“Questions are the creative acts of intelligence.” – Anonymous

One of the fundamental principles of coaching is to ask, rather than tell.

You don’t have to be a professional coach to be a good one. There are a number of simple techniques every leader can use, to help produce rewarding results.

Here are 6 coaching questions to lead and inspire your team:

1. How are you?

How often do you say these three words without truly listening to the response?

We often speak this question unconsciously, almost as a ‘social reflex’, but switch off as soon as we have uttered the words.

However when this question is delivered with positive intent, followed by active listening, it can be one of the most powerful questions any coach or mentor can use – and is also one of the best ways to start a coaching conversation, or monthly one-on-one.

Listening is fundamental to coaching successfully - The Leader's Digest

Listening to the answer is fundamental to successful leadership.

The key is to be fully present with the person to whom you are asking the question.

Interpersonal relationships can transform and develop overnight, simply by giving these three humble words the attention they deserve. It can also provide you with a good sense of what is ‘on top’ for the person, or taking up their head space.

2. What would you like to have happen (that is not happening now)?

This question can inspire people to begin visualising a positive outcome, thereby shifting their thoughts and feelings from powerlessness or frustration into positive intent.

This is a good one to use after exploration of the issue or challenge. It can also be helpful if someone feels as if they are going around in circles, or stuck in a negative (or blaming) frame of reference.

3. What is that like for you?

Or another variation, “how do you experience that now?”, is an alternative to the question “how does that feel?”.

This question can be hugely effective because it offers no specific sensory hint. The result may be sensory information that is specific to that person or a metaphoric representation about a particular situation.

The important point to remember here is we all have different sensory preferences – for example, some people are visual, and others are auditory, which is similar to learning styles.

This question is neutral and will enable them answer in the way that is most prominent for them. It also gives you a clue as to what their sensory preferences are.

4. What gets in the way of ‘X’ happening?

This is great to use when someone wants something to happen, but it’s currently not. In my opinion, it’s a less judgemental and more descriptive way of saying “why is it not happening?” For example, there may be a conflict between two peers where neither is addressing the issue or giving feedback.

After some discussion, you may ask them “so what gets in the way of you broaching the subject with X?”

Coaching helps to identify obstacles - The Leader's Digest by Suzi McAlpine, Executive Coach NZ

The right coaching questions can help people to identify and conquer their obstacles.

5. Tell me more about that…

This is more of a prompt, or bridge, than a question, however it can be a very powerful statement to use, particularly if you are new to coaching. Other variations like “tell me more,” or “what else?” can be equally effective.

This type of ‘short and sweet’ query allows the person to continue sharing information, without interrupting their thought process.

Another great tool is the Observation and Question technique. Pick out the most significant thing the person said, which is often a slightly ‘loaded’ or ‘emotive’ word or phrase. Then, repeat their exact words, and ask them to expand on it, like this:

“You mentioned the presentation was difficult. Tell me more about that.”
“You said it was brutal. Can you expand on that?”

By varying the question, i.e. instead of “tell me more…”, trying “say more,” “expand on that,” or “what’s going on there?”; you can use this technique over and over, without sounding stilted.

6. What other options do you have?

My experience has been that often the best solution is not necessarily the first one that comes to mind, but the one that comes after the second or third option. This question is especially useful when generating options for problem solving. Resist the temptation of leaving it at one solution.

Ultimately however, the greatest skill a coach can ever possess is to listen. When you can’t find the right words to say, say nothing and allow silence to work its magic.

The power of silence - The Leader's Digest, by Suzi McAlpine, Executive Coach

The power of silence has been known since the beginning of time, as is so beautifully illustrated by Cato in the following quote:

“I think the first virtue is to restrain the tongue; he approaches nearest to gods who knows how to be silent, even though he is in the right.” – Cato the Elder (234BC to 149BC).

What coaching question/s have you found to be the most effective?


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