The most powerful questions a coach can ask

Published: March 13, 2019 / One Comment

Coaching Questions

Clients should think, create answers they believe in, and act on their ideas. These penetrating coaching questions will get them to do just that.

Key takeaways

  • The questions coaches ask should cause coachees to think, to create answers they believe in, and to act on their ideas.
  • Questions should explore both greater, life-changing issues as well as the specific goals of the coaching session about to play out.
  • They should help the client pinpoint their unmet needs and their self-sabotaging behaviours, while also acknowledging their achievements.

Questions have the power to change lives. They can jump-start creativity, change our perspective, empower us to believe in ourselves, push us to think things through, or call us to action.

As a coach, your job is not to provide clients with the answers to all their questions, but rather to help them find those answers for themselves. YOU should be the one asking the questions, but the trick is to ask the right questions.

As Jesse Lyn Stoner of the Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership says: “Coaches don’t provide answers, they ask great questions. Good coaching questions help you find your own answers”.

The coach has to ask questions that are penetrating without being threatening, thought-provoking without being leading. The right questions can inspire coachees to think, to create answers they believe in, and to act on their ideas.

Here’s just a few examples of powerful questions, that will help the client to…

Set goals

As a coach, your primary objective is to help the client achieve success. But what is success? You can’t tell the client what success means to them, they need to figure that out for themselves.

Ask them questions that will help them visualise where they want to be. Questions like:

  • What is most important to you in life?
  • What are you most proud of in life?
  • When was the last time you woke up feeling optimistic or excited about the day ahead?
  • Where would you be if all obstacles in your way ceased to exist?
  • Where would you be if you had unlimited resources?
  • Where do you fear ending up if nothing changes?
  • Is there anything you believe in so strongly, you would be willing to sacrifice for it?

Determine obstacles

For both coach and client, setting goals is often the hardest part. Once you’ve figured that out, it’s just a matter of identifying what stands in the way of those goals. As Emma Louise-Elsey from The Coaching Tools Company says: “…lack of clarity is the MAIN reason people don’t complete their actions (and goals!)”. Coaches have to help their clients get specific.

Here are some questions a coach can ask:

  • Are there any steps you could take right away that would significantly improve your situation?
  • Which of your goals require assistance from other people, and which ones depend entirely on you?
  • What obstacles have you faced in the past, and how did you overcome them?
  • What mistakes have you made in the past, and what did you learn from them?
  • What is the biggest issue on your mind today / this week?
  • What are the biggest issues you face on a daily basis?

Of course, a lot of clients may be uncomfortable talking about the things that hold them back. Helping to determine what areas they are avoiding can be a big breakthrough for a coach, but doing so requires careful questioning. Ask questions like:

  • Is there anything you specifically don’t want me to ask you about?
  • What emotions are you feeling right now?
  • How often do you tell people what you really want?

Asking follow-up questions

The follow-up questions are more important than the initial questions; they show the client you are listening, and help you get to the heart of the issue. Examples of effective follow-up questions are:

Initial question: What is the biggest obstacle you are currently facing?
Follow-up question: If that weren’t a problem anymore, what would your biggest obstacle be?

Initial question: What do you want to achieve within the next year?
Follow-up question: Why do you want that?

Of course, “why not?” is one of the most powerful follow-up questions in the coach’s arsenal, the question you ask when a client believes they cannot accomplish a certain task or achieve a certain goal.

Ending a session

The questions you ask at the end of a session give the client something to take home with them, and can help pave the way for the next session. It helps the clients think about the benefits of coaching, to see where they are learning and growing – and what matters to them.

Closing questions can also help coaches understand why people come to coaching in the first place, as themes begin to emerge across clients over the years.

Some questions you could ask:

  • What was the biggest benefit you gained from today’s session?
  • What do you plan to do after today’s session?
  • What is one thing you can do between this session and the next that will improve your situation?

When coaching, finding the right question at the most appropriate time is both a skill, as well as an art. Think you have what it takes to be a great coach? Why not study coaching at SACAP?

The South African College of Applied Psychology offers a range of coaching courses, from a part-time Coach Practitioner Programme to a full-blown Post-graduate Diploma in Coaching Leadership, all of which are International Coach Federation (ICF) accredited and COMENSA aligned. For more information, enquire now.

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  1. Lindie Coetzee

    Can I do my masters in coaching I have a BA, BA honours in psychology and my B- psych. I’m interested in pursuing an M in coaching?

    Reply