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Questions are part of our everyday lives, and it’s a challenge to communicate without them. If you have ever played those games where you have to communicate without any questions you know what a fundamental role they play. There are many types of questions, each of which has a different purpose, including (but not limited to) probing, elaborating, clarifying, and planning.

Coaching questions tend to have particular characteristics, and a good coaching question has the power to support a coachee in a range of different ways. Well-framed questions can positively stimulate thought, motivate, inspire, and help your coachee recognise their own strengths such that they remain motivated, energised and focussed.

I will now discuss some of the characteristics of a ‘good’ coaching question, but not before emphasising that effective questioning goes hand-in-hand with effective listening.

Effective coaching questions are:

  • Mostly open: Questions that start with, for example, “what”, “how”, or “if” and provide opportunities for a ‘wide’, sometimes surprising, response from the coachee.
  • Focussed on solutions: The coach supports the coachee to explore underpinning  frameworks that are influencing how the coachee considers an issue. The questions help the coachee identify options in a way that expands their thinking and ways of working (e.g. “What would you like to accomplish?”, and “What do you think you need to do to get a result that will work for you (or closer to your goal)?”).
  • Neutral: Do not contain any elements of the coach’s reaction, opinion, or concerns (e.g. “What do you feel?”).
  • Simple, short, clear and one at a time (with plenty of silence and space): Enables the coachee to focus on their thinking and ideas, rather than trying to figure out what the coach has just asked (e.g. “How could you appropriately communicate your point of view with the rest of your team?”). Multiple, rapid-fire questions can also interfere with the flow, and should be avoided.
  • Motivating: Focus on the things a coachee might do to move toward identifying and designing their own strategies and solutions (e.g. “What if you knew the answer? What would it be?”).
  • Have a positive effect on coaching outcomes: Questions that help the the coachee be creative to think of ideas and solutions that they may not otherwise have thought of (e.g. “If anything were possible, what are five possible options? What else?” And “What could you do differently?”).

These questions also map onto coaching roles, although they are not exclusive to those roles. As such, they may involve some of the following:

  • Investigator (knowledge): Who, what, when, where, why, how . . . ? Could you please describe . . . ?
  • Guide (comprehension): Would I be right in thinking...? What did you understand from...?”
  • Neutral inquirer (application): How do you feel X is an example of Y?; How would you say that X is related to Y?; Why do you feel that X is significant in your context?
  • Investigator (analysis): What are the identifiable aspects of . . . ? Would you classify X according to Y?
  • Investigator (synthesis): What are your thoughts around solutions for . . . ? What would you infer from . . . ? What are your additional reactions to . . . ? How might you go about designing a new . . . ? What could happen if you added . . . ?
  • Advisor (evaluation): What do you think about trying . . . ? What is the most important outcome for.. . ? Which would you say are the highest priority for . . . ? What would help you decide to . . . ?

Coaching questions will only really be useful if you try them out. This will provide you with opportunities to reflect on whether you felt your questions were well put together, and if they positively impacted the way your coachee was thinking. You should also consider if any of your questions were not really suitable for coaching (such as those that are closed, leading, contain your opinion, are multi-parted or wordy and difficult to understand). Effective questions are key to a coaching relationship; however, being able to craft a good question takes practice. The more you actively listen, and the more you hone your questioning skills, the more powerful the experience will be for both you and your coachee.

Image: Questions. CC ( BY NC SA ) licensed Flickr image by Tim O'Brien

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Comment by Melvin Din on March 2, 2018 at 17:20

Great short and sweet read.

In this fast pace instant glory times we have moved from asking fertile questions to structured questions. 

This cuts down the opportunities for the incidental learning. 

Many learners are becoming more interested in  to knowing only the answers.  

Comment by margaret macpherson on March 1, 2018 at 22:47
A very timely post that leads me to reflect on my practice supporting PC teachers to grow their professional capabilities. Early in year and has caused me to pause and evaluate ....looking to strengthen my own practice in this space to be of greater benefit to my colleagues; my mentees and others. Kia ora rawa atu Hazel ☺
Comment by Sarah Whiting on February 22, 2018 at 22:30

Kia ora Hazel, 

I really like this post and how it identifies the key attributes and questioning skills of a coach. It reminds me of the importance of switching off the internal dialogue to leave room to clearly hear what the person you are working with is saying, without colouring it with your own thoughts/ beliefs. 

I also really like how you have clearly defined the roles inline with the type of questions asked too. I think that I pretty good at being in the advisor and guide role and need to practice being neutral inquirer in my sessions with others. 

:0) 

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