Questions are an often underutilized tool in a coach’s “toolkit of resources.”
Our research indicates that it is common for coaches to become overly focused on helping the coachee see blind spots or come up with a plan for needed changes.
When this happens, the coach moves into a “directing” or “prescribing” mode and misses the opportunity to use questions to fully engage the coachee.
What every coach needs to remember is that questions are powerful and can help in the following ways:
Gather specific or factual information and details.
Learn more about the other person’s opinion or perspective.
Check for shared understanding and clarity.
Expand the quantity and quality of information to be considered.
Guide and initiate new ideas, creativity, and plans.
When you are planning for, or even in the middle of, a coaching discussion, you have a lot of different things to think about. A simple trick to ensure your questions are effective is to measure them against these three criteria: Timing, Quality, and Quantity.
Use questions when you are at a point in the coaching discussion where you need more information and clarification. We find that this is the most useful time to introduce some thought provoking questions, but don’t forget to use questions when helping the coachee come up with an action plan to move forward with.
Another good time to ask questions is when you need to guide the dialogue when it has gone or is going off track. We’ve all been in situations when it feels like a conversation is going the wrong direction. Don’t let that frustrate or deter you—just artfully ask a question to redirect the discussion. For example, “I agree that this is something we need to address, but for now can you help me understand why …?”
Keep the question simple and straight forward. This will allow the coachee to thoughtfully consider your question vs. trying to understand the question itself. For example, “What will you do to get the plan started?”
Avoid answering your own questions. Let them reflect and respond so you can get a true understanding of their point of view.
Use open-ended questions that prompt balanced and honest dialogue. For example, “From your perspective, how well are you meeting your development goals?”
Be mindful that your questions are asked with a specific purpose or end result in mind and not loaded questions that include your opinion or are manipulative.
Introduce one question at a time. Too often coaches come up with a barrage of questions that can overwhelm the coachee and prevent issues from being fully explored.
Be mindful of when you’ve asked enough. You don’t want the coachee to feel like they are being grilled, but you do want to help them feel like they’ve been heard and that their perspective matters.
Being aware of the timing, quality, and quantity of your coaching questions will enhance the effectiveness of a coaching dialogue.
But remember that the response to the question is really what you are looking for, so give the other person enough time to reflect and formulate a response.
Don’t be afraid of thoughtful silence. You too can pause and formulate a productive question rather than asking for ambiguous question that could derail the coaching dialogue.
While you can and will need to formulate some questions during the coaching conversation based on the information that surfaced and direction of the dialogue, it is always best if you prepare some questions beforehand.
If the coaching is not what we call “on-the-spot” coaching, take a few minutes to think through how the coaching conversation might go and identify a few key questions that will help you coach more effectively.
Investing some time to prepare will certainly payoff when you gain valuable information.
Because each coachee and situation will be different you will need a variety of coaching tools, but don’t forget the power of a great coaching question.
Ms. Mead has experience in operations management, leadership development curriculum design, organization development consulting, and international operations. Stephanie has developed complete leadership development curriculums for some of the world’s leading organizations. Her experience also includes creating specialized learning experiences and blended learning programs aimed at maximizing human and organization performance. Stephanie has also co-authored 4 books with other CMOE consultants.
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