gained from our session?
- What’s shifted for you as a result of this session?
- How would you summarise what we’ve covered/what you’re taking away today?
- What will you do as a result of today?
As I’m aware that I can favour a particular question at a particular time in the coaching session, I make an effort to momentarily give myself time to think of the purpose of my question, and how well it fits with what the coachee needs right then. If it’s appropriate – I’ll ask it; if not – I’ll think of a better question.
B) Types of questions I ask more than others
E.g. “And how are you defining ‘X’?” or “What specifically do you mean by ‘X’?”
Experience has shown me that coachees need to be really clear about their goal/focus area. It sets a good foundation and saves time later on if you can do this at the start. And let’s face it – the clearer they are about their specific goal, the easier it will be to identify appropriate actions and ways of thinking that will help them achieve it.
I’ve also found coachees benefit from clarification questions that raise their awareness to words/phrases they repeat.
There tends to be an important reason why they’re doing this which usually has relevance to their coaching topic. By feeding back what you’re noticing here, it helps them uncover greater insight into their thinking. For example:
“I notice that you’ve used the phrase ‘It’s complicated’ a few times in our session today. What does this phrase mean for you in the context of this goal?”
And “How does hearing this observation help you?”
Or “How clear are you about what it is that’s complicated?”
Challenge often comes from digging deeper, encouraging the coachee to think about their goal (and relevant areas) at a level they’ve not thought of before. It also comes from raising their awareness to something they’ve not considered, or not realised about themselves.
Asking “What else?” is a good example of providing challenge, especially when it’s repeated following each answer, until you feel you’ve elicited as much as you can from the coachee without losing rapport (and without ‘badgering’ them!!)
I’ve often found that it’s not the 1st answer a coachee provides to the ‘What else?’ question that has the greatest impact on their progress. They benefit from being asked the question several times to encourage deeper thinking, and consideration of new possibilities.
The trick here is knowing what constitutes challenge for a coachee … and each coachee will be different. They will be different from each other, AND they may also respond differently themselves to challenge from one session to the next, depending on how they’re feeling and what personal resources they’re bringing to the session.
The more you coach, the more you’ll develop the skills that help you ‘read’ a coachee and know what will be challenging for them. Active & deep listening is key here, and will help you pick up what’s not being said, as well as what is.
As you can see from the ‘Wrap-up’ questions above, I tend to ask questions which encourage a coachee to consider what’s changed about their thinking in a session. This type of question is not confined to the wrap-up. I like to check progress roughly mid-way through a coaching session with a contracting question, such as the one below.
“Given that your goal/focus at the start of the session was ‘Y’, where are you at with that now?”
Contracting questions help you to check whether the session is still on track for the original goal/focus area, and gives the coachee the opportunity to change tack if it’s more appropriate. Contracting questions also give the coachee the opportunity to summarise their thinking so far, and any resulting learning. These questions often elicit new information, which can be explored further and additional challenge offered, if necessary.
Reflecting on both the individual questions and the types of questions you ask is a useful exercise in reviewing your practice as a coach.
A useful follow-up to this could be …
“So what if anything do I need to change to ensure I’m an effective coach for my coachees?”
Questioning is a key skill in your coaching toolkit, so aim to review your abilities here on a regular basis – either on your own, or via coaching supervision.
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I’m Debbie Inglis, Executive coach, Coach Trainer & Supervision coach, working across the UK and Internationally with leaders and their teams to maximise leadership performance, create more effective, confident, and motivated teams … in a way that brings out the best in them.