Using powerful questions – A coach’s super-power.
One of the most important parts of a coach’s toolkit, is the ability to ask the right question at the right time. Questions are one of the most powerful tools we have, when we’re trying to manage the mind.
One of my favourite mantras is from Tony Robbins, who said.. “If you want to get a better result, ask a better question”.
The right question can take your client’s mind into a completely new direction. Helping them to discover things they never new existed before you asked them that question.
Timely and well thought out questions will always get timely and well thought out answers. The mind loves to make sure you’re right. If you ask it, what’s good about a situation, it’ll keep looking until it finds something. If you ask it, why does this sh*t keep happening to me, it’ll find you an answer for that as well.
If your client is constantly asking themselves, “why am I always failing?”, or “why can’t I ever make a success of anything?”, for example, their mind will be determined to find them an answer.
It’s your job as a coach, to ask them a question, or series of questions that take their mind in a new direction.
What makes a good coaching question?
There are really two things that make a good question.
- It should be ‘open’, so that your client has to explain their answer, rather than just Yes, or No. An example of an open question is… “Tell me about what happened last time you felt that emotion.” A closed version would be, “Did you feel the same emotion last time?”
- It should require your client to have to think about the answer. Immediate, ‘responsive’ answers are often rote responses, generated by the client’s belief system. It’s a stock answer they often use when things aren’t going well, or the same poor results are happening again. A good question will make them think first.
There are two question types that are really important for coaches. The first one, is to ask a question that brings up the thoughts, or feeling you’re trying to help with.
For example, you could ask; “Tell me about what happens when you feel that emotion”. Or, “Imagine you’re experiencing that emotion right now. Fully experience it and tell me what you’re feeling.”
The second type, are those that question our belief system. Questions like, “What does that mean to you?”, or “why do you think that’s important?”, or “what does believing that give you?”
The purpose of these questions is to help your client either, look at things from a different perspective, or start to realise that the thoughts and emotions they’re experiencing are within their control. That their beliefs are exactly that… things they believe. Just because they believe them, doesn’t mean they’re true. In fact, one of the best things you can do for your client, is to ask questions that highlight those falsehoods.
An example of questioning beliefs within a coaching session.
To give you an example, let’s say one of your clients wants to get a promotion at work, but they hesitate because they tried once before and were passed over for someone else. The conversation goes a bit like this.
Coach: “So, I understand from what you’re saying, that in the past you applied for a promotion, but unfortunately, there was someone more suited to the role on that occasion? So why do you feel apprehensive this time?”
Client: “Because nothing I ever try works the way it should. I know I’m not going to get the promotion, so why would I want to put myself through the stressful process of applying.?”
Coach: “You said nothing you try ever works. What makes you say that?”
Client: “It’s simple. Everything I do is eventually a failure.”
Coach: Really? EVERYTHING you do is a failure? That’s quite a skill. I’m sure that not everything you’ve ever done failed. I mean, you learned to walk and speak. You have job that allows you to keep a roof over your head and food on the table. What I’d like you to do, is tell me about ten things that you haven’t failed at.”
Using generalisations often points to a faulty belief system. This starts the realisation that the client is generalising their issues as a failure in themselves, instead of seeing them as individual experiences, each of which went wrong for a different reason. It was really a random failure, rather than a systemic failure. The way forward is to ask questions that get them to look at that statement from a new perspective. eg. “Tell me about times when something went right for you.”
Another good question to ask is simply, “Why is that?”, or “Can you tell me why you think that’s true?”
By using questions to make your client stop and think, you’re helping them to come up with different alternatives. And whenever they are restricting their options, you can always use the old favourite… “What else?” e.g.. “what else has happened”, “what else could you do?”, etc.
Time and practice can make you a powerful ‘Questioner’. But if you don’t have the time, or you’d rather have some tried-and tested questions to use, I recommend this question manual. It contains over 500 powerful coaching questions, split into various scenarios. There’s more than enough thought-provoking questions inside to help any client through their struggles.
So, to quickly recap,
Always ask open questions.
Ask questions that make the client think before answering.
If in doubt, ask “What else”.
If you’ve got any questions, or thoughts you’d like to add, why not leave them in the comments below?